Manchester United’s unbeaten run came to an end against Arsenal, with Sunday’s 2-0 defeat arriving after Jose Mourinho had made eight changes from the Europa League win over Celta Vigo. The matter of the defeat was more disappointing than the scoreline: United were unambitious throughout (at one point they went 50 minutes without creating a chance) and now increasingly reliant upon the Europa League to secure a UEFA Champions League place.
This victory not only reignites Arsenal’s chase for a Champions League place, but also ends an unwanted record for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger against Jose Mourinho.
The pair have endured a fractious relationship over the years, and in their previous 15 competitive meetings Wenger had never beaten a Mourinho team, with his only victory coming in the Community Shield in 2015.
Sunday’s win ended the hoodoo and earned Arsenal only their 13th league win in 50 outings against the Red Devils.
There is still uncertainty about Wenger’s future at the club, despite them still being in with a chance of Champions League football for the 21st consecutive season, and an FA Cup final against Chelsea coming up this month.
Mourinho revealed before the match he intended to rest key players, with one eye on the Europa League semi-final second leg against Celta Vigo, in which his team have a 1-0 advantage. The European competition could represent United’s best chance of reaching next season’s Champions League.
The United manager made eight changes in total and his side never looked like causing a major threat.
Goalkeeper De Gea kept them in the match at half-time, producing a low stop to deny Aaron Ramsey’s effort, before making a brilliant save from a rasping Oxlade-Chamberlain shot from distance.
United were undone by two quick goals early in the second half, and their only notable efforts after that came from Rooney and substitute Scott McTominay, who tried to poke home late on.
Playing at right-back on his debut, Axel Tuanzebe looked more comfortable than his far more senior defensive counterparts while Anthony Martial — on the rare occasions when he found space — was United’s main threat.
United’s tactics were exceptionally conservative, giving the forwards little support when they broke. Ander Herrera had an unlucky afternoon, deflecting Arsenal’s opening goal over David De Gea, but Wayne Rooney was the emblem of this performance, his toil not nearly matched by his effectiveness.
Manager rating out of 10
4 — Mourinho chose a team that would sit deep and defend but he did not count on its back line being so porous and when United went behind, they had simply no answer. This looked like a side that was unable to adjust when Plan A failed and given this club’s resources, that is a grave disappointment.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David De Gea, 7 — He was often exposed in the first half and made a superb save to keep the match goalless, clearing his lines well. However, he was helpless when Granit Xhaka’s deflected shot looped over him.
DF Axel Tuanzebe, 7 — Had a very constraining tactical brief, not really getting forward to support the attack, but was composed in that limited role throughout, playing the ball out from congested areas with confidence.
DF Phil Jones, 5 — His passing was hesitant and too often sideways, allowing Arsenal to press high up and regroup when United attacked. Gave too much space to their forwards.
DF Chris Smalling, 5 — Like Jones, his passing failed to set a positive tone and given how deep he was sitting, some alarming gaps opened up behind him. Made impressive recovery tackles but those holes should not have been there to begin with.
DF Matteo Darmian, 6 — Did not offer much going forward but then again, that was the job he was given. Not particularly strong at playing the ball out from the back, but not notably poor.
MF Michael Carrick, 6 — Had a difficult task in that he had to clear his lines without many options to aim at. Was not personally poor but his effect on this game was limited due to the lack of movement around him, particularly from full-back areas.
MF Ander Herrera, 6 — Had an excellent work ethic as always, closing down and prompting attacks wherever possible, but was involved in the game’s pivotal moment, turning his back on a Granit Xhaka strike that cannoned off him and over De Gea. Until then, United had looked resilient.
MF Juan Mata, 6 — Like Herrera he was busy but ineffectual, getting in between the lines well but finding few outlets for his passes. Found good room on the flanks and threatened early before being more isolated as the game drew on.
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MF Anthony Martial, 7 — United’s brightest attacker. Made some excellent incursions in the inside-left area early on before United’s tactics left him marooned up field against two or three players at a time. Had he made that early breakthrough, the tempo of this game could have been entirely different.
MF Henrik Mkhitaryan, 5 — Another sub-par performance, one of a string in recent weeks. Started quite well, drawing contact for fouls and beating his man with speed and intelligence, but then regressed to familiar failings, including losing the ball in dangerous areas.
FW Wayne Rooney, 5 — Poor not for lack of effort, but for lack of creativity and tactical nous. Could have opened the scoring for United had he squared to Mata instead of shot in the first half, and dropped deep (almost to the centre-back position) when he would have been far more useful at the head of the attack. This presumably was from a desire to make something happen, but it ended up costing his side.
MF Jesse Lingard, 6 (for Mkhitaryan, 61″) — Fared little better than the man he replaced, having little support from his full-backs and reduced to the odd raid up field.
MF Marcus Rashford, 6 (for Herrera, 63″) — Surprising to see him used given that he was being rested. Made a couple of sharp, smart runs, but did not have a decisive impact.
MF Scott McTominay, NR (for Mata, 85″) — Joined the fray too late to affect proceedings but his debut was a rare cause for cheer for United supporters this afternoon.