MANCHESTER UNITED 2
Own goal (Kieran Gibbs) 56, Rooney 85
Manchester United’s elusive search for a first away win in 2014/15 came to what had initially seemed like an unlikely end with a 2-1 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. A Kieran Gibbs own goal in the second half, Wayne Rooney’s galloping breakaway effort in the 85th minute and, not for the first time, the heroics of David De Gea at the other end of the field earned the three points.
Antonio Valencia’s low shot after 56 minutes was inadvertently deflected by Gibbs into his own net to give the Reds the lead, then Rooney finished off an incisive counter-attack to make it 2-0. Angel Di Maria could have made it 3-0 late on but missed a good chance and Olivier Giroud pulled a goal back to make it a nervy finish. But this was a commendable performance of persistence from United in testing circumstances.
With a host of ailments debilitating United’s squad, Louis van Gaal was again forced into personnel and formation changes – this time 3-4-1-2 – with Paddy McNair, Chris Smalling and Tyler Blackett forming a back three, with Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia occupying wide midfield positions. Even that lasted just 15 minutes as Shaw picked up a knock from a challenge by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Ashley Young replaced him as a left-back and United switched to 4-4-2.
Danny Welbeck, facing United for the first time since leaving Old Trafford in the summer, had a shot blocked in the fourth minute, before Per Mertesacker headed wide. Welbeck then missed the target with a header of his own and, with Arsenal cranking up the pressure, the former Reds forward teed up Jack Wilshere, who forced a brilliant point-blank range save from United’s outstanding no.1 De Gea.
United’s first opening came from a set-piece on 21 minutes as Rooney fired over the bar. It was rare relief from previous one-way traffic and United had De Gea to thank again when he forced Oxlade-Chamberlain wide in a one-on-one and saved the Arsenal man’s shot with an outstretched leg.
Wilshere was lucky to escape punishment after half-an-hour in an altercation with Marouane Fellaini, but referee Mike Dean chose instead to calm tempers by talking to both players. Although unconnected, that break in play signalled a change of pace for United. Di Maria produced the Reds’ best chance of the half when he cut inside from the right and steered a left-foot shot just wide of the post, while Rooney had a shot blocked and a series of United corners came and went to no avail.
Five minutes into the second half and De Gea once again denied the Gunners as he closed the angle on Welbeck’s shot and United were looking increasingly thankful to the Spaniard’s heroics between the posts, but little more than five minutes later the Reds were in front. Szczesny clashed with Gibbs when the Arsenal goalkeeper came to collect a cross and the loose ball fell to Valencia and his low shot deflected off Gibbs, who was lying prone on the floor, and diverted into the net. It was by no means pretty but United’s persistence in adversity paid off. The collision with Gibbs forced Szczesny off, to be replaced by Emiliano Martinez on his Barclays Premier League debut, but still Arsenal were intent on finding an equaliser.
The last half an hour was tense until Rooney seemed to put the game out of sight, sprinting away to dink the ball over Martinez. Di Maria’s missed chance for an almost identical finish to Rooney could have proved costly when Giroud beat De Gea to give the Gunners a fighting chance of a draw. But the Reds held on for a morale-boosting first triumph on the road.
Date, time and coverage: Saturday 22 November, 17:30 GMT. Read our separate article on how you can follow the match live with United’s official club media, including audio coverage on MUTV and scrolling text commentary via manutd.com/matchblog.
Scene-setter: After getting back to winning ways with a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace before the international break, United will look to continue marching up the league table with an away win over traditional rivals Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. With the chance to leapfrog the Gunners by beating them, Louis van Gaal will be hoping to pile the pressure on the teams currently occupying the Champions League places.
Form guide: Prior to the Crystal Palace result, United were on a three-game winless streak which included two draws against West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea and then a derby defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Head to head, the Reds can take confidence from having won 10 of the last 14 games against Arsenal in all competitions and losing only one – 1-0 at the Emirates on 1 May 2011, just prior to winning the league. Arsenal went into the club-football hiatus with a defeat away to Swansea, and although sitting a point above United, they too have been struggling for form and will be hoping for a win to get their season back on track.
Team news: Angel Di Maria has shaken off a knock picked up in Argentina’s Old Trafford friendly against Portugal and David De Gea is fit to play despite injuring his figure in training with Spain. Michael Carrick is also expected to be available. Daley Blind will be absent due to his knee injury on Netherlands duty, while Phil Jones, Rafael and Jonny Evans are not yet ready for selection. Meanwhile, Falcao will resume full training with the first team on Sunday, the day after the match. Arsenal are boosted by the return of Olivier Giroud who has recovered a month earlier than expected from a broken leg. Mikel Arteta has also regained fitness after a hamstring problem. Theo Walcott is also expected to make an appearance after recovering from a cruciate ligament injury but Mezut Ozil is still out with knee trouble.
Betting: Official betting partners bwin have priced United as slight outsiders at 3.20 whilst the home side are 2.20 to claim victory and a draw is priced at 3.25. If you think a glut of goals is on the cards, odds of 9.00 are being offered for more than five being scored in 90 minutes. Visit manutd.com/bet for more offers.
In the dugout: Arsene Wenger will be looking to guide his team to only their fifth Barclays Premier League victory this season as the master of the top-four finish looks to move up the table once more. He will be worried at the Gunners’ habit of losing points from winning positions having dropped a league high of nine points after taking the lead.
Quote/unquote: “It’s always a tight game and whoever gets the first goal normally wins or gets a result. We have to go there with a good team shape and a good unit to make sure we do everything right.” – Wayne Rooney
Did you know? Louis van Gaal has only faced Arsenal twice before, with both meetings coming in the Champions League during the 1999/2000 season when he was manager of Barcelona. The Dutchman drew his home game before a 4-2 victory in London effectively ended Wenger’s hopes of progressing past the first group stage.
Match officials: Mike Dean will referee Saturday’s game, with Jake Collin and Darren England acting as his assistants. Mike Jones will be the fourth official.
Louis van Gaal could face a major selection headache for Saturday’s trip to Arsenal, with no fewer than 12 Manchester United players potentially battling injuries after the international break.
David De Gea is a doubt to face the Gunners after dislocating his finger while training with Spain ahead of their Euro 2016 qualifier against Belarus. The Spaniard was not sent back to the Aon Training Complex for treatment, however, which could be a positive sign for Reds supporters.
Meanwhile, the manager will definitely be without summer signing Marcos Rojo at the Emirates Stadium after he dislocated his shoulder in the Manchester derby. There are question marks over Rafael, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans, whileLuke Shaw could miss out after taking a knock in England’s 3-1 win over Scotland.
Midfield enforcer Daley Blind will watch from the stands after suffering what looked like a serious knee injury in Holland’s 6-0 win over Latvia and Michael Carrick is struggling for fitness after leaving the England camp with a groin problem. There were also concerns over Angel Di Maria after he took a kick to the ankle from Nani during Argentina’s 1-0 defeat to Portugal at Old Trafford, while long-term absentees Ashley Youngand Jesse Lingard are both still on the treatment table.
Van Gaal has fewer problems up front with Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and James Wilson all passing through the break unscathed. Radamel Falcao is the only doubt, though the Colombian is reportedly closing in on a return to action following a three-match absence with a calf injury.
The manager will provide a definitive update on all of United’s injuries during his pre-match press conference at the Aon Training Complex on Friday.
When I suggested to Michael Carrick last week that he was, unfortunately, now one of the oldest members of the squad, the 33-year-old corrected me. “I’m THE oldest!”
The fact the clock is ticking was a recurring theme during his interview at the Aon Training Complex as the Manchester United star has clearly been thinking about the future during his enforced spell on the sidelines. The majestic midfielder is one of those people who seems to have crept towards his mid-thirties under the radar, which is a credit to the consistency of his performances.
Perhaps the focus was always on elder colleagues such as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs but, with those peers moving into retirement, there is no escaping the fact that Carrick is one of the key senior members remaining at Louis van Gaal’s disposal and his excellent displays as a substitute at Manchester City and, in his first start under the Dutchman, against Crystal Palace only highlighted what he brings to the party.
A calming influence with a stabilising effect on the team, he passes with confidence and authority and often makes vital interceptions and tackles. One perfectly-judged challenge on Fraizer Campbell brought cheers from the Old Trafford crowd on Saturday while his winning of an aerial battle in the closing stages led to some sighs of relief.
When Carrick returned in the derby, he found five team-mates he had never played with before but took the changes in his stride. “It’s been fine, to be honest,” he insisted. “I’ve been around the boys for a while now as I’ve been training for four or five weeks with them. Of course, it was different. Little things are slightly different in the way we play and things you have to learn. So not being part of the pre-season tour and the early part of the season meant I lost a little bit of that. But I think I’m up to speed now and I’m not behind in any way.”
Of course, it was not his first outing of the season – that came in the Under-21s’ clash against West Ham. The fact it was against his first club only highlighted how much has changed since he departed the East Londoners. “It’s frightening how long it is since I left,” he conceded. “Time is ticking now!”
Unsurprisingly giving his standing at the club, he earned praise from coach Warren Joyce for his attitude on and off the field. “He was different class as a man and as a
professional,” enthused Joyce. “In the whole environment, in the hotel and the build-up to the game and the match itself, he was just a proper pro. It was good to see habits like that from senior players who are full internationals. It helps with the things we demand of the players when they see in real life what a Manchester United player and a Manchester United person is.”
The midfielder strolled through just over an hour, oozing class in a manner he would replicate for the first team against Palace last weekend. “It was probably five months since my last game at the end of last season,” he said of the experience with the youngsters. “It’s a long time – especially as you get older. You don’t want to be out of the game for so long at all so it was great to be back with the boys. It’s a great bunch we’ve got there, they’re honest and have got a great attitude. Hopefully, they can learn from the older players as that is what I have done when I was younger so it was nice for me to go and to help out.”
His selfless assisting of the youthful members of the Under-21 squad begs the obvious question as to whether the England international will look to move into coaching when he does eventually hang up his boots. “I’m doing my coaching badges now and going through them,” he revealed. “It’s one of them – whether I use them or not, who knows what opportunities will come further down the line? Certainly, I’m doing them now and learning that side of the game. Like I said, when I was younger, I always looked up to the older lads, whether it was for advice or watching them myself to see how they coped with things and prepared for training and games. So I think, as an older player, I’ve now got to set an example to help the younger boys and, hopefully, they can take it on board.”
The ability to pass on his extensive knowledge may be coming naturally to Carrick but is he still able to learn from his new manager at this stage of his career? Louis van Gaal has a reputation for developing players of all ages and was clearly counting on the veteran when breaking the news of the ankle operation during his unveiling at Old Trafford back in the summer.
“He was great with me,” explained the influential midfield pivot. “It was pretty much his first day in the door when I got injured and I was going off for an operation on that day [of the press conference] when he was coming in. It wasn’t the ideal start but that’s the way it goes.
You’ve got to deal with things. I was trying to get fit and trying to be positive and he has been great, along with his staff, in encouraging me and, thankfully, now I’m back.
“Of course [he can teach me new things]. I don’t think you ever stop learning. Obviously, he’s got his own ideas as he’s been around Europe at the biggest clubs and has achieved pretty much everything in the game. Of course, for me, it’s great to have something new like that and I am learning every day and picking up different things. Yes, the results and points tally have not been great, but there is a real positive vibe around the place that we’re not too far away from achieving and being where we want to be.”
Once his England duties are fulfilled, that will be the next item on Carrick’s agenda – and the early evidence after his surgery suggests he is going to be a key cog for van Gaal’s team as the more hectic winter period approaches. Hopefully, any worries about the sands of time can be pushed far into the background as he maintains such a huge influence on the Reds and can knit things together in midfield.
Marouane Fellaini has revealed that he felt like a scapegoat last season when David Moyes dragged the champions of England to 7th in the title, below Fellaini’s former club Everton.
Asked if he did feel like a ‘scapegoat’ last season,’ he replied: “Yes, a little bit. That is a difficult question. It is difficult to answer that. I agree last season was tough. There was a new manager and it was difficult for all the players. My family helped me through it. But I didn’t lose faith in myself. In football you have to be strong in the head. The mentality is important and I do have this quality so I can keep going. Last season was a difficult season for me. The World Cup helped me a lot. The manager of the national team and the players helped me and it was a great experience for everybody.
Fellaini has revealed that he is happier this season than last.
David knew my qualities. That is why he bought me. He knew what I can do and that is why I am here. But I am happier now I am playing. When you are playing you are always happy. But I have worked hard and I will work hard to play every game. I am fit now and that is why I am better. When I am super fit I will be better I am sure. I was injured earlier this season. They said I had to have surgery but I didn’t. It was a bad injury but now I am better and I can look forward. At the moment the manager is using me as a box-to-box player and I am trying to score a goal.
David De Gea reflects on the season so far and discusses and his own impressive form…
We showed we can compete with Chelsea and City in the recent matches against them – what do we need to do to make that extra step to get back alongside them in the table?
Manchester United is a huge club and will always be there or thereabouts. In terms of the league table and the position we’re in we are not far away. All we can do is work hard and try to keep improving and it’s important that we completely concentrate on ourselves and not look too much at others.
There have been plenty of encouraging signs in our play but we’ve not been able to get the consistency we’d like – why is that?
We would never use excuses but it’s always going to be a big setback when we have injuries and some sendings-off as well. It makes everyone’s work that bit more difficult. In terms of maintaining a solid level of performance we need to have the consistency of players in the squad so hopefully everyone will be fit very soon. That will help us continue to improve.
From your position on the field have you been able to see the team evolving in recent weeks?
Yes, having an overview of the whole pitch makes it easy for me to see that we are more compact and are making it very difficult for other teams to create opportunities to score. I feel we have some of the best strikers in the world playing for us – we just need to take our chances and reap the rewards of the opportunities we’re creating. Goals win games and winning games gets us points and we need to keep picking up more.
Is there a specific message or directive the manager has been trying to drill home to the players in recent weeks?
He is just instilling a lot of confidence into all the players, and because he is putting his confidence into us we need to make sure we do our job for him and keep getting the victories we need. We must do that week in, week out.
The City game was another example of having to cope with defensive problems before and during the game – can you believe the bad luck we’ve had with injuries in particular?
I must say I have never experienced this at any of my past clubs. We’ve had so much bad luck and it’s made it difficult to maintain the high level of consistency and performance that we need with so many injuries. Hopefully we can get the injured players back as soon as possible.
As a goalkeeper how do you deal with an ever-changing back four?
It obviously makes things very difficult but that’s football and it’s my job to be able to adapt to different situations. As a goalkeeper it’s important to form a good understanding with your back four and become familiar with each other’s positions on the pitch. It’s difficult when the players aren’t there but you have to adapt and concentrate on your job. The experience has definitely helped me improve.
You’ve said you’re playing the best football of your career – how do you go about maintaining that form?
It’s important for me to train hard and try to improve in every session so I can maintain the same level of fitness and concentration. That’s my aim.
Has your progress with the Spanish national team and the World Cup experience been a big factor in the way you have grown?
Yes, it gives you a lot of confidence when you receive a call-up to your national team and you’re in the starting XI. I certainly feel it has helped me improve my concentration and it makes you feel very good in your position at your club when you can represent your country.
Which game have you been most pleased with this season from a personal point of view?
I’d have to say the Everton match. It was probably my personal best performance but the biggest thing for me was helping the team achieve a big three points.
What’s the biggest improvement you’ve made in your game in the last 12 months?
I’d say my all-round performance has improved, but especially my concentration and being more tactically aware. I’ve really focused on my work in training to make sure I can produce the performances that are needed on the pitch. As a Manchester United player, you never stop learning and improving and you always have to strive to keep doing better.
MANCHESTER UNITED 1
CRYSTAL PALACE 0
Substitute Juan Mata came off the bench and to United’s rescue as he fired Manchester United to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.
The Spanish midfielder had only been on the field for a few minutes when his deflected strike squeezed between the Palace goalkeeper and the post, but his appearance was the ideal impact substitution on a day when United could not make superior possession count in front of goal.
Luke Shaw went close with a shot saved by Julian Speroni, and Marouane Fellaini had a header scrambled off the line. Fraizer Campbell spurned a great chance in the first half for the Eagles, and Mata went close to a second goal when he struck the post late on.
Injuries and suspensions had forced Louis van Gaal to shuffle his pack at the back once again, with Daley Blind shifting into central defence alongside the recalled Paddy McNair. Replacing the Dutchman in midfield was Michael Carrick, starting for the first time in 2014/15.
United went onto the front foot from the start, with Adnan Januzaj whipping a rasping shot over the corner of post and bar after cutting in from the right flank in only the second minute. Angel Di Maria drove a weak effort straight at Speroni, but a succession of corners from the Reds’ record signing failed to truly test his fellow Argentine in the Eagles’ goal.
Carrick roamed forward from his holding position to try his luck from range with a shot deflected wide, and Wayne Rooney’s frustrated response to his own shot that soared over the goal summed up the first phase of the match. But it was the unlikely source of Shaw who stirred the match into life on
28 minutes. Moving upfield out of defence, the left-back unleashed a shot that skimmed the surface and forced Speroni to tip around the post.
The visitors were content to soak it up and hit on the break, with Campbell coming close to getting a touch to a Yannick Bolasie cross that had cut across the home backline. With five minutes to half-time, Campbell raced onto a long ball, but the Palace striker’s lob floated over David De Gea’s bar.
The frustration of the first 45 minutes spilled into the second half, typified by Rooney skewing a shot just wide following a long run from McNair. Fellaini, who had been imposing himself throughout, headed a corner right on target only to see James McArthur scramble the ball away off the line.
But Mata lifted spirits around Old Trafford with a sublime goal. The Spaniard, on for Januzaj, took aim from outside the box with his left foot and saw his shot fly into the net via a deflection. Only on the pitch for a few minutes, the midfielder had made the perfect impact to put Umited on course.
The goal deflated the visitors and gave the Reds confidence, and the game could have been made safe in the last 10 minutes. Mata was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet again, seeing another defected shot cannon off the post. Then Rooney opted for placement with a late chance but rolled the ball wide. However United looked comfortable with a one-goal lead that brought the recent winless run to an end ahead of the international break.