A confident and bright display in the second half by Manchester United saw them take the lead against Arsenal and were minutes away from a hard earned and well-deserved victory. However, like several times this season, the failure to close the game cost them another 2 points as Olivier Giroud’s header in the 89th minute brought joy to the Gunners.
Mourinho vs Wenger matches have often been some of the most hard and closely fought matches in the league. However, this tie at Old Trafford was much quieter in comparison. The Manchester United manager was desperate for three points, as his team are struggling to keep in touch with the top 4 and lie in 6th position.
Arsenal, on the other hand, were under lesser pressure as they are just a couple of points away from the leaders.
Evenly matched first half
Manchester United started brightly, looking for an early goal as Arsenal struggled to keep their nerves. Arsenal went about their usual high press game, pressing the United midfield whenever they had the ball, while United did the same and did not give the opposition an inch of space in their final third. The ever lively Herrera earned a cheap free kick in the 5th minute, which was sent slightly wide by Mata.
Minutes later, Sanchez found himself in acres of space only a few yards from the United goal with a free header but it was shot well wide. Sanchez was playing with heavy strapping on his right thigh but it did not seem to matter to him a bit. Valencia was constantly causing Monreal trouble down the wing with his pace and Mustafi had to deal with a few crosses from the Ecuadorian right full back.
In the 25th minute, Walcott was caught by Darmian on his trailing leg and Andre Marriner was card happy as he gave a yellow card to the left back. This changed the turn of events as Arsenal seemed more and more confident on the ball. With the Manchester United side happy to sit back when not in possession, Arsenal pushed for a breakthrough. Mourinho’s famed 6-3-1 formation made sure that Arsenal did not find any space in the final third. However, it also meant that the United side had no men up front swiftly and Rashford was often isolated.
Arsenal failed to make any substantial move in their period of dominance as Elneny’s off target long shot was the closest they came to a goal. Manchester United were denied what seemed like a clear penalty as Monreal fouled Antonio Valencia in his own box. The pendulum swung United’s way again in the final few minutes of the half as Arsenal’s goalkeeper, Cech, was tested by Martial twice in a matter of a minute. The shots were comfortable saved by the big goalkeeper and the first half came to an end.
Second half belonged to Manchester United
No changes were made at the half time but Mourinho’s team talk seemed to have made the difference as United went all guns blazing in the second half. Pogba, who did not have a lively first half, turned up his magic in the second half with some fabulous diagonal passes and tricky feet. Herrera’s tireless work off the ball meant Arsenal were robbed off any kind of meaningful possession time and again.
Ramsey struggled throughout the match as he lost possession 5 times, more than any other player on the pitch. Sanchez was unable to find any space in the final third as he kept on dropping in the midfield, leaving Arsenal without a proper striker for most of the game.
Mourinho made two substitutions, Wayne Rooney coming in for Martial, who was kept quiet by Jenkinson, and Blind for Darmian, who could have been sent off as he was already on a yellow card. Jenkinson was targetted from the first minute by Manchester United as he was playing for Arsenal in a league match for the first time in nearly 30 months. However, the right-back was solid throughout the game.
The breakthrough finally came in the 68th minute after a flurry of Manchester United attacks. Pogba shrugged Monreal off the ball and laid off an intelligent ball for the marauding Herrera who put his cross in for Mata at the edge of the box. Mata’s ever impressive technique came to the fore as he sliced the ball perfectly into the bottom left corner. Monreal, who was having a torrid time against Valencia, was at the fault for the goal as he failed to keep up with Herrera.
Wenger’s perfect substitutions make the difference
The match seemed to be lost as Arsenal failed to muster up a single attempt at De Gea. Devoid of confidence, it seemed like Arsenal were being played around by Manchester United and their midfield players. However, a masterstroke by Arsene Wenger changed the match. Wenger brought on Giroud for Elneny for some aerial dominance over the shaky United defence.
A tired Rashford was playing on the left wing after Rooney took his place up front. Wenger also brought on Oxlade-Chamberlain for Jenkinson to exploit Rashford’s tired legs on the left. Manchester United were still attacking with ease but failed to convert any of the chances to a goal.
In the last minute of the regulation time, Oxlade ran off on the right wing, with Rashford unable to match his fresh legs, sent in a perfect curling delivery to Giroud waiting in the middle. A bullet header by the French striker ended up at the back of the net and Arsenal had equalised out of nowhere. First shot on target and a goal, Arsene breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
Man of the match: Ander Herrera. The Spaniard registered 90% pass accuracy, 6 interceptions, 3 chances created and an assist.
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