United end season on a high despite penalty defeat
"Day light robbery", "travesty", "entirely the wrong result". This is just some of the emotive, yet accurate language, used by Fleet Street's finest and highly regarded television and radio personnel to describe yesterday's result. The fact that the FA Cup left the Millenium Stadium on the Arsenal team bus and not that of Manchester United will still seem astonishing to all who witnessed the match. That astonishment will also still be ingrained on the minds of those Gunners fans who have come to appreciate the penetrative attacking football that Arsenal themselves have produced and entertained so many with under Arsene Wenger's reign.
The tactics employed by Wenger yesterday still baffle. Arsenal' strengths are fast accurate passing with players making runs forward from midfield to stretch opposing defences. But against United, Arsenal playing with Dennis Bergkamp alone up front were virtually non-existent as an attacking force from the 15 minute mark onwards. But, even with the increased number of men in midfield, Arsenal could not contain the explosive pace and skill of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, and the bite and tenacity of Roy Keane and Darren Fletcher. It could be argued that as early as midway through the second half, Arsenal had settled for penalties - a damning indictment of a team as brilliant and mesmerising as they can be.
But credit where credit is due - Arsenal were masterly from the penalty spot.
Although Rooney was given man of the match yesterday for yet another virtuoso display, Ronaldo's efforts should not be overlooked. His was a performace of breathtaking wing play - one of the best in recent memory. The number of times that he left the Arsenal defence in his wake in a blur of stepovers and sheer speed was simply awe-inspiring. One can also only hope that Jose Reyes learns a few lessons from Ronaldo on how to take a few tough takles but pick yourself up and get on with things.
But, ultimately, as Alex Ferguson said, United have only themselves to blame for yesterday's loss. United have created and missed chances all season and it cost them dearly in the Cup Final. United can blame lady luck only so many times, but poor finishing has been United's downfall this season and Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes were the latest culprits yesterday.
Even if United had beaten Arsenal it would have been a poor season by their high standards. But the manner of their performance and the grit and determination of United's play bodes well for next season. The worry was that United would enter next season with an inferiority complex to Arsenal, after their barn-storming finish this season, and champions Chelsea. Yesterday's performance should dispel that notion. United players should take heart from that - but also get down to some shooting practice at Carrington as soon as possible.