David Moyes defends tactics and thanks Manchester United fans for keeping faith ahead of Arsenal meeting

United could find themselves 12 points adrift of the Champions League places with defeat at the Emirates tonight

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When he sits down to watch Arsenal play Manchester United in one of English football's great set-piece occasions, Roy Hodgson might recognise something of himself in the man in the away dugout.

Once, the England manager stood where David Moyes now is. He had come to Liverpool with an enviable CV and reputation – his achievements in taking Fulham to a European final had made him manager of the year in 2010. Five months into the job he was depicted as a chronic incompetent, whose tactics were portrayed as primitive and who failed to grasp that his every statement and his every tactical adjustment would be analysed to destruction.

There is one difference between Hodgson's Liverpool and Moyes's Manchester United. Anfield felt Hodgson was beneath them and were not slow to advertise their feelings. Some hankered for Rafa Benitez; others yearned for the return of Kenny Dalglish.

The most astonishing thing about the disintegration of Manchester United is the club has held together, at least in public. When another England manager, Terry Venables, was given the keys to Barcelona, he was told the fans would either build a statue to him or set fire to his car. There are too many statues at Old Trafford already and Moyes' car and his job are not yet under threat.

The Stretford End with its banner proclaiming Moyes as "The Chosen One" has held fast to Sir Alex Ferguson's public pledge – an oath almost – for it to support his successor. Even their former captain, Roy Keane, one of the most unforgiving men ever to have played at Old Trafford, insisted that Moyes be backed with time and the money to buy half a dozen players. Keane placed the blame for United's decline squarely on Ferguson's regime. "They have cut corners in terms of transfers in the last few years," he said. "They have not gone out and got the big players and it has caught up with them this year."

Nevertheless, had he been in Madrid or Milan, it is hard to imagine Moyes would have survived being seventh in mid-February. "The supporters have been fantastic," he said. "That's why the right clubs pick the right managers and the right managers pick the right clubs. That's why I always hoped and dreamt Manchester United would come in for me.

"I was given a six-year contract because it was a long-term deal. It was always going to take time. There has been rebuilding going on year after year here and we will continue to do that."

Hodgson was never accused of producing Conference-level football as Moyes was after the 2-2 draw with a Fulham side that, according to its manager, Rene Meulensteen, had fallen as low as it could.

The Fulham defender, Dan Burn, who had played in the Conference and who headed away 22 of United's 81 crosses on Sunday evening, something he had not done since at Darlington, probably did not mean to suggest that the champions of England were now a fifth-tier operation.

However, two days after a match that the Manchester Evening News had described on its front page as a "debacle", Moyes was still riled by suggestions from Meulensteen, once Ferguson's right-hand man, that United's tactics had been easy to counter.

"You need to have a football intelligence, a football brain to understand that, first of all," said Moyes. "You have to be able to know that if teams cram the middle of the pitch, the space would be out wide where you would go to try to pick out team-mates.

"If we had played the game and had no crosses, we would have been criticised for not crossing the ball. I thought only one team came to win. I thought we played on a one-way street."

Moyes' first season has been full of spluttering starts and stalled engines. United's 1-0 win over Arsenal in November rivals the 5-0 rout of Bayer Leverkusen as their finest post-Ferguson performance. It was not built on but it showed what could be achieved.

"It was a really good performance just before the international break and we went away in a really good period," he said. "We have probably been a bit rocky since then. We were getting into a stronger position but we never picked it up."