Arsenal defeat is a harsh reminder of the road ahead for Van Gaal

Karthik Raman / 10 March 2015

After Manchester United’s eight year unbeaten run against Arsenal at Old Trafford came to an end on Monday night, various things were learned. The important one being the tough challenge Louis Van Gaal currently has at his hands if he has to guide United into top four position come the end of May.

After facing fellow top four contender Tottenham Hotspur coming weekend, Red Devils face Liverpool at Anfield, Manchester City at Old Trafford, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Everton at Goodison Park before the end of April. The misery does not end here as United need to face Arsenal again at Old Trafford in the penultimate week (Match Day 37).

Of the 10 remaining fixtures, United face six difficult challenges. If United are to get the magic mark of 72 points to secure the top four places, they have to win six more games and manage a draw somewhere. Presuming Manchester United beat Aston Villa, Hull City, Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion. Still the Reds of Manchester need to grind out two victories among those difficult six clashes and earn another point.

With the way United are playing, the possibility of that happening is very less. The Reds can beat Spurs or Everton and nick another point somewhere among those six, however losing against their direct top four rivals such as Liverpool and Arsenal might be disastrous for them. It means United will not only lose three points but will give their rival three more. Hence a defeat in the six pointer might be handing over the momentum straight back to the rivals.

Also if United were to lose against their rivals, then with the form Liverpool and Arsenal are currently in, they can take the fourth place mark beyond 72 points. Which means getting the six wins and a draw in the remaining matches may still not be enough for Red Devils to finish in the top four. So it is imperative for Van Gaal to ensure United do not lose against their main rivals.

Seeing the way United are playing right now, it may not be such an easy task. Monday’s game against Arsenal was the first time in a while United played with such a high tempo in the first half. They did not do bad either in the second half, however the same daemons came to haunt United again.

Van Gaal’s failure to add a proper defender in the past summer or winter window is costing United heavily right now. Every time a team takes on United’s defence, the back four look shaky. Such was against Arsenal on Monday, as the defenders left so much space open for Monreal to score the opener despite having the entire team behind the ball.

However, the positioning is not the lone the worry as the teams distribution from the back was equally sloppy. The second goal scored by Welbeck from Valencia’s miss timed back pass being the best example. If United are to finish in top four, steadying the back four properly is an absolute must for Van Gaal.

Moreover, the Dutchman should make a call on his philosophy too. Clearly United defenders are not good enough to play from the back, hence he cannot make them play total football. Does that mean he has to change all over again from the beginning? With just ten matches to go, now is not the right time to experiment with the squad.

It is best for Van Gaal to let the players play in the way which suits them and try to grind out results from it rather than trying to instal a new philosophy in their brains. For that the coming summer is the right time. Now, all United need is to get the six wins and a draw and avoid losing to their direct rivals, irrespective of their playing style. Result is all important for United from now till end of the season no matter how ugly they get them.

Image courtesy: (c)GettyImages 

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