Arsene Wenger travelled to Old Trafford for the last time with his side heavily rotated in anticipation of their massive Europa League semi final midweek.
Jose Mourinho and his squad looked to keep in form with only second place to play for and an FA Cup Final on the horizon. For these reasons, the build-up to the match wasn’t quite what we’d grown to expect in this rivalry, but hopefully the match wouldn’t equally disappoint.
Manchester United – 433 – De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Lindelof, Young, Herrera (Fellaini 64’), Matic, Pogba, Lingard (Martial 64’), Lukaku (Rashford 50’), Sanchez
Arsenal – 4231 – Ospina, Bellerin, Chambers, Mavropanos, Kolasinac (Monreal 64’), Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Mkhitaryan (Willock 76’), Iwobi, Nelson (Welbeck 64’), Aubameyang
Both teams got off to a slow start, comfortably exchanging possession with no real intent going forward. After the pregame ceremonies the match had an exhibition like feel, further caused by the minimum stakes at play. Arsenal, with a largely inexperienced side, looked to set up in a defensive shell, organized behind the ball. Manchester United had plenty of possession in the opposition half but were no threat. However, they would get the lead with their first real drive up the field. Pogba made a marauding run through midfield and found Lukaku out on the edge of the box. His delightful cross to the back post was met by Sanchez, whose effort was brilliantly blocked by Bellerin. But, Pogba was quick to anticipate the rebound and had an easy tap in. After creating the opportunity, he got his reward.
The opening goal injected some life into the match but couldn’t quite get either team out of their comfort zone. Mkhitaryan soon came close to scoring, after a deft layoff from Maitland-Niles set up his strike that had beat De Gea but flew inches wide of the post. With little possession they had, Arsenal began to find quality in their buildup but were still no real threat on goal. This was caused in large part by an impressive Lindelof. He was quick to read any potential danger and was all over Aubameyang who had very few touches throughout. Manchester United would get one more chance before the half, after a cross from Ashley Young smacked the woodwork, nearly catching Ospina out at his near post.Embed from Getty Images
Manchester United were forced into an early change as Lukaku couldn’t shake off a tackle from Mavropanos. As soon as Rashford came on, Arsenal would finally get their breakthrough. Layed off by Xhaka, Mkhitaryan drove at the heart of United defense and after being stood up, struck a low driven effort through Lindelof’s legs and into the bottom corner, leaving De Gea no chance. Against the run of play or not, Manchester United had been poor all afternoon against a young Arsenal side that deserved to be level. With both teams making double changes at the hour mark, the match looked excellently poised for a blistering finish.
Martial had a massive impact off the bench, causing havoc every time he had the ball down the left wing. Arsenal had no answer for his blistering pace and swift change of direction yet Manchester United could not find the breakthrough. As time went on and the crowd unrest grew, United finally found the intensity the match had been crying out for and a winner looked inevitable, but had they left it too late? With a few minutes to spare, Rashford thought he had won it after a Fellaini header, from a Martial cross, ricocheted off the post into Rashford and into the back of the net. However, he was rightly called offside and the match continued. However, Fellaini would get one more chance and did he ever take it. United threw everything they had in the closing seconds and made it count. An in swinging cross from Young, the beneficiary of acres of space because of the threat of Martial, found Fellaini in the middle of the box whose looping effort creeped past a sprawling Ospina. Manchester United were lucky to get all three points after an abysmal all-around performance but they won’t care at all after saying farewell to Arsene Wenger with a classic Fergie time winner.Embed from Getty Images
MOTM: Both teams looked well off the pace and in full flow at differing times throughout the game. Maitland-Niles and Mkhitaryan were vital to anything Arsenal produced going forward but were unlucky to end up on the losing end. Martial had a huge impact off the bench, propelling Manchester United to victory in the end. But, if there was one man who made that extra difference, it was Paul Pogba. Perhaps well suited to the nonchalant tempo in this match, Pogba was in control and anytime Manchester United showed promise, he was fully involved. Still a lot expected from the man but in recent weeks he has seemed to take it up a level.
Written by Ammar Nazarali.
22. Currently living in the great state of Texas. Manchester United Team Correspondent for 90maat. #ILoveThisGame (FPLAmmar)