A look at 3 individual battles that had a say on the final result as Manchester United beat a depleted Arsenal at Old Trafford.
It was a strange sight at Old Trafford – Sir Alex Ferguson presenting Arsene Wenger with a commemorative gift for his years of service to Arsenal – but once the football started, it was a familiar sight to Arsenal fans as they lost yet another away game this calendar year thanks to Marouane Fellaini’s last minute heroics.
With the Europa second leg fixture looming, Wenger went back to his roots and played a very young team against a full-strength Manchester United. Considering these circumstances, it was a moral victory for the visitors as they weren’t steamrolled and put up a brave fight against the Red Devils and only succumbed during injury time to a Marouane Fellaini header.
As usual, there were a few individual battles that went a long way in ultimately deciding the final result of the game. Here’s a look at 3 such battles that had a say in the match:
#1 Henrikh Mkhitaryan vs ,
After suffering an injury that threatened to keep him out of the team for the rest of the season, Henrikh Mkhitaryan made a return right in time for him to appear in front of his former team and as fate would have it, he scored a goal to show the Old Trafford faithful what they had lost.
The return of the prodigal season was not enough to put off the celebrations of the home side, but it was really a great evidence of how players can fit certain strategies and tactics better than others – the Armenian looked far more threatening in a depleted Arsenal line-up than he did at United.
Ashley Young, playing at left back, was tasked with taking care of his former teammate and if there was any love between the two during their days together, it wasn’t shown on the pitch. The two repeatedly got in each other’s way, pulled each other’s shirt and matched each other every step of the way.
Young could not stop Mkhitaryan from scoring, as the Arsenal midfielder emerged out of the spaces United left and popped one to the far corner and beyond David de Gea, but for the most part, he defended well.
The English full-back put in a good cross for Fellaini during injury time and the Belgian managed to contort his body and just about head it in.
#2 Paul Pogba vs Granit Xhaka
A season of mixed fortunes for Paul Pogba has turned significantly better since the turn of the new year with a series of commanding performances against big teams, and he once again came good with a lively performance.
Pogba usually thrives better in an attacking atmosphere with a three-man midfield, and that is precisely what he got. With Arsenal sitting back due to their lack of creativity, Pogba had all the freedom in the world to bomb forward and bomb forward he did.
He won possession and released Romelu Lukaku and then continued his forward run before tapping the ball into an empty net after Alexis Sanchez’s attempt.
Granit Xhaka was handed the captain’s armband for this fixture, considering how he was the most experienced of the lot, but the Swiss International was far from his best. Pogba got the better of him en route to his goal and was overall overwhelmed by the United midfield.
Xhaka is a much better player in their usual squad, but he was eclipsed by some of the new youngsters brought in by Arsene Wenger on the night. How his future will turn out once Wenger leaves remains to be seen.
#3 Konstantinos Mavropanos vs Jesse Lingard
It is one thing to be handed a first league start when you are just 20 years old, and it is an entirely different thing to be handed your debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford. For someone playing his first game, Mavropanos rose to the occasion rather spectacularly.
Had Lukaku played all 90 minutes, it might have made things harder but an untimely injury to the Belgian made thing considerably easier. Without the shadow of the towering centre-forward, Jesse Lingard failed to deliver the magic that he usually does.
The Greek defender looked a little slow off the block but makes up for it with his aerial command and positioning. He also looks ready to launch into tackles – as most young players are prone to – without any obvious recklessness to them.
Lingard was not his usual self at all – losing possession, wayward passes and a general lack of his trademark runs behind the defenders. It was a rare bad performance from him, and it is unfortunate that it came against an Arsenal side that could have been exploited if he had had a better game.
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