Premier League: Arsenal beaten in ‘Fergie time’ by Man Utd
Marouane Fellaini’s late header spoils Arsene Wenger’s last trip to Old Trafford
Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1
A decade and a half ago clashes between Manchester United and Arsenal were invariably brutal, brilliant and more often than not crucial in deciding the destination of the Premier League title. Those days are long gone and yesterday’s game at Old Trafford encapsulates the decline of two great clubs.
There was neither passion nor pace, and for the fans little excitement until in stoppage time Marouane Fellaini headed home Ashley Young’s cross to give United a 2-1 win.
The Belgian’s goal ensured Champions League football will return to Old Trafford next season as United cannot now finish outside the top four.
A penny for the thoughts of Alex Ferguson, who looked on from the stands after warmly embracing Arsene Wenger before kick-off and presenting him with a gift. The old sparring partners have long since hung up their gloves and the aggression they instilled in their respective clubs has been replaced by a genial indifference from the two sets of players.
At least Arsenal could point to the eight changes made by Wenger three days after their Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid – and the return leg this Thursday – as an excuse for their lack of cut and thrust.
Instead Wenger went for youth, selecting a starting XI with an average age of 24 years and 67 days – Arsenal’s youngest line-up in the Premier League since August 2011. On that occasion they were thrashed 8-2 by United at Old Trafford so yesterday’s 2-1 defeat was a testament either to this generation of young Gunners or an indictment of a United side that lacks incision and invention.
They started brightly, with Paul Pogba putting them ahead on 16 minutes when he poked home the rebound after Alexis Sanchez’s attempt was diverted on to the post by Hector Bellerin. Arsenal then levelled after the break when Henrikh Mkhitaryan was allowed too much time and space by his former teammates. He thanked them by stroking the ball past David de Gea from the edge of the area.
Then came Fellaini’s late goal that left Arsenal still searching for their first league away win of the year. “It was unfortunate because we had a positive performance but we paid for the fatigue in the final 20 minutes from players who are not used to it,” said Wenger, who has failed to win at Old Trafford in his last 11 matches.
On the plus side for the Frenchman – or rather for his successor, whoever that might be – there were some encouraging displays from the young Gunners, notably 20-year-old Ainsley Maitland-Niles and 21 year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos, the Greek defender making his league debut.
“Maitland-Niles is slowly becoming the player I think he can be in defensive midfield,” said Wenger. “He can create as well. Mavropanos, in training... has shown top quality.”
Then came the question that must have hurt the Arsenal manager, still upset at the manner of his impending departure. “Look, my successor certainly will have watched this game today,” he said when asked about the health of the squad he bequeaths to the new man. “Hopefully, he will come to positive conclusions for the players. For them, it’s whether they can be part of the future of Arsenal Football Club. I think some of them have shown today that they can be, 100%.”
While Wenger is about to become history at the Emirates, Jose Mourinho is still struggling to build an empire at Old Trafford. In his second season the United manager long since gave up on the title race. A disappointing Champions League campaign will ensure that regardless of whether they beat Chelsea to win the FA Cup next month, Mourinho needs a much better season next year if he’s to stay in his job – and he knows it.
“I think if [we] finish second it is the first time for five years... since Sir Alex left,” he said. “OK, progress, progress at many levels, but not enough to be first instead of second and not enough to win the Champions League instead of the Europa League.”
Premier League results
- Liverpool 0 Stoke City 0
- Burnley 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
- Crystal Palace 5 Leicester City 0
- Huddersfield Town 0 Everton 2
- Newcastle United 0 West Bromwich Albion 1
- Southampton 2 AFC Bournemouth 1
- Swansea City 0 Chelsea 1
- West Ham United 1 Manchester City 4
- Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1
Tonight’s Premier League fixture
- Tottenham Hotspur vs. Watford (8pm, live on Sky Sports)