Thursday 18 January 2018

Draw deflates sulky Mourinho

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 1

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho appears to have developed an improbable affection for the Europa League.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho appears to have developed an improbable affection for the Europa League.

Miguel Delaney

It might have been Arsenal who claimed the last-minute equaliser, but it was still Jose Mourinho who was determined to have the last word. The Manchester United manager had actually done a pretty good job of diplomatically keeping his frustration in check after this 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, but eventually offered the kind of incision his team could really have done with well before Olivier Giroud's plundered late header.

"So, finally I lost against Arsenal," the Portuguese eventually said as he walked out of the Old Trafford press room, apparently so unable to contain himself that he actually repeated it twice.

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring his teams goal against Manchester United. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Arsenal's Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring his teams goal against Manchester United. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

"Finally I lost against Arsenal. Finally I lost against Arsenal."

Mourinho was not just referencing the fact Arsene Wenger had never beaten him in a competitive game, or that Arsenal hadn't actually won a league game at Old Trafford in over a decade, of course. He was also rather petulantly reflecting on how the game would be spun, how it would be covered.

Except, for all the off-hand sarcasm in Mourinho's voice at that point, he had already said it himself.

"We feel like a defeat," Mourinho said, "and, for sure, Arsenal is feeling like a victory."

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (right) and Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Old Trafford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (right) and Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Old Trafford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

It could be seen in the reactions. If Mourinho was trying to suppress his true opinions - especially about Antonio Valencia's first-half penalty claim - Wenger was trying to suppress a smile, offering the kind of magnanimous criticisms of a man who knew his team had got away with it at a ground where they so often get a reality check.

There was still praise for Arsenal at the core of it, though, after they had come back from Juan Mata's 69th-minute goal to claim a point they scarcely deserved.

"They did that so many times, there is something in the squad that is remarkable," Wenger said. "Great attitude, they never give up but we know we can do better going forward."

Going forward, the nature of this result - if not the nature of the performance - will at least maintain Arsenal's sense of momentum this season. Whether it can actually propel them is another question, though, and the big question regarding this game.

Manchester United's Juan Mata celebrates scoring his side goal during the Premier League match at Old Trafford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
Manchester United's Juan Mata celebrates scoring his side goal during the Premier League match at Old Trafford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

If it's easy to know how both teams will feel about the result, it's a little difficult to know how to feel about their seasons after it. Arsenal barely looked like a team supposed to be challenging for the title, but still offered the response of champions. United, meanwhile, put in one of their best performances of the season, and certainly had the drive to dismiss the growing argument that Mourinho is past his best - only to then succumb to the same old problems that have afflicted the Portuguese's side in recent seasons.

A positive was instantly followed by a negative, and his team didn't have the conviction, cohesion, intensity - whatever you want to call it - to properly carry it through. They couldn't build on the 3-1 win over Swansea, and couldn't build on a fine performance here, meaning United still haven't won two league games in a row since August.

It is all the more galling because they had been so good. With Wayne Rooney dropped and Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended, Marcus Rashford's role in the centre gave United the searing pace on the break that really drives Mourinho's teams and has been so crucial to his fine record over Wenger. It meant that United were increasingly pinning Arsenal back and creating space for themselves, until one of their fine angled moves eventually saw Ander Herrera get free on the right, to swipe back for Mata to sweep in.

Mourinho was right that United should have scored more by that point, and Valencia could well have had a first-half penalty after Nacho Monreal put his hands on him in the Arsenal box, but could comfort himself with the fact that his makeshift defence of Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones were still so easily controlling Arsenal. "A team that normally produces very good attacking football was completely controlled."

Then, it all went out of control as Arsenal claimed that late equaliser. Mourinho still wasn't blameless here as he hauled off Mata for Morgan Schneiderlin to invite pressure, but he was "unlucky" - a word he used to describe his whole team right now - that it also came as Wenger got finally one decision right.

Without Santi Cazorla, the Arsenal manager had gifted United the midfield by going for Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny rather than Granit Xhaka, and the choice of Aaron Ramsey on the left ensured Monreal was so exposed United eventually got their goal there. There was no sign of Alexis Sanchez getting a goal, though, as it became clear he wasn't fit.

It was lamentable that Arsenal couldn't take the game to such a fragile United defence, and huge questions have to be asked about their inability to seize matches like this. Wenger himself suggested they might have a "mental block" due to so many bad results at Old Trafford

Then, Arsenal got the ultimate mental boost, as Wenger got a decision right. Giroud was brought on for the true last word. It's just still a little difficult to say what it really means for either of these teams.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport