Football: Resolute Arsenal thwart United

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The Independent Online
Manchester United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Arsenal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

APRIL cannot come too soon at Old Trafford. March has been a miserable month for United, four points from five games and, even more worryingly, only four goals scored. They have now dropped to third place and the biggest cheer of the night came with the announcement of Villa's defeat.

Londoners would argue they were fortunate to take a point last night. Arsenal, depleted by injuries, came undefeated in nine matches, having won their last four, and presented their usual resolute defence and packed midfield. They mounted only half the number of attacks but were usually more threatening.

Kevin Campbell all but got the ball past Peter Schmeichel; Ian Wright fired a shot off Schmeichel's knees; and after the interval Paul Merson lobbed against United's crossbar.

In this reshaped defence Tony Adams was a rock upon which United crashed unavailingly. David Seaman was rarely stretched; only once, when Eric Cantona fired into his body, did he appear not in control.

United's formation, with only Paul Ince in midfield, led to defeat in the FA Cup at Sheffield United. The threat of an Arsenal breakaway was present last night until 14 minutes from time when Bryan Robson arrived to displace Mark Hughes and to bring a better shape and balance.

Alex Ferguson seemed justified in this policy but the Oldham defeat seems to have affected confidence more than was apparent at the time. After the win at Liverpool, when the quality of United's football seemed sufficient to sweep them to the championship, there have been more attackers in opposing areas than goals scored. Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe have dried up while United's defence has become increasingly vulnerable.

Ferguson said afterwards: 'Arsenal gave us a lot of problems but we should have won. It was frustrating, but the result was fair, and if Arsenal play as hard as this against Villa at Highbury, I'll be satisfied.

'We knew March would be hard, but I'm not too disappointed. We're still there and challenging.' Ferguson added that he had withdrawn Mark Hughes because the Welsh striker would unavailable, suspended, for the key match at Norwich. 'I had to know if Bryan Robson was up to the pace of the game and in the 15 minutes he had out there he looked OK.'

Ferguson has been reluctant to drop Sharpe, pointing out that, although he has not scored this year, he has had '15 assists'. But changes were necessary and it may be that the FA disciplinary committee have unwittingly forced the issue.

Manchester United: Schmeichel; Parker, Irwin, Bruce, Sharpe, Pallister, Cantona, Ince, McClair, Hughes (Robson, 76), Giggs. Substitutes not used: Kanchelskis, Sealey (gk).

Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Morrow, Linighan, Adams (Hillier, 88), Jensen, Wright, Campbell, Merson, Carter (Parlour, 58). Substitute not used: Miller (gk).

Referee: V Callow (Solihull).