|Image from The Guardian|
In what was dubbed the “Wenger Out” fixture, the result was fitting. When United grabbed all three points on Marouane Fellaini’s late winner, United was assured of a top 4 finish in the English Premier League this season, and Arsenal was assured a finish outside the top 4.
Wenger once said that finishing top 4 was a “trophy” and its fitting that unless his side is able to win Europa, his side will go trophy-less in his final season – and without his fictional top 4 trophy as well.
Also fitting that United won this match in what was once “Fergie Time”, the waning seconds of stoppage time, breaking Wenger’s heart one more time at Old Trafford.
|Image from Manchester Evening News|
United fielded a strong XI to face Arsenal while Wenger picked a side that was a combination of starters and backups while inserting Henrik Mkhitarian into the side to face his former club. The Armenian midfielder became the first player to score for and against United in the same season in the English Premier League when he leveled the score early in the second half off a bad giveaway.
United started a backline of Valencia and Young at the wing backs and Lindelof and Smalling in the middle. The backline played a very strong game both offensively and defensively despite conceding the goal on the midfield giveaway by Matic.
United opened the scoring in the 16th minute when the Red Devils took advantage of sloppy marking in the Arsenal box. Romelu Lukaku, in acres of space on the right side of the box, crossed one high to Alexis who nearly headed home, but his effort hit the post. Pogba, who found himself completely free in front of Ospina’s goal, neatly finished to put the home team in front.
Mkhitarian, who was Wenger’s last big transfer in the swap deal with United for Alexis Sanchez, nearly gave the visitors a point when he leveled the match with a nice finish through Lindelof’s legs from the top of the box, but you always felt the winner was coming for United.
From about the hour mark on, United kept the pressure on Wenger’s side. Mourinho got the tactics right when he subbed Martial and Rashford on giving MUFC more width and speed on the flanks. Arsenal held fast for the better part of the final half hour, but cracks began to show in the Arsenal back line.
With space opening up in the box as United continued its attack through the flanks and with timely switches of play, Mourinho played the last card in his substitute deck beautifully. He brought on the beleaguered Belgian Marouane Fellaini as an attacking midfielder to try to snatch a winner at the death.
He also encouraged his centre back Smalling to push forward to create more chaos in the box. Smalling nearly had the winner, but miss-kicked a low cross, ending the danger for Arsenal. The attacks kept coming, and United thought it had its winner in the 90th. Fellaini attacked a header of a cross and banged it off the bar, Rashford finished neatly, but he was rightly ruled offside.
However, in stoppage time, United finally got it right: Ashley Young curled a cross into the box that Fellaini was able to meet with a backwards header. The ball floated over Ospina’s outstretched glove and into the corner of the goal to give the Red Devils the 2-1 advantage.
United was able to see out the rest of stoppage time and picked up the valuable 3 points and a sweep of the series with Arsenal for this season.
With the win, United moves 5 points clear of Liverpool for second place, and has 3 fixtures left while Liverpool have just two remaining.
Next, United faces Brighton and Hove, and 2 of its last 3 fixtures are on the road.