MAN UNITED 1, ARSENAL 1
Manchester United’s bid to avoid the lottery of the qualification stages of next season’s Champions League appear over after their failure to beat Arsenal.
The Reds look certain to finish fourth in the Barclays Premier League after being held by the Gunners at Old Trafford.
It means Arsenal are set to join Chelsea and Manchester City in going straight through to the group stage of Europe’s top club competition.
It seemed as though the Reds would make Arsenal wait before clinching third place after Ander Herrera put them ahead only for a Tyler Blackett own goal to give Arsene Wenger’s side a point.
That leaves Arsenal two points ahead of United with two games left at home to Sunderland and West Brom while the Reds have only one at Hull as well as having an inferior goal difference.
United manager Louis van Gaal pointed to where his side must improve next season after they again failed to hold on to a lead.
He explained: “The difference between Chelsea and Manchester United this year is that they can finish a game and kill it when they are 1-0 ahead.
“Arsenal can’t do it when they lost 0-1 to Swansea and Manchester City cannot do it. It is a mentality we have to improve.”
Van Gaal thought his team was the superior side for an hour until he made changes as Radamel Falcao, Marcos Rojo and David De Gea were replaced by Robin van Persie, Blackett and Victor Valdes saying they disrupted the rhythm and balance of the side.
He added that they were unlucky to concede a deflected goal for the third successive game following on from West Brom and Crystal Palace.
Van Gaal added that he can understand the dilemma De Gea, who limped out of the game with a hamstring injury, faces in relation to him being a transfer target for home-city Real Madrid pointing out he is Spanish, he has a Spanish girlfriend and he is a full international, but still behind No 1 Iker Casillas.
The Dutchman added that De Gea has been offered a “fantastic” contract and he is idolised by the Reds’ fans as was demonstrated at the game.
“When he goes, he loses it. Here he had a lot of credits,” he explained.
Van Gaal added he is amazed by the reaction of the fans to a likely fourth place finish in the league.
“It is amazing when you are fourth and the fans are clapping their hands. I feel the warmth of fans, and I have never experienced that at my other clubs – it is fantastic,” he said.
Wayne Rooney was United’s highest-profile absentee as Falcao was afford a rare start up front while Chris Smalling was handed the captaincy in Rooney’s absence.
And Falcao could have made an early breakthrough as his close-range shot was blocked by defender Laurent Koscielny and from the resulting corner Smalling’s effort was blocked by Hector Bellerin.
Juan Mata brought the first save from either keeper as his free kick was kept out by David Ospina diving low to his right.
Arsenal were almost gifted the lead after an errant back pass to keeper De Gea who desperately cleared as Olivier Giroud was ready to pounce.
United made the all-important breakthrough just short of the half hour when Ashley Young crossed from the left for Herrera to volley home at the far post low to the left of Ospina for his eighth goal of the season.
And they almost added a second goal at the end of the half when Daley Blind’s goalbound shot was blocked by team-mate Smalling.
As for Arsenal, this was the first time in a Premier League game since November 2004 that they had not registered a shot on goal in the opening half.
And when they did so early in the season half, Alexis Sanchez ballooned an effort high into the stand.
Ospina remained the busier keeper as he dived low down to keep out a long-range drive from Rojo as United remained the more potent attacking force.
De Gea prevented Arsenal equalising with a block to deny Giroud who turned Rojo to find himself trough on goal.
Rojo then came to the Reds’ rescue with a vital clearance after Aaron Ramsey lifted the ball over Dea Gea after being put through on goal.
That was De Gea’s last action as he was hurt after landing awkwardly with former Barcelona keeper Valdes handed his debut for the Reds.
And Valdes was beaten eight minutes after making his entrance as a cross-cum-shot from substitute Theo Walcott took a wicked deflection off United replacement Blackett as the ball looped over the head of the keeper with the defender debited with an own goal.
United ought to have regained the lead in the 88th minute when substitute Robin van Persie blazed over after Marouane Fellaini headed an Antonio Valencia cross invitingly into his path, but it was not to be as the game ended in stalemate.