Manchester United held Arsenal to a 2-2 draw in a gripping contest punctuated by bizarre goals at a rain-sodden Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho left out Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku yet still managed to field a recognised defence as Darmian, Dalot, Rojo and Bailly were recalled to join Chris Smalling; given the three centre-backs performances though, Mourinho might wonder why he bothered. In the opposite dug-out, Unai Emery gave Ramsey and Guendouzi starts with Mesut Ozil again missing.
With torrential rain pouring all day in Manchester a scrappy game was always a possibility and the opening goal was just that. A corner found its way to Mustafi whose downward header was fumbled by David de Gea to give Arsenal the lead. Ander Herrera did attempt to hook the ball clear but goalline technology said otherwise and Emery’s side were ahead. The lead lasted four minutes though as Ander Herrera met a free kick and squared the ball to Anthony Martial who could not miss. Arsenal may feel slightly aggrieved by the equaliser as Herrera was standing in an offside position when the ball was played in but the goal stood and United were level.
The Gunners regained the lead thanks to a mad sequence of play which saw Marcus Rojo under-hit a pass to Lacazette, chase the Frenchman back, tackle him, and hook it back against himself to dribble into the corner. Arsenal’s lead lasted less than their first lead though as it was only thirteen seconds from the restart when Jesse Lingard reacted quickly to a Kolasinac mistake to poke the ball past Leno.
David de Gea made a string of decent saves to keep United level but both managers will be frustrated with only a point. In truth, neither side deserved a win with both sides lacking in quality. Arsenal will feel pride in extending their unbeaten run to 20 but they will be rueing their defensive lapses which allowed United back into the game.
The Old Trafford curse nearly strikes again
Arsenal have had two landmark wins at Old Trafford, one in March 1998 with Marc Overmars streaking clear to swing the title race in Arsenal’s favour and another in May 2002 that saw Sylvain Wiltord clinch the title at Old Trafford and inspire a banner that still sits in the Emirates today.
Other than that, Arsenal have found many weird and wonderful ways to lose at Old Trafford. A team featuring Marcus Rashford on league debut, Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay, Guillermo Varela, James Weir and Fosu Mensah beat Arsenal 3-2 as Arsenal found a way to give Leicester City the lead in the title race a few years ago. Arsene Wenger’s first visit to the stadium saw Manchester United on a four-game losing streak featuring a five nil loss to Newcastle, a 6-3 loss at Southampton and a first-ever European loss at Old Trafford.
Nigel Winterburn chested into his own net for a one-nil win to the Red Devils on this occasion and United started a 16 game league unbeaten run on their way to another league title. A team with a midfield of Rafael, Fabio, Gibson and O’Shea cruised to a cup win. There was a 6-1 humiliation in 2001 and an 8-2 a decade later. One Old Trafford defeat saw Wenger sent off and stood on top of the benches. They even found a way to lose to David Moyes. In short, Old Trafford sends Arsenal loopy.
Wednesday night showed similar glimpses of muddled thinking especially in conceding an equaliser thirteen seconds after going ahead. But the enterprise and spirit shown coupled with the recent draw against Liverpool and thrilling win against Spurs on Sunday suggests that Emery has instilled a touch of steel into what was a flaky side.
The young Frenchmen was marginalised earlier in the season, fined for staying away from preseason to look after his newborn child and the mother and was reportedly only stopped from leaving the club when Ed Woodward overruled Jose Mourinho. Martial scored his first league goal of the season to equalise against Newcastle in a 3-2 comeback win, scored two away against Chelsea in a performance that nearly secured a win and then scored the winner against Everton. An equaliser on the way to a win against Bournemouth and a consolation in the Manchester derby followed. In short, he is the only glimmer of hope this lethargic, one paced, dreary Manchester United attack posses.
Martial was bizarrely dropped in the poor draw against Southampton and his recall into the team on Wednesday resulted in the Frenchman grabbing the first United goal. On current form, he needs to play at the expense of anyone and everyone, especially the increasingly lumbering Lukaku who replaced Martial on the night.
A common defence of Mourinho is that the attackers he has aren’t at the required standard but it’s hard not to imagine how vibrant the Manchester United attack of Pogba, Mata, Lingard, Rashford and Martial would look if Pep Guardiola was in charge.
Does Woodward have a shopping list?
What can’t be denied when evaluating United’s woes this season is how short they are defensively. With only Victor Lindelof injured, United are missing their only defender with any form. Mourinho was left playing Bailly, Smalling and Rojo in a back three against Arsenal.
Smalling has been a liability for many a year and was left sprawled on the floor as Mustafi outmuscled him for the opener; while both Bailly and Rojo have had limited playing time this season and Wednesday showed why. Rojo made a horrific pass to no one that lead to his own goal, while Bailly was a nervous wreck all night with one late passage of play seeing him slip, slide and miskick while clearing nearly leading to a third Arsenal goal.
If Ed Woodward believes he knows more about centre-backs than the two-time Champions League winning Mourinho he needs to let Jose leave. The policy of giving Mourinho a new contract to then overrule his transfer requests was bizarre in the extreme and if Manchester United are to move forward as a football team as well as a commercial behemoth then Mourinho and Woodward need to find a compromise and a new centre-back or two in January. Rojo at the back and an accountant as director of football will not lead to success for one of the worlds biggest clubs.
De Gea regresses to the mean
The Spanish keeper was an xG favourite last season, conceding 13 goals less than expected and winning a fourth United player of the year in five as well as a place in the FIFA team of the year. The reliance on De Gea was again on show on Wednesday night as great saves against Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan meant United clung onto a point.
However, de Gea was at fault for the first goal as his poor handling let Mustafi’s tame header creep over the line and Manchester United are already now only three goals off equaling last seasons goals against tally. That a club with pretensions of big trophies is so reliant on consistent over performance by a goalkeeper is ludicrous, and as the first few months of this season shows, unsustainable.
Aaron Ramsey will leave Arsenal on a free next summer. Given his skill set, endeavour and recent performances good luck to whoever it is at Arsenal who has to find a free transfer better than Ramsey.