Manchester United and Arsenal played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in Wednesday’s Premier League clash at Old Trafford. United’s guests from North London twice led through goals from Shkodran Mustafi and Alexandre Lacazette, but Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard earned a share of the spoils for the home side.
Jose Mourinho’s side have now gone four games without a win and remain in eighth place in the standings, while Arsenal are down to fifth despite having extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to an amazing 20 matches.
Which manager will be happier with this result? It could easily be Unai Emery. Old Trafford seemed like an impossible puzzle for Arsenal for many years, so to go and maybe deserve to win is testament to what the Basque manager is doing this season. He’s doing a great job in transforming Arsenal into a more organized and serious side than was seen in the later years of Arsene Wenger’s reign.
What was there for Jose Mourinho in the draw with Arsenal?
Firstly, United’s manager certainly saw some of the spirit and simplicity he was looking for from his players. Manchester United looked better than they had done in previous weeks. The team started well and the players were fighting for every inch of ground. It seemed Mourinho had finally got his mad dogs on the pitch.
The fighting spirit was further fuelled by Ander Herrera. The Basque displayed his usual hunger and a passion that had been missing from United’s squad for a long time.
Herrera orchestrated that initial press and was all over the pitch to provide tackles and rhythm for the hosts. United looked well organized in their high press in the first 20 minutes of the game, but afterwards they unaccountably stopped and Arsenal took control.
Despite the madness, this game provided an interesting tactical battle between Mourinho and Emery. United lined up in some kind of 3-4-1-2 shape where the focal point of every attack was Jesse Lingard.
The England international had freedom in the middle, whilst Martial and Rashford occupied the inside channels on either side of Arsenal’s back-five. He was all over the pitch and a constant threat for the Arsenal midfield, constantly moving around and finding space to play in.
More positives were seen in the returns of Bailly and Rojo. The manager made seven changes from the team that drew with Southampton, dropping Paul Pogba and selecting a back four short of match fitness. It was Marcos Rojo’s first appearance since May, Matteo Darmian was starting his third game of the season, Chris Smalling played 90 minutes despite his foot injury and it was Eric Bailly’s first start since the beginning of October.
Still, United desperately need consistency from this point. The fluctuations this season have made this one of United’s worst seasons ever. Manchester City are 18 points clear of United at the top and even the top four are nine points away. The situation is anything but good for the fallen giant, but some easier fixtures lie ahead of them.
United’s right-back for the next decade
One thing which especially entertained me despite the messy game was the performance of 19-year-old Diogo Dalot. The summer signing from Porto started his first game for United after making his league debut against Southampton on Saturday.
Dalot was clearly struggling in the final minutes with fatigue but Mourinho was quick to praise the youngster and says the club have their right-back for the next decade. And they surely have, if serious injuries bypass him.
Fear the mighty Mitro
There is no time for pause in the Premier League as clubs have two fixtures this week. After Arsenal, Manchester United will be waiting to host another match in front of their fans, as Fulham are the next visitors at Old Trafford. The bottom team in the Premier League table is about to face Mourinho’s men, but, in my opinion, they are far from the worst team in the league at the moment.
The Cottagers experienced a very intense summer transfer period where they brought numerous new faces to the squad. Serbian coach Slaviša Jokanović had a plan to continue playing attractive and attack-minded football, but the players were not on the same page with him and he paid the price. Fulham quickly came to the rescue with Claudio Ranieri, for many people their favourite Premier League coach after he miraculously won the title with Leicester.
The arrival of the experienced Italian meant a turn in the tactical approach. Fulham are now likely to play more direct football, opposed to what we saw in the first part of the season when Jokanović believed in a possession-based and more fluid approach. This means one man will specifically profit from the change: Aleksandar Mitrović.
The big Serbian has scored seven goals in 15 appearances this season. Under Ranieri’s command, Mitrović has banged in two goals and registered an assist. Against a shaky and injury-plagued United defence, he should be Fulham’s most dangerous weapon, and a threat for which Mourinho must come up with a special plan. Especially if he will be forced to play a defence filled with players who are not naturally suited for it.