Last night’s F.A Cup quarter-final tie between Manchester United and current cup holders Arsenal offered us up one of the most exciting and hotly contested fixtures between the two sides since they traded blows back and forth in their hey-day of domestic football. Both Manchester United and Arsenal were the two sides whom dominated Premier League football between the mid 90’s and early millennium, before both teams were forced to endure what is typically known as “transition periods”. Now both are desperate to try and re-establish themselves as one of the dominant forces in the domestic game after finding themselves out of the running for the Premier League crown for more than one season.
Manchester United’s slump has come only since the legendary Head Coach of the side Sir Alex Ferguson retired from the game two seasons ago, since then the most successful side in the Premier League’s history have fallen out of European football and have been subject to heavy criticism for both their personnel and gameplay. Arsenal on the other hand only broke a 9 year trophy drought when they lifted the F.A Cup trophy at the end of last season and are equally desperate to launch themselves back into the conversation when it comes to title challengers.
With Arsenal running out eventual winners and the fairytale ending that was Danny Welbeck netting the winning goal last night, Manchester United are once again destined to a season with no chance of Silverware success. We took a look at the more long-term decisions made by Louis Van Gaal since taking over the club that has led what is surely a huge disappointment for the club that has been accustomed to success in the top-flight for over twenty years.
Welbeck > Falcao
Not to dwell on last night’s performance or result, Danny Welbeck’s exit from Old Trafford was at the time heralded in equal parts as a logical decision and a mistake the Red devils would live to regret. In the wee hours of Transfer Deadline Day, once Man Utd had sealed the loan-deal signing of Monaco’s Radamel Falcao, English football was shocked to hear the news that Danny Welbeck was set to move to North London from the club that he had been at for his entire career. With the transfer confirmed and the £16million agreed, when questioned, Louis Van Gaal was quoted saying;
“Welbeck doesn’t have the record of Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney. We let him go because of Falcao, but also to allow the youngsters to fit in. That is the policy. That is why I am here.“
Since this statement Danny Welbeck has played 30 games for the Gunners compared to Falcao’s 20 with Danny finding the net twice as many times, with eight goals to the Colombian’s four. Despite Van Gaal’s most recent declaration defending his summer decision, the stats don’t lie and Danny Welbeck has certainly been the better acquisition.
Man Utd lost a Captain in Evra
With over 250 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions and the type of experience that only comes around once a lifetime, Patrice Evra’s transfer from the North of England to Turin where he plays for Juventus in the Serie A, unquestionably left a dearth of experience, talent and durability within the Manchester United set-up. Evra endured a difficult season under David Moyes before the Dutchman took the reigns at Old Trafford but Van Gaal’s willingness to let the right-back was folly as he has struggled all season with his starting back line. A lot will be said about Van Gaal’s ‘wing-back’ approach but there is a lot to be said for a defence dealing with the loss of a player who bled for the club for eight years. Now in Serie A, Evra has managed to force his way into the mix for the starting line-up and has impressed on many occasions. With the youth and inexperience that currently courses through that Man Utd defence, Patrice Evra would have been invaluable.
Wayne Rooney isn’t a midfielder
Arguably pound for pound the best player in the Manchester United squad, Wayne Rooney has been forced to completely adapt his role to cover the lack of midfield experience and creativity in the current set-up at Old Trafford. The man who boasts a phenomenal goal scoring record at the club is currently marshalling the middle of the park as the players whom occupy what would normally be his advanced forward role struggle to replicate the club captains goal scoring efforts. Even in his new position Rooney is still the club’s top-goalscorer with 12 goals, further proving not only the wasted ability of the man himself but also the gulf in consistency between Wayne and those whom are starting up-front week in and week out.
Fellaini is a target man but no mans striker
In a somewhat perfect symmetry with the re-positioning of Wayne Rooney to the midfield, it seems Louis Van Gaal believes that Marouane Fellaini is an answer to his attacking troubles. Although more often than not started in the ball winning midfield position, last night’s performance was indicative of Van Gaal’s deployment of the Belgian as it didn’t take long before the tall, bushy haired midfielder was used as a target man in the Arsenal final third. From the moment Danny Welbeck found the net Fellaini became the focal point for a plethora of Manchester United long-balls, something they have been heavily criticised for all season but to no avail. Fellaini’s aeiral dominance and fantastic ability to own his immediate proximity makes him a fantastic target man but that is where it stops. We aren’t used to seeing a Manchester United side hoof the ball but come May, we may have had basically 38 games of it.
Javier Hernandez’ loan is still a confusing one
As the news broke on Javier Hernandez’ proposed loan move to Real Madrid, there wasn’t much response, mainly because it was difficult to understand. Granted the loan signing of Radamel Falcao seemed the logical answer but the loss of Danny Welbeck seemed to be used to explain the acquisition of the Colombian. The loss of Hernandez was one that even now manages to baffle. The Mexican forward boasted a fantastic goal-scoring record at Manchester United and was quickly becoming a cult hero at the club. Manchester United have scored the least amount of goals of all of the current top four clubs, with top scorer Wayne Rooney more often deployed in the midfield to make up for a lack of creativity within the squad. There isn’t much doubt that with Hernandez in the squad this Manchester United side would have more attacking bite, something they are in dire need of.
Words By Ben Fawcett