Wenger finally beats Mourinho - too little too late for Arsenal?
Gunners finally get one over on the man who called their manager a 'specialist in failure' but it may count for nothing
Arsenal 2 Manchester United 0
Two second-half goals in three minutes from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck broke Jose Mourinho hoodoo over Arsene Wenger.
The man the United manager memorably described three years ago as a "specialist in failure" had never beaten one of Mourinho's teams in the Premier League, a wretched run of 15 matches. Wenger's only success was Arsenal's win over Chelsea in the 2015 Community Shield but now the Frenchman has broken his curse on an afternoon when both sides struggled to showcase their talent.
It was goalless at half-time although both David De Gea and Petr Cech had made sharp saves to keep out their opponents in the first-half. The second period began slowly and only burst to life on 54 minutes when Xhaka unleashed a speculative 30-yard shot. De Gea had it covered but was left helpless as the shot struck Ander Herrera and looped up off the Spaniard's back and into the net.
It was cruel on De Gea but the United keeper had little time to dwell on his misfortune as Welbeck rose above a sluggish United defence to guide Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's precise cross from the right into the roof of the net. "Obviously I grew up in the North West and it's a special place in my life," said Welbeck, once of United. "When I get on that pitch it's just business. When you score you have to be happy - it's only natural."
Arsenal looked the more likely to score in the final quarter as United accepted defeat and began looking towards Thursday's Europa League second leg against Celta Vigo.
It was clear from the moment Mourinho revealed his starting XI that his priority this week is to preserve their slender 1-0 advantage from the first-leg. The United team showed eight changes to that first-leg success and they offered little in the way of attacking threat with six of their nine shots coming from the boot of Wayne Rooney, and only two of those were on target.
The defeat ended United's 25 unbeaten run in the Premier League and was their first reverse since losing to Chelsea in October. And it was, according to Mourinho, undeserved. "The team was good, organised, we tried to win, we played to win, we defended well and Arsenal weren't better than us in my opinion," said the United manager.
"We lost because we didn't score and we had great chances to score before them. They had luck with that goal." Asked about the changes, Mourinho said: "We tried to play for a result today. You can say I made changes, but you cannot say we didn't try to win the game... I feared some players couldn't play for 90 minutes so I felt I had to make changes."
The defeat means United remain in fifth, two points above Arsenal but having played a game more, and four shy of Manchester City. Despite the win the Gunners hopes of finishing in the top four for the 21st consecutive season are out of their hands, although Liverpool's goalless draw with Southampton earlier on Sunday was an added boost for the north London outfit.
With two games in hand on the third place Reds, Arsenal are seven points behind and they are six adrift of City, who have played one match more. "We still have a mathematical chance but we need some help," said Wenger. "But the best help we can get is by winning our own games."
The next game is an awkward trip to Southampton on Wednesday evening but Arsenal will visit St Mary's encouraged by ending United's longstanding unbeaten run. Wenger however played down the significance of the result, particularly the fact that finally he has defeated Jose Mourinho in a league clash.
"It is not manager against manager," he said. "We have had many draws as well and there were some fantastic teams that we played against."
Arsenal vs Man Utd: Is Mourinho bluffing amid peace talks?
All eyes will be on Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on Sunday to see if he comes good on his pledge to rest players against Arsenal in the stand-out Premier League fixture of the weekend.
In the build-up to Thursday's Europa League first-round semi-final game against Anderlecht, which United won 1-0, Mourinho insisted the European competition was his priority and that injuries and a hectic fixture schedule meant he had no choice but to field a second-string side at the Emirates.
The question is whether he was "bluffing", says Matt Dickinson of The Times, adding: "Against Arsene Wenger, of all dug-out foes, you would have thought him as likely to present his opponent with an expensive bottle of wine as take any chances."
Mourinho has never lost a competitive match to Wenger, but says he does not have the resources to defend that record.
Dickinson continues: "There are facts here but, inevitably, also propaganda as Mourinho talks endlessly about the problems he must overcome. This is a familiar case of Mourinho trying to manipulate expectations."
On Friday, Mourinho said he still expected whatever team he put out to "fight", but added: "It's impossible not to rest players. I cannot do it in another way."
Another curious aspect of Sunday's match could be the lack of animosity between the managers.
Both men have spoken about burying the hatchet after a decade of bad blood, with Wenger saying he was "open" to the idea of a truce and Mourinho declaring: "He doesn't need to make peace. He doesn't need to because there are no problems."
If that doesn't take the heat out of the occasion, then the context of the match surely will, says Barry Glendenning of The Guardian.
"Arsenal entertaining Manchester United at the Emirates this late in the season is undeniably a Big Game with plenty riding on the outcome for both sides, but few could have predicted in August that this would be little more than a battle for both teams to keep alive their – extremely faint, in the case of Arsenal – hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League."
"Technical area enmity might well be the highlight of a game where on-field entertainment could be in very short supply."