Deflected Theo Walcott goal earns Arsenal a point at Old Trafford

Manchester United had taken the lead thanks to Ander Hererra

Manchester United’s David de Gea had to be withdrawn due to injury, giving Victor Valdes his debut. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Manchester United’s David de Gea had to be withdrawn due to injury, giving Victor Valdes his debut. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

 

Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal

There is a reasonable chance this might have been David de Gea’s final performance for Manchester United at Old Trafford and if the suspicion is correct and he is bound for Real Madrid it is fair to say he cannot have expected it to be such an unorthodox occasion. Arsenal played at times as if it would be impudent to trouble the Spaniard. They did not manage a shot of any description in the first half, the first time that has happened since a game against Liverpool in 2004, and the recovery took shape only after De Gea was forced off during the second half.

Until that point, it had been strange in the extreme to see such a passive Arsenal performance, even in these modern times when the old rivalry between the two clubs has diluted to the point the big match-up is now Francis Coquelin versus Ander Herrera rather than Patrick Vieira against Roy Keane and all their see-you-out-there history. They waited until the 51st minute before any of their players felt emboldened enough to try a shot and, even then, Alexis Sánchez’s effort was wildly off target. After that, De Gea produced one save from Olivier Giroud to demonstrate why the crowd spent a good part of this occasion imploring him to ignore Real Madrid’s advances. He was hurt stretching to punch away a cross and his replacement, Victor Valdés, could probably be forgiven for thinking what happened next was cruel on him.

Valdés had not even got his gloves on the ball by the time one substitute, Theo Walcott, ran at another, Tyler Blackett, and tried to test the former Barcelona goalkeeper’s reflexes. The ball took a killer deflection off Blackett, wrong-footed Valdés completely and flew into the far corner for the equaliser.

Arsenal had at least started to play with enough momentum to feel they might have warranted a goal of almost outlandish good fortune and from that point they could also think back to chances to win the match, most notably with the shot that Giroud turned into the side-netting two minutes later.

Yet a draw was probably fair. The truth is neither team excelled and there was plenty of evidence why two sides that not long ago were competing for the top honours are now arguing over third and fourth place in Chelsea’s wing-mirrors.

Louis van Gaal must have been startled, for example, by the manner in which United lost their defensive shape in the final 20 minutes because they had been considerably the better team until that point and fully deserving of that moment, half an hour in, when the game’s outstanding performer, Ashley Young, crossed from the left and Arsenal’s defence was so pre-occupied with crowding out the obvious target, Marouane Fellaini, they left Ander Herrera unmarked at the back post to score with an expertly controlled volley.

Guardian Service

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