Manchester United 2-2 Arsenal: Three talking points
Was Jose Mourinho sending a message with his team selection?
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 06/12/18 12:34pm
Manchester United twice came from behind in a frantic 2-2 draw with Arsenal at Old Trafford. Here are the talking points from the game.
Fresh from the disappointment of Saturday's 2-2 draw with Southampton, Jose Mourinho made seven changes to his starting line-up against Arsenal. Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku were the headline omissions, with Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, Marouane Fellaini, Phil Jones and the suspended Ashley Young also dropping out.
Among those to come in were Diogo Dalot, making his Premier League debut, and Marcos Rojo, who had not made a single Manchester United appearance since the final day of last season. The Argentine joined Eric Bailly, who had not started a Premier League game since October, in an unfamiliar back three with Chris Smalling.
Mourinho's team selection prompted plenty of speculation. Was he inviting the sack by fielding a weakened team? Was he sending a message to the Manchester United hierarchy ahead of the January transfer window? Or was the message aimed at the senior players who have under-performed in recent weeks?
The speculation is likely to continue, but the players Mourinho's makeshift side did at least show some fight. Shkodran Mustafi's opener was cancelled out by Anthony Martial after just four minutes, while there were only seconds between Alexandre Lacazette's strike and Jesse Lingard's leveller in the second half.
Whether or not Mourinho's stand-ins have done enough to keep their places against Fulham on Saturday remains to be seen, but it was notable that he praised their "fantastic attitude" after the game. "Everybody gave everything," he added, "that is for sure."
Defensive errors dominate
The game was defined not by attacking quality but by glaring defensive errors. In fact, individual mistakes were the root of all four goals.
Mustafi's opener set the tone. Smalling went to ground far too easily as the Arsenal corner was whipped into the box, with the usually reliable David De Gea spilling Mustafi's header over his head and, despite the best efforts of the Manchester United defender on the post, over the line.
It was a major lapse of concentration and Arsenal soon suffered one of their own. Bernd Leno seemed to have palmed Rojo's free-kick to safety, but Arsenal were slow to react, with Alex Iwobi and Rob Holding failing to clear Ander Herrera's cut-back, allowing Martial to finish.
Rojo was at fault for Arsenal's second, giving the ball straight to Lacazette under pressure from his former United team-mate Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The defender attempted to recover, but he was too late to stop the Arsenal striker from bundling the ball into the bottom corner.
Amazingly, there were only 14 seconds between Manchester United's subsequent kick-off and the ball hitting the net for Lingard's leveller. Sokratis Paapastathopoulos offered little resistance as Romelu Lukaku won the aerial ball, with miscommunication between Sead Kolasinac and Leno allowing Lingard to steal in and score.
The errors underlined the two sides' defensive struggles this season. Manchester United have now shipped 25 goals - their second-highest total of the Premier League era. Arsenal's total of 20 goals conceded is not much better. If either side is to have any hope of finishing in the top four, defensive improvement is vital.
Herrera, Torreira shine
In a ragged and fiercely-contested contest, it was no great surprise that midfield destroyers Herrera and Lucas Torreira were the standout performers.
Herrera was one of only four Manchester United players to keep his place in the team following the draw with Southampton. The Spaniard has been a peripheral figure for much of the campaign, starting only five games out of 20 before this one, but Mourinho will be hard-pushed to leave him out in this kind of form.
Herrera was instrumental in United's goal, providing the assist for Martial despite replays showing him to be fractionally offside. The midfielder also posted a 92 per cent pass completion rate, but it was his work without the ball that was most impressive. According to Opta, he made more tackles (five) and more interceptions (six) than anyone else.
That includes Torreira, but this was another impressive performance from the pint-sized Uruguayan. His 90 per cent pass completion rate was among Arsenal's highest, it was his corner which led to Mustafi's opening goal, and, like Herrera, he also provided industry and intensity out of possession, making nine ball recoveries - two more than any of his Arsenal team-mates.
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