For the second time this season, I was Old Trafford bound. This time, it was to see United take on Arsenal as they aimed to secure a Top 3 finish and automatic qualification for the Champions League group stage.
After last season, it wouldn’t take a lot to improve on it, so a jump of 3 places isn’t to be sniffed at. Hopefully, the same will happen next season.
It is particularly frustrating though, to hit a brick wall after some of the best performances of the season which means they will more than likely finish 4th, and face a Qualifier to reach the Champions League.
It’s not a new experience, having reached the groups by this method in 1998, 2004 and 2005. Thankfully, unlike in 2004 and 2005, it won’t cause postponement of Premier League games, meaning United fall behind at a time when teams are jostling for position.
Thankfully, Liverpool let United away with a poor run of form by only claiming one point from trips to West Brom and Hull, meaning United secured a Top 4 finish with two games to go.
It was my third time seeing United take on Arsenal, both the previous games finishing 0-0 draws. I was really putting my record of not seeing a 0-0 draw this season on the line.
Arsenal had a few early attacks but nothing that caused panic, as Untied grew into the game and were the stringer team.
Phil Jones almost scored an own goal by attempting a backpass from too close to De Gea, whose outstretch clearance set up an attack. It was classic Phil Jones.
Alongside him in defence, Chris Smalling, captain for the day, had a fine game.
United’s best player was Ashley Young, being at the centre of all attacking play, most often cutting onto his right foot and playing a dangerous cross.
The one time he crossed with his left foot resulted in United going 1-0 up as his cross went beyond Arsenal’s defence for Ander Herrera to volley home. It was a deserved lead.
Falcao was given a start. It didn’t happen for him. The effort was there, but the goal wasn’t.
Arsenal came out in the second-half a changed team, offering more in attack in the early moments than they did in the whole of the first-half.
United needed a second goal, they weren’t able to get it.
The second-half was in danger of becoming De Gea v Arsenal. The one time Arsenal got past him, Marcos Rojo was there to win the ball inside his own six yard box.
De Gea was injured in that incident, and was replaced by Victor Valdes, who made a long awaited debut for United.
By this point, Robin Van Persie was on for Falcao, as United chased a second goal.
It was Arsenal who got the second goal of the game, to square it at 1-1 with an unfortunate own goal from Tyler Blackett. I was at the side of the pitch where he scored and thought he squeezed it in from a tight angle. TV footage would prove me wrong, that it was an own goal instead.
After that, Arsenal were the mostly to score, the best chance coming when Mesut Ozil hit the side netting.
Robin Van Persie fired over with United’s best chance in the final moments, as it finished 1-1.
A missed opportunity to put some pressure on Arsenal in the race for 4th.
The media have been full of scare stories of the sides that United could face in August. Looking at the sides English clubs have faced (Celtic, Young Boys, Udinese, Fenerbache, Besiktas) at this stage since the format was amended in 2009, they are sides pundits lazily describe as “no mugs” but United should have enough to beat over two legs.
The tournament format will be changed from next season with the Champions of the top eight leagues being top seeds instead of the top eight ranked sides. It is good news for the likes of Benfica, PSV Eindhoven and Zenit St Petersburg.
Amazingly, if United get through, indications are that they will be second seeds, which is impressive for a side that missed out a whole season of European football.
However, the 2010-2011 run to the final will soon drop off, meaning United will need a very good run in Europe next season to have a decent ranking in 2016-2017. Or they could just win the Premier League or the Champions League.
When the fixture list comes out, i’ll have a look and deliberate over what games to go to. What i’m thinking of at the moment, is one fly to, one bus to and a there and back European game. If I fly over for a weekend, i’m hoping it’s a Sunday game and I can get a chance to take in a game at FC United’s soon to be opened Broadhurst Park.
New players to come in, and Adidas kits to come (my first United top was an Adidas one) – it’s all change at Old Trafford. Already looking forward to experiencing some of it in the flesh.