Pooping Man Utd’s last home game of the season party was always likely to prove a stiff test, especially after ramping up the pressure upon ourselves, following Swansea’s infuriating “smash and grab” last Monday night.
Having struggled to string a pass together in the opening half at Old Trafford, mercifully the Gunners gave a much improved account after the break, with a display that appeared to be deserving of at least a positively crucial point.
As we’ve learned to our cost in recent seasons, you can’t over-estimate the importance of a top- three finish, thereby avoiding putting a spanner in the works of pre-season preparations, by having to be involved in a Champions League qualifier.
These qualification matches are so significant, with the financial and all the other implications of defeat so overblown that there are inevitable consequences upon a Premiership campaign from the entire club having to psyche itself up so early on.
Consequently, after our last gasp capitulation to the Swans, I was left thinking “it serves them bloody well right” if such a performance was to end up being the cause of the premature curtailment of our players’ summer pleasures, getting them out of their flip-flops and back into their football boots far sooner than should’ve been the case.
My suspicion was that our game in hand played a considerable part in the performance because we started last Monday night’s game with the sort of lack of intensity that suggested we had all the time in the world to secure the points necessary to avoid a fourth place finish.
Mind you, on a more positive note, this defeat did at least force us to refocus on the task at hand for the trip to Manchester. It might’ve looked like the Gunners were merely going through the motions, with a first half performance without a single shot on goal for the first time in 10 years, but we eventually managed to raise our game.
Never mind the three points on offer against Sunderland in midweek, it would’ve been disastrous if both Manchester sides had won the day and we’d ended languishing in fourth.
The results of Arsène ringing the changes couldn’t have been more instant as Aaron Ramsey was suddenly pulling all the strings, incisively spraying the ball around like Stevie G in his pomp.
By contrast, Theo Walcott’s impact might have been equally unimpressive as his other rare cameo outings this season, but even if his equalising ‘goal’ was thoroughly unintentional, it made for a pleasant change for Theo to be cast as the hero for once, rather than the villain of the piece.
Who knows, with his opportunity to stake a claim for inclusion at Wembley to come, perhaps this will prove to be just the sort of slice of luck that will boost Walcott’s battered confidence
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