Miss out on title, and Wenger should go
If Arsenal miss out on title again, Frenchman should call it a day
MAN UNITED 3
(Marcus Rashford 29, 32, Ander Herrera 65)
(Danny Welbeck 40, Mesut Oezil 69)
Old Trafford was the last straw. Any remaining goodwill towards Arsene Wenger evaporated after such Sunday's insipid display.
The Arsenal manager, so often trumpeted as the last of the idealists, now looks like a dinosaur wallowing in his dogma.
If the English Premier League title once again eludes the Gunners, then the greatest accountant in the club's history should put away his calculator, clear his desk and head towards retirement.
Like the club, he's all out of excuses. This was going to be Arsenal's year. It had to be Arsenal's year. There was not going to be another.
Before Chelsea, Liverpool and the two halves of Manchester return with a vengeance next season, this campaign represented a surreal mishmash of overachievers and plucky underdogs.
It was a chance for Wenger to go out on an open-top bus parade rather than through a side door.
But he blew it.
The Gunners laid down at Old Trafford on Sunday; same old Arsenal, always choking.
The top three all faced potential banana skins and they all slipped a little during their respective outings.
Leicester wobbled against Norwich, Tottenham teetered against Swansea and Arsenal struggled at United's kindergarten.
But Leicester and Tottenham found their footing. Only the Gunners fell. Defeats at Old Trafford are excusable, but the performance was objectionable.
Much has been made of United's injury-ravaged squad and their inexperienced teenagers, but the less romantic reality is their patched-up 11 still cost more to put together than their opponents' side.
Daley Blind, Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera provided an expensive and reliable spine for the otherwise fragile hosts.
The difference wasn't cost, but commitment. Wenger cannot raise his men when it really matters. He engineers balletic football with no backbone.
For all his faults, Louis van Gaal knew what he was doing when he threw himself to the ground to mock an alleged dive.
The showman generated the loudest cheer of the day, sending an electrical charge rolling down the stands and towards the flagging hosts.
Wenger could only sulk on the bench, looking like a confused maths student trying to work out a long division sum.
Perhaps he was trying to calculate the value of a title-winning striker. Arsenal's apoplectic supporters already know the answer.
Leicester have Jamie Vardy, Tottenham are blessed with Harry Kane and Manchester City can usually rely on the indefatigable Sergio Aguero.
Even United have Marcus Rashford, an 18-year-old who displayed a positional awareness and instinctive movement beyond any centre forward in an Arsenal jersey.
Wenger picked Theo Walcott, who may be the most frustrating English footballer of his generation, providing an inexhaustible supply of near misses for almost a decade.
But Wenger has persisted with Walcott and Olivier Giroud this season, footballers who will score but will never scale the heights of their title-winning predecessors at Arsenal. Nor will they match the consistency of Vardy, Kane and Aguero.
Giroud scored regularly until Christmas, but he conformed to Arsenal stereotype once the season entered its squeaky-bum period. He shrank, along with his teammates.
The white flag was raised because their manager displays a similar level of timidity in the boardroom.
Wenger had to buy a striker to ensure an even distribution of quality from front to back. He had Petr Cech at one end and Giroud at the other.
Europe's finest attacks respect Cech's accomplishments between the sticks. Few defences lose sleep over Giroud, or Walcott for that matter.
A leading striker was the difference between winning the title and losing any remaining sympathy. But Arsenal's owners bought no one of note.
Stan Kroenke, the club's largest shareholder and worth £4.25 billion ($8.3b), bought a 535,000-acre Texas ranch for half a billion pounds instead last month.
How the American spends his personal wealth is his business, except that it isn't. It's Arsenal's business.
Last year, the club paid £3 million to a US company owned by Kroenke for "strategic and advisory services".
Arsenal also have the most expensive season tickets in the EPL at £2,013 (their cheapest season ticket is still £1,014).
Such greed fuels the underlying fury. From Singapore to north London, Gunners fans are endorsing a profit-obsessed, under-performing team.
And through it all, Wenger has said little and signed even less, content to maintain Arsenal's top-four status with a squad of entertaining artists with soft underbellies.
But Old Trafford felt like the beginning of the end. Balanced squads win titles. A balance sheet doesn't.
Supporters have tolerated - and subsidised - the Gunners' annual failure for long enough.
If the Gunners fail to win the title at the end of the season, Wenger may find that he has plenty of money in the transfer kitty, but no credit left with the Arsenal faithful.
We have to not feel sorry for ourselves. Mathematically, what it means, we will only know at the end of the season.
— Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
SILENCE OF THE GUNNERS
Arsenal have lost seven of their last nine EPL trips to Old Trafford. And Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud has not scored in nine games — his longest drought in four years.
WHAT OTHERS SAY:
“Arsenal today bordered on being a joke. The team just don’t have ‘it’ — and I’ll stand on my head if they prove me wrong and go and win this league.”
— Graeme Souness
“That wasn’t the performance of a team who want to be champions.”
— Former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry
LVG: Emotion got the better of me
Louis van Gaal blamed high emotions for his bizarre touchline spat with fourth official Mike Dean during Manchester United's 3-2 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The Dutchman (above) threw himself to the ground under Dean's nose in an attempt to illustrate his frustration at an alleged diving incident by Gunners striker Alexis Sanchez.
With Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger standing only metres away and trying hard not to react, van Gaal continued to argue with Dean while he lay momentarily prostrate on the turf.
His colourful protest drew an enormous cheer from United fans, and even a sporadic and rare outburst of "Louis Van Gaal's red and white army" from the Stretford End.
But van Gaal admitted that he had gone too far, saying: "That was too emotional - it is not good for the referee and the linesman and the fourth official.
"It doesn't happen much normally - I have had a lot of criticism because I am sitting on my bench and now I am off my bench and I have a lot of criticism because I'm doing that.
"I have apologised to the referee and the linesman and I hope everything is solved. I have to control my emotions and I have said that also to my players."
Wenger would only offer a wry smile when asked about his opposite number's touchline antics.
"Nothing," Wenger replied.
"I do not want to comment on that because (you will say) I'm a bitter loser - I am, in fact."
Van Gaal might have stolen the limelight momentarily with his antics, but it was Marcus Rashford's latest brace that had the Old Trafford faithful on their feet.
The teenage striker followed up his Europa League debut double on Thursday with two more goals in the first half against the Gunners.
The 18-year-old also set up Ander Herrera for his deflected third goal to leave a stunned Wenger admitting United could have unearthed a gem.
"The player who was surprising for me talent-wise was Rashford because of the timing of his movement and his intelligence," the Frenchman said. "His movement in the box was great and he could be a very positive surprise for Manchester United by what I've seen." - PA Sport.
Normally in the first matches, a debutant’s plays are good, but it is the consistency — he has to show it in the third, fourth, fifth match. But what he showed in his second match is special, I think.
— Louis van Gaal on Marcus Rashford (near right, celebrating with Juan Mata)
5 facts about Rashford
1 He was born on Halloween in 1997
Rashford was born in Manchester on Oct 31, 1997, a few months after Louis van Gaal left Dutch giants Ajax to take up a post with Barcelona.
2 He used to play for Fletcher Moss Rangers at youth level
The likes of Wes Brown, Danny Welbeck and Ravel Morrison all represented the team in their junior years, while current United teammates Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Tyler Blackett were also from the team.
3 He was prolific at Under-18 level
Rashford topped the scoring charts for United's U-18s last year, having found the net on 13 occasions in 25 starts.
4 He scored twice on his Uefa Youth League debut
Rashford was named captain and scored a brace in United U-19s' Uefa Youth League 3-0 win over PSV Eindhoven in September.
5 He has been in senior United squads before
Rashford was an unused substitute in the 2-1 win at Watford on Nov 21 and in the 1-1 draw at Leicester the following weekend. - PA Sport.