If there is a player who is symptomatic of Manchester United’s malaise it is Bruno Fernandes. In the behind-closed-doors era of games played in sterile training ground atmospheres, Fernandes converted 19 penalties and missed one. With crowds back, Fernandes has missed both he has taken in regulation time.
Fernandes is not the only United player to have been found out with supporters clicking through the turnstiles and expectations raised. All that Fernandes has raised this season has been his salary from him.
Incapable of recovering from the penalty he pulled wide, Fernandes assisted Granit Xhaka in reopening Arsenal’s two-goal lead 13 minutes later.
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The latest recipient of an ill-timed contract doled out by a charitable hierarchy, Fernandes is deemed untouchable when right now he is unplayable. Fernandes’s form of him, problematic all season, has plummeted since he was ushered into the Carrington press room to sign his papers of him and boost United’s social media impressions. Fernandes is currently making the wrong impression. He was substituted to cackles from the Arsenal fans.
Chosen to step up on account of Cristiano Ronaldo’s miss against Middlesbrough two months ago, Fernandes staggered, paused and pulled his own penalty too wide, flicking the post. Aaron Ramsdale could hardly have dived further away from the ball but celebrated gleefully, stopping just short of Fernandes, as though he had psyched him out.
As a constant pick and under contract for the long-term, Fernandes is an obvious contender to inherit the captaincy from Harry Maguire under Erik ten Hag. The sight of Fernandes, sporting the armband with Maguire dropped, rolling a teammate having punted the ball out for a goal kick was another glimpse of why he is unworthy of the privilege. Then again, who is he?
United have broken double figures for the season in the ‘lost’ column of the Premier League table. Their tenth was a travesty. Diogo Dalot struck the crossbar and the post, Ronaldo was narrowly denied an equalizer by the linesman’s flag, and the referee and VAR ignored a patent penalty long before Fernandes missed his spotkick.
Should Arsenal finish fourth, they may be remembered as the most undeserving Champions League qualifiers. Gifted goals by United, they strove to do likewise. United have been particularly profligate in games since the domestic season summarized in February, lacking the mettle for a run-in with not prefixed by the word ‘title’. Arsenal was the latest fixture where they had enough chances to win a month full of matches and did not win.
At the opposite end, United’s defense is destined to be their worst since 1978-79. They are three goals shy of matching the 54 United shipped in 2018-19 when they finished sixth. History could soon repeat itself.
Maguire enjoyed his best performance of the season from the bench. The passage of defending that gifted Arsenal the lead in the third minute was more execrable than anything on display at Anfield. Raphael Varane failed to clear, Alex Telles swiped at thin air and Diogo Dalot was as much of an obstacle as a hologram for Nuno Tavares. Tavares wanted it more.
Varane and Telles debriefed diplomatically, their conversation devoid of conflict. United supporters soon started chanting Anderson’s song, reminiscing about a time when they had a player who bossed Arsenal.
United were fortunate their latest early concession was against another also-ran. Arsenal did not have it in them to embarrass United and once Anthony Elanga was released by Cristiano Ronaldo, United realized Arsenal were eminently obtainable.
Arsenal’s haphazard attempts at playing out of their own third enabled United to rediscover pressing, a skill Ralf Rangnick seemed to have given up on introducing them to months ago. An Arsenal fan sat near the press box, vented at the modern approach, clearly longing for the days of a punt upfield from Pat Jennings or Bob Wilson.
Ronaldo was a flexible focal point, emboldened by the slapstick Cedric Soares to drift wide. Soares, Tavares, Telles and Dalot must be the worst quartet of full-backs in an Arsenal-United match for decades. Dalot almost trumped Tavares with a dipping strike that bounced off the crossbar at 1-0.
It has to be a matter of time until Alvaro Fernandez, the 19-year-old left-back signed from Real Madrid, starts ahead of the poor Telles. Not content with being partly guilty for the first goal, he was solely blameworthy for the second, clumsily ploughing into Bukayo Saka.
Saka scored and Ronaldo repeatedly patted his hand, referring to the clumsy handball by Soares the referee Craig Pawson had earlier ignored. Not worthy of a replay at the rime, the footage showed Soares was on the line and therefore in the box. Jarred Gillett, the Video Assistant Referee, was about as switched on as both teams’ defenses.
Despite Arsenal’s fast start, such is the sub-standard among the teams outside the top three, United were wondering how they were not level before the half-hour mark. Elanga, Scott McTominay and Fernandes spurned presentable opportunities. By the time Ronaldo pounced with a half-volley, Saka had converted.