This game was everything you would want one between Arsenal and Manchester United to be: relentless, dramatic, end-to-end, combining brilliant football, buckets of chances and a sprinkling of violence. But when the dust settled on what felt like a throwback to the great old days of this fixture, this was a thumping vindication for Jose Mourinho, overturning years of underperformance in games like this.
Mourinho teams have struggled in these Big Six away ties, four goals and five points in their last 11 before today. Here at the Emirates they came away with three of each, exerting as much pressure as they still can on a Manchester City side threatening to pull away into the distance.
This was a game so full of events, turning points and contingencies that nothing that happened can be said to be inevitable. But the way it did go, United taking it 3-1, was a result for Mourinho’s gameplan, and proof that he does still know how to come out of games like this. It just takes an amenable opponent, a world-class goalkeeper and a touch of luck.
This was not a perfect display by United, they allowed Arsenal too many real chances, especially in the second half. Nor was it a perfect afternoon, with Paul Pogba sent off for a thoughtless stamp on Hector Bellerin in the second half that will keep him out of the Manchester derby next Sunday. That could be a costly moment in the broader context of the title race. But at least United are in one: if City beat West Ham tomorrow they will be 15 points ahead of Arsenal.
Wenger had confidently remarked in the build-up to this game that Arsenal’s back three system had made them more secure against the counter-attack. That may well have been the case before today, but unfortunately for Arsenal no system can accommodate defensive errors this bad. United went 2-0 up within 11 minutes and both goals came from cringe-worthy mistakes in possession.
Mourinho has always maintained that the team with possession is more likely to make a fatal mistake, which is why he prefers not to have the ball in games like this. It does not always work out like that: remember United’s dire 0-0 draw at Anfield or their 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge. Those were games when United were sat waiting for their hosts to cough up good chances that never came, leaving them frustrated and empty-handed at the final whistle.
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