This has not been a successful Manchester United season, and FA Cup victory will not change that. The gap to Manchester City at the top of the Premier League will be deemed unacceptable by Jose Mourinho and his bosses, as will the abject Champions League exit. The FA Cup is just a make-do trophy.
But one thing has been proven in Mourinho’s defence over the last two months: United’s players still back him. If this squad had lost faith in his ability to lead them, the 2-1 victory over Chelsea having conceded first could not have happened. The 3-2 victory over Manchester City having been 2-0 down could not have happened. And the 2-1 victory over Tottenham could not have happened. They are United in name and United in spirit.
There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding Arsenal, with Arsene Wenger announcing that he will leave in the summer. It is likely that his replacement will arrive with a significant shopping list for new players who can address Arsenal’s gradual decline over the last three years.
Yet there are certain players around whom Arsenal must build. Hector Bellerin could be revitalised by a new coach, while Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will hope to form a strike partnership ahead of Mesut Ozil. Arsenal’s forward line could quite easily become very exciting indeed.
Yet arguably their most important player is the only midfielder in whom we can have any real faith. Aaron Ramsey has struggled with his own injury problems and being played out of position last season, but this season he has returned to excellent form. That is why there are links to Manchester United and Juventus.
If Arsenal are serious about immediate and sustainable improvement under Wenger’s replacement, Ramsey must be tied down and built around. He must be made to feel special and made to believe that his club is going places. As with Ozil, then he can truly flourish.
Two failed managers in the same season, a club marooned at the bottom of the Premier League, senior players guilty of off-field ill-discipline and a support quickly falling out of love with their club. It is possible to find worse situations than the one facing Darren Moore when he stepped into the West Brom breach — in football there is always someone worse off than you — but not many.
Moore will not save West Brom’s top-flight status; he is a fine coach not a miracle worker. But we have seen enough during his three matches in temporary charge to be convinced that he deserves to be their long-term option. Against Manchester United and Liverpool, Moore’s team have shown resilience, defensive solidity and efficiency in front of goal. All of those were absent during the entirety of Alan Pardew’s reign.
Being better than Pardew is a backhanded compliment, but his failure should be a lesson to West Brom’s hierarchy. Rather than spending the summer pursuing tried and tested managers, it is time to break from their tradition and appoint from within. Moore has earned that chance.
Watford are a club that seem predisposed towards short-termism. Javi Gracia is their tenth manager since July 2012. Not all have left at the behest of the club, but the ever-revolving door creates an environment in which you’re never quite sure when the next sacking will come.
Gracia was appointed on January 21, replacing Marco Silva following the Portuguese’s strong links with Everton and subsequent decline. Yet if the stereotype of Watford managers is quick start followed by gradual slump, Gracia has hardly started at pacesetter speed. Watford have taken 12 points from his 12 league games, and two from their last six.
Against Crystal Palace on Saturday, Watford’s players looked demotivated and were fortunate not to lose for the third successive league game. On this evidence, could Watford again be prepared to pull the plug on a manager after fewer than 40 matches in charge? He would be the eighth in a row.
Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Wilfried Zaha has been shown more yellow cards for diving than any other player in the Premier League, with four. There is no doubt that in the past the winger has gone over too easily and too flamboyantly.
Yet that would appear to be in the past. Over the last 18 months, Zaha has regularly received rough treatment, but has done his best to ride challenges. If he does go down when fouled, he would hardly be the only one in the Premier League.
On Saturday, Zaha was again cautioned for simulation, but are referees being influenced by his past reputation? Chris Kavanagh got the decision completely wrong; Adrian Mariappa took Zaha’s legs from under him.
“I didn’t see it — there were many players around him,” said Gracia. “There are many situations around Zaha because he has that style of play. He makes a lot of dribbles so you never know.”
Rough translation: We got lucky.