The guys who ruined Man U’s victory last Saturday Olivier Giroud. The Telegraph’s Daniel Taylor wrote: “Perhaps it is true, as the away enclosure alleged with their gloating cries of “you’re not special any more”, that José Mourinho’s powers are diminishing. Yet there is another way of looking at it and maybe, to give him the benefit of the doubt, this result felt more like a case of Arsenal finally showing the kind of durability that is necessary for any team with authentic title aspirations.
For a long time, it had felt as though it was shaping up to be the most satisfying result of Mourinho’s new employment, but ultimately it was another occasion of steep frustration for Manchester United and their glowering manager, and a reminder of why Arsenal have become so difficult to beat in 2016, with only one league defeat on their travels since the start of the year.
Arsenal had been strangely subdued until Olivier Giroud combined with another substitute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, to head in the goal that left a sudden, damp silence in the home stands and Arsène Wenger, once again, will have to imagine what it feels like to beat one of Mourinho’s teams in a league fixture. His 12th attempt did at least end satisfactorily, whereas his bête noire, who had spent parts of the first half sniping in the Frenchman’s direction, talked darkly of it feeling like a defeat, while still making sure he got in the last word. “Finally, I lost against Arsène,” was Mourinho’s parting shot, then repeating it for added effect.
Mourinho was entitled to be crestfallen because Juan Mata’s expertly taken goal, midway through the second half, had put United in command on an afternoon that finished with their manager also announcing they should officially be known as “the unlucky team in the Premier League”. United often looked the more dangerous side and, until the late drama, the best it really got for Arsenal was an exquisite, yet inconsequential, nutmeg from Mesut Özil on Michael Carrick. Theo Walcott flickered only sporadically.
Aaron Ramsey struggled to have a telling impact on the left and, though Alexis Sánchez worked tirelessly, it was perplexing to see Wenger’s team look so meek against a side missing three-quarters of their usual defence.
The flipside for Arsenal is that it is not a bad thing for a team to avoid defeat on the days when they struggle to be at their more cohesive and Wenger can be hugely encouraged by the fact Giroud’s late feat of escapology means they have lost only one of their last 22 top-division fixtures. “There is something in our squad that is remarkable,” Wenger said. “It is great resilience and a never-give-up attitude.”
It is also the first time United have drawn three successive home games in the league since 1992 and, with the previous assignments coming against Burnley and Stoke City, Old Trafford has seen more disappointment than its regulars probably imagined from Mourinho’s opening months in the dugout. Once the frustration subsides a little, however, they can at least be encouraged by what Mourinho described as a performance of “amazing control”. Mata had a splendid game, as did his compatriot Ander Herrera, whereas Paul Pogba is showing now why he was the priority signing in the new manager’s first transfer window.
Pogba started in central midfield but took up a more advanced role after Wayne Rooney’s 63rd-minute introduction led to a change of order in the attacking positions. Rooney played at the forward tip, Marcus Rashford took over from the substituted Anthony Martial on the left, and Pogba was involved in the move, five minutes later, that finished with Mata cracking in a low shot from Herrera’s cutback.
Wenger talked afterwards about his side having a “mental block” on their visits to Old Trafford, this being the 10th successive occasion in the league that they have returned without winning. “We did not play with our usual style,” the Arsenal manager added. Unfortunately for United, Rashford’s move to a wide position also meant the teenager taking on defensive responsibilities and he did not see them through when Oxlade-Chamberlain went past him to clip over the right-wing cross for Giroud’s goal.
The equaliser brought back into focus the 35th-minute incident that left Mourinho on the point of spontaneous combustion on the touchline, adamant that the referee, Andre Marriner, was mistaken to give Nacho Monreal the benefit of the doubt for his challenge on Antonio Valencia inside the penalty area.
Mourinho might have had a case given that Monreal, losing his balance, held out his right arm and leant into Valencia. United’s manager could be seen screaming to the skies, charging out of his technical area and so anguished that, at one point, he held his hand over his eyes as if to signal that he could no longer bear to watch what these wretched referees would do to him next. A more considered view would be that it was a difficult incident to judge and, though United probably had grounds to feel aggrieved, it would be exaggerating to think of it as an obvious penalty.
“My view is that it was not a penalty, and you will not be surprised by that,” Wenger said. “Mourinho’s view is that it was a penalty, and you will not be surprised by that.”