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Smalling: “United shouldn’t celebrate finishing 4th”

Manchester-United-v-Arsenal (7)Chris Smalling has insisted Manchester United should not celebrate clinching a top four finish, which should simply been seen as a first step after last season’s turmoil.

Having finished seventh under David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal achieved the target of dragging the club back into the top four, although a return to Champions League football could be short-lived as United could face a tricky playoff tie in August.

“It’s not a season where we’re massively celebrating, it’s a step. Next season we know that won’t be good enough and our fans at the end today were terrific,” he said.

“Hopefully next season we’ll be having a parade with something to really cheer about.”

Smalling admitted that United had improved during the season but were still some way short of being consistent enough to mount a serious title challenge.

“I think as the season’s gone on, we’ve got better, but Chelsea’s consistency from day one has won them the title,” he said.

“Sometimes they didn’t play well and still won games – they saw off games like this one [against Arsenal].

“They would have probably won it 1-0. Next season it’s a case of starting on the front foot and keeping that consistency.

“In these games you need to get that second goal and unfortunately we didn’t, and we paid the price at the end. All the lads came in and it’s almost as though we lost the game.”

Sunday’s game against Arsenal marked Smalling’s first game as captain and, although he had been previously given the armband as Wayne Rooney was substituted against Crystal Palace, the England defender described it as a massive honour.

“It was a big honour, when the manager told me, it was always going to be one to look forward to,” said the former Fulham man.

“If we’d got the win it would have been a lot nicer to savour, but it was still a proud moment for me.

“This season, some of us have had to step forward, especially with some of the older players leaving, so it’s nice that it’s being recognised.

“I think my game has progressed well in that we’ve done a lot of work on the field and have been given a lot of responsibility going forward as a unit. Each week we’re improving and everyone is feeling that togetherness.”