|photo by Marufish||via PhotoRee|
For all the highs this United side reached mid-week versus Schalke 04 in the Champions League, the weekend represented a cruel comeuppance, as the team managed to hit a new low only five days later. Mailing in an insipid, uninspired performance in which they never really got out of third gear, Manchester United lost 1-nil to Arsenal today at the Emirates, in a match that opened the title race back up. Now faced with two crucial matches in the space of seven days, Sir Alex's side will be forced next Sunday to confront an increasingly confident Chelsea on only four days rest.
Not that you can say they don't deserve to be in this position: United were bland all afternoon and came out seemingly set up as if to generate a nil-nil scoreline. Arsenal 'keeper Wojiech Szczesny was never really tested on the afternoon, and the number of true chances the Reds had in the game could be counted on one hand with several fingers to spare.
Call it a Champions League-sized hangover or whatever you want -- all four semi-finalists bit the dust in their respective domestic leagues this weekend -- but United never appeared to want the game, failing to show urgency even in the match's closing minutes. The midfield combination of Carrick and Anderson once again failed to impress, and Nani and Park on the wings were relatively useless. In the day's most shocking development, Park -- United's human dynamo, after all -- was seen lazily walking back toward goal and left Aaron Ramsey completely unmarked inside the 18 yard box on the play which turned the afternoon in the home side's favor.
The Chicharito - Rooney partnership once again failed to click, and for all the hooplah United fans have been splashing around over their dynamic duo, today was the third game in the last five in which the side has forgotten to put a goal past the opposing 'keeper. Failing to score at the business end of the season can cause catastrophic damage to all the hard work the team has put in up until this point, and Sir Alex will have to look deep inside his bag of tricks before next weekend's English version of El Clasico rolls around.
The side's flaws today were easy today to observe, and they mostly resided in the middle of the park. Nani has not been the same player since the incident with Jamie Carragher. The Portuguese wideman's confidence and judgment seem to have been carried away on the stretcher that rode him off the pitch at Anfield. The side has become increasingly reliant on the age-old magic of Ryan Giggs in the middle -- Anderson and Carrick do not seem a match made in heaven, with little offensive flair shown by either midfielder. Notably, Park looked uninterested today, and when he lacks tempo and pace so does the rest of the squad.
United were not the only ones to have a bad game on Sunday. Referee Chris Foy turned in a shocker, denying two clear handballs (interestingly, the only one on which Sky seem fixated was the handball by Vidic, as they neglected to show more than one replay of the offsetting one by Ramsey), a penalty on Patrice Evra in the box, and another penalty on Michael Owen as time ticked off the clock. The FA can rant and rave about "Respect" all they want, but until its employees start making more right calls than wrong ones, the campaign is doomed to a deserved failure.
It's all set up for next weekend, with all the marbles on the line. There will be several million bums squeaking worldwide over the next seven days -- but will United emerge with the last laugh?
This is farlieonfootie for May 2.