Man United must lay down marker against Arsenal
United must beat Arsenal to try and seal third spot while laying down marker for next season
MAN UNITED v ARSENAL
(Tonight, 11pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
David Gill believes Manchester United will challenge for silverware on four fronts next season.
Whatever the club's chief executive has been sprinkling on his cornflakes, he should share it with the dressing room.
The Red Devils are nowhere near good enough to justify foolish boasts of bulging trophy cabinets.
At the very least, United should avenge their FA Cup defeat by Arsenal tonight before anyone talks future title prospects.
That loss against the Gunners back in March was embarrassing beyond the fact it was played out in United's own backyard.
Danny Welbeck's winner highlighted the gulf in quality between the two sides, obscured partially by the fairy-tale return of a United old boy.
But memories are short, it seems, particularly in a buoyant boardroom dazzled by the dollar signs of a Champions League return.
On the eve of the decisive battle for third spot, Gill informed the world that United would compete for four trophies next season.
When the world had stopped laughing, it paid closer attention to Paul Scholes.
The retired midfielder was on hand to douse Gill's exuberance with a bucket of cold perspective.
Title talk is woefully premature, Scholes correctly pointed out.
Like lone swallows and summers, one Memphis Depay does not make a championship-winning squad.
Both Chelsea and Arsenal have superior sides to United at present. Both are queuing up with shopping trolleys in hand, credit cards at the ready.
Gill's optimistic outburst could sound more like a statement of intent if the Red Devils prevail tonight.
Otherwise, his hollow boast will come across as emptier than United's creative ideas box at Selhurst Park last weekend.
Their fortuitous victory over Crystal Palace was mostly attributed to just two players - one whose renaissance owes plenty to Louis van Gaal's powers of resurrection.
The other could be off in the summer.
Ashley Young's uplifting tale almost summarises his team's fortunes, a struggling talent punching above his weight.
More rescue worker than winger, he keeps getting his teammates out of holes.
But if one incident, one extraordinary moment of athletic improvisation, defined United's lacklustre season, it was David de Gea's remarkable save to deny Palace striker Glenn Murray.
The stop kept his side in the game. The goalkeeper has kept his side in the top four for much of the campaign.
De Gea has been less a defensive shield than a smokescreen, pulling attention away from van Gaal's erratic tinkering, the lack of inventiveness in the final third and the shocking form of key signings.
Without the Spaniard, United would've chalked up a fourth consecutive defeat at Palace and faced a fight to qualify for the Champions League.
They are fourth by default.
Liverpool's farcical implosion and Tottenham's inconsistency are hardly the fault of van Gaal, but the Dutchman will achieve his pre-season target only by being the least worst side among his rivals.
As Young papered over the obvious cracks against Palace, van Gaal must come up with another Band-Aid to cover Michael Carrick's absence against Arsenal.
Carrick will be 34 in July, but the midfielder has already signed a new contract. United are rudderless without him. They seldom win without him.
Chelsea re-adjusted to accommodate the loss of Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic in mid-season, while Arsenal's impressive subs bench has allowed the club to make real progress.
In the past, a single injury saw the Gunners fall like dominoes. Now they hold firm.
United lost a 33-year-old midfielder and their campaign almost collapsed. Only Young and de Gea propped them up.
Two veterans and a Spaniard flirting in his native tongue with admirers in Madrid is hardly a solid foundation to launch a battle for a Quadruple.
In the boardroom, Gill may use the projected Champions League revenues to measure United's progress, but the Gunners should present a more suitable yardstick tonight.
Arsene Wenger will view the regular positional changes of Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Daley Blind as a reflection of a creative department that can't make up its mind.
Those players haven't created or scored enough goals. Nor have their replacements. It's been another disappointing campaign at Old Trafford.
Any progress made since the David Moyes era appears marginal.
So a victory against the Gunners would be most timely, even if Gill's claim of a trophy charge on four fronts next season sounds absurd.
After the FA Cup defeat, United will relish the opportunity to play the avengers.
But they're certainly not ready for the Fantastic Four.
BY THE NUMBERS
Manchester United have won seven of their last eight league games at Old Trafford.
Arsenal have won five successive league games away from home.
United have gone seven games without keeping a clean sheet. The last time they conceded in eight Premier League matches in a row was in September 2001.