Late heartbreak as Arsenal’s talented youngsters shine at Old Trafford
Gunners team featuring eight changes from Atletico Madrid draw are beaten by injury-time goal as Arsene Wenger makes his last trip to face Manchester United as Arsenal manager
29 April, 2018 — By Allan Ledward at Old Trafford
MANCHESTER UNITED 2 (Pogba 16, Fellaini 90+1)
ARSENAL 1 (Mkhitaryan 51)
AN injury-time goal by Marouane Fellaini cruelly denied a second-string Arsenal team a point in Arsene Wenger’s final trip to Old Trafford as Gunners boss.
A brilliant second-half equaliser from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, after Paul Pogba had given United an early lead, almost capped an impressive display from a youthful Arsenal, before substitute Fellaini’s late header.
In one of the landmark fixtures in Wenger’s month-long farewell, the Arsenal manager made eight changes to the side that drew against Atletico Madrid three days earlier, with Konstantinos Mavropanos making his debut at centre-back. Speaking after the game, Wenger paid tribute to his talented youngsters, admitting they were “destroyed” by the defeat.
He said: “We had a very young team and overall the performance was positive. The players are destroyed in the dressing room because they gave everything and they were caught in the final minutes of the game.
“There were many question marks before the game – would we be strong enough to fight with Man U today? Overall, the quality of our game was good, the spirit was good, and individually so many players stood up to what was requested.”
Wenger received a presentation from Sir Alex Ferguson before the kick-off, while the travelling Gunners fans reminded the home faithful that they “won the league in Manchester” under the Frenchman. In truth, the Gooners were perhaps braced for a scoreline similar to the 8-2 defeat in 2011 that scarred Wenger’s record against United.
After two decades of Arsene-era drama between these great rivals, the first half was played in a subdued atmosphere. With neither side having much left to play for in the Premier League, and a subsequent lack of intensity, there was never going to be an Overmars, Wiltord or Keown moment.
After withstanding benign United possession in the opening 15 minutes, Arsenal appeared to be growing in confidence, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi showing some neat touches and link play. But United made the breakthrough when an Alexis Sanchez header was heroically deflected onto the post by Hector Bellerin, only for Pogba to stab it into the net.
Arsenal almost levelled within five minutes, when Mkhitaryan fired wide after some more good approach play. Reiss Nelson then went close with a header just before half-time, as Arsenal showed they had the quality to at least stay in the game.
Mkhitaryan, as one of Arsenal’s senior players, scored a deserved equaliser five minutes after the restart. After Granit Xhaka won the ball in midfield, freeing Mkhitaryan down the right, the winger arrowed a low shot past goalkeeper David De Gea into the bottom corner.
Arsenal’s defence has been notoriously brittle this season, but this was a robust team performance full of hard work and occasional attacking flair that looked like earning them a point.
But as the match entered its final moments, just seconds after a Marcus Rashford effort was ruled out for offside, Ashley Young sent in a cross that was headed past David Ospina by Fellaini.
Wenger, no doubt as crushed by this defeat as much as any other – regardless of the pre-match largesse from his hosts – made straight for the tunnel at the final whistle.
He said: “I am programmed to try to win football games and I don’t think that changes, so overall I am disappointed because we lost the game.”
And he admitted he was unsure whether he is likely to ever be back at Old Trafford as manager of another club, adding: “I don’t know where I will be [next season] … I have worked at the top level for 35 years without any interruption and I think I am basically the only one in the world who has done that, so at the moment I am a bit in unknown territory. I don’t know where I will go from there.”
Manchester United: De Gea, Lindelof, Pogba, Sanchez, Lukaku (Rashford, 50), Smalling, Lingard (Martial, 64), Young, Herrera (Fellaini, 64), Valencia, Matic.
Subs not used: Rojo, Mata, McTominay, Pereira.
Arsenal: Ospina, Mkhitaryan (Willock, 76), Aubameyang, Iwobi, Chambers, Bellerin, Mavropanos, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles, Kolasinac (Monreal, 64), Nelson (Welbeck, 64).
Subs not used: Holding, Cech, Nketiah, Osei-Tutu, Willock.