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Opinion: Jose Mourinho has finally found his ideal front 3 at Manchester United

06 Dec 2018, 12:21 IST

Manchester United v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Manchester United v Arsenal FC - Premier League

Manchester United and Arsenal played out a chaotic 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in a midweek Premier League fixture. Jose Mourinho experimented with a new-look backline, going with a five-man defence consisting of Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian.

Predictably though, Arsenal found it easy to carve out chances on a night that produced 6 yellow cards, 5 of which came in a 5-minute spell in the first half.

It was Arsenal who took the lead against the run of play when De Gea squandered what should have been an easy save off Shkodran Mustafi's header. United equalised soon after when Anthony Martial scored his 7th goal of the season on his 23rd birthday.

In the second half, a Rojo error led to Alexandre Lacazette finding himself through on goal, only for the Argentine to scamper back and put the ball in his own net in an attempt to rectify his mistake.

In what will definitely be one of the craziest goals of the season, Jesse Lingard then scored straight from kickoff, capitalising on a moment of indecision from Kolasinac and Leno to make it 2-2.

Mourinho's job might still be on the line, but there were some positives to take away for United.

Rashford, Martial and Lingard shine

The Old Trafford faithful will not be happy with the result itself, a third consecutive draw in the Premier League, but they will be happy with a tangible improvement seen going forward.

Rashford, Martial and Lingard lined up in what seemed to be a traditional front 3, but Lingard often dropped deep to dictate play, leaving the former two playing more centrally.

This constant movement proved to be hard for Arsenal to deal with, meaning that the Red Devils actually had more shots on goal and on target, in spite of having lesser possession.

Lingard celebrates his equaliser in front of Stretford End
Lingard celebrates his equaliser in front of Stretford End

But perhaps the biggest point in favour of this attacking trident was the relentless press that they executed to keep the Gunners on the back foot.

United was clearly the better team in the first half, and the relative lack of cutting edge in the final third could be attributed to an unfamiliarity with the formation.

No one really expected to United to have more fluency in attack than an Arsenal side that has scored 10 goals more than them this season, and this was in large part thanks to Rashford, Lingard and Martial's incessant harrying of Mustafi, Sokratis and Holding.

There was a palpable aggression in the air as well, with Emery forced to take Holding and Ramsey off due to injuries. It's been a long time since United fans have been treated to this kind of passion from their players.

Rashford, who's been criticised this season for his poor finishing, was instrumental with his link-up play, making his case for being Mourinho's first choice striker.

Pogba and Lukaku poor once again

It wasn't really surprising when Mourinho omitted Paul Pogba from the starting XI with all the rumours going around regarding their fraught relationship. But he was introduced in the second half with 15 minutes to go, 12 minutes after Lukaku replaced the Martial.

As soon as Lingard and Martial were taken off, the tide turned in Arsenal's favour. Emery's men dominated possession and created a string of opportunities that should have been enough to secure all 3 points had it not been for the imperious David De Gea, who atoned for his earlier error with several brilliant saves.

Pogba and Lukaku were painfully immobile compared to the players they substituted, putting absolutely no pressure on the Arsenal back line. This allowed the Gunners to play out from the back and dictate the pace of the game from midfield.

Lukaku's introduction failed to have the desired impact
Lukaku's introduction failed to have the desired impact

While Pogba can still be utilised in midfield without compromising the pace and movement of the forwards, Lukaku didn't really help himself with a forgettable second half cameo.

If not for those poor substitutions, Mourinho could have come away with an invaluable 3 points, and he might just live to regret that in the coming weeks.

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