Blackett blunder gifts Arsenal virtual third place

Blackett blunder gifts Arsenal virtual third place

Three substitutes, a mishit shot and an own goal all conspired to pretty much confirm third place for Arsenal.

The Gunners got extraordinarily lucky this morning (Singapore time).

They were out of sorts and seemingly out of time when substitute Theo Walcott broke free in the box in the 83rd minute at Old Trafford.

Until then, Manchester United were coasting towards a deserved victory.

But Walcott's shot hit fellow sub Tyler Blackett and the ball looped over the third sub, Victor Valdes in the United goal. The equaliser silenced the stunned crowd.

The 1-1 draw settled third spot in the table for the Gunners; barring a miracle, the Red Devils must settle for fourth. Louis van Gaal's men were victims of a sneaky smash and grab.

They stood at the precipice of victory and left wondering what might have been.

In truth, the late flurry of excitement almost obscured a dull contest.

Old Trafford witnessed not so much a Titanic battle as a storm in a sampan.

Every misplaced pass and clumsy tumble on a slippery surface merely triggered memories of the great tussles between these former heavyweights.

When dressing-room boots were kicked in footballers' faces. When pizza was thrown, when titles were won and lost, when these fixtures actually mattered.

For half an hour, the gentle stroll around Old Trafford was like watching elderly uncles wandering around a void deck reminiscing about the good old days, when they were kings.

Chris Smalling's unexpected elevation to the captaincy was a wonderful moment for the improved defender, but a bit of indictment of his teammates. In Wayne Rooney's absence, who else really deserved the armband?

United enjoyed greater possession - a common characteristic in matches involving the more cautious Gunners these days - but Radamel Falcao had swopped his boots for Bambi's roller-skates.

But Falcao's physical inertia was arguably matched by Arsene Wenger's tactical lethargy. The Gunners boss didn't successfully shackle Marouane Fellaini.

Per Mertesacker and Francis Coquelin tag-teamed, but the Belgian's afro acted like a frizzy magnet, pulling the play towards him.

Coquelin and Fellaini had a David and Goliath mismatch feel to it, minus the catapult, and it was no surprise when the United man engineered the move for United's opener in the 30th minute.

He released Ashley Young and the high-flying Red Devil delivered a sumptuous cross to an unmarked Ander Herrera at the far post. From an acute angle, the Spaniard slotted home an angled, cushioned volley.

Herrera's six Premier League goals have come from just seven shots. With another two goals in cup competitions, the Spaniard has eight legitimate reasons to question his prolonged absences from the starting line-up.

At the other end, Mesut Oezil's problem wasn't philosophy, but anonymity. He delivered one of those exasperating no-shows that make his early Germany and Real Madrid performances seem like an illusion.

Arsenal offered little attacking threat, the midfielders were still on the motorway, their full-backs were already on the beach and Olivier Giroud was an uninvolved bystander.

The visitors failed to muster a single shot on target in the first half. They didn't deserve to.

The insipid nature of the plodding affair was summed up when the next interesting incident didn't occur until the 60th minute, when Robin van Persie replaced Falcao.

The Colombian waved to all four sides of Old Trafford. It looked liked a bittersweet goodbye.

Thirteen games without a goal is the longest drought of Falcao's career. Four in 29 is not enough to justify the transfer fee either.

But the Gunners at least decided to turn up for the final half hour. After 62 minutes, David de Gea was finally called off his sun lounger to block Giroud's shot.

When the Spanish goalkeeper went off with a hip injury 10 minutes later, he was rewarded with a standing ovation. It looked like a reluctant farewell.

The substitutions came thick and fast, leading to Arsenal's unexpected equaliser.

But the two teams' final EPL places shouldn't concern Europe's elite.

Based on this scrappy affair, the Champions League's big boys won't be losing any sleep.

This article was first published on May 18, 2015.
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