Fel­laini’s in­jury-time win­ner breaks Ar­se­nal re­sis­tance

United con­sol­i­date Cham­pi­ons League place with late, late win­ner

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer - Daniel Tay­lor at Old Traf­ford

The prob­lem with foot­ball, as Arsène Wenger is rapidly find­ing out, is that there is never any guar­an­tee of a happy end­ing. The lin­ger­ing mem­ory of this game will be the ap­plause that fol­lowed Ar­se­nal’s man­ager down the touch­line be­fore the match. Yet Manch­ester United’s hos­pi­tal­ity, on a day when Alex Fer­gu­son made a special pre­sen­ta­tion to his for­mer bête noire, was never likely to stretch to events on the pitch.

Wenger was clapped in but, by the end, he did not look like a man who cared a great deal about whether he might be af­forded the same cour­tesy on the walk back to the tun­nel. His team had con­ceded a 91st-minute win­ner and the bot­tom line for Ar­se­nal, how­ever rich the trib­utes might be for the de­part­ing man­ager, is that they have now lost six suc­ces­sive top-di­vi­sion away fix­tures for the first time since 1966. Ar­se­nal are the only team in Eng­land’s four pro­fes­sional di­vi­sions who have lost ev­ery league match on the road since the turn of the year, and Marouane Fel­laini’s late goal means Wenger will not re­mem­ber his fi­nal visit to this sta­dium with any af­fec­tion.

Cru­elly timed

Fel­laini’s stop­page-time header was cru­elly timed be­cause un­til that mo­ment it had looked like be­ing a sat­is­fy­ing re­sult for Ar­se­nal cour­tesy of Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan’s equaliser ear­lier in the sec­ond half. Paul Pogba had given United a first-half lead but José Mour­inho’s team had strug­gled at times against a vastly changed Ar­se­nal line-up, se­lected with the sec­ond leg of the Europa League semi-fi­nal against Atlético Madrid up­per­most in Wenger’s thoughts.

In to­tal, Wenger made eight changes from the team that drew the first leg last Thurs­day. It was the youngest Ar­se­nal team, with an av­er­age age of 24 years and 67 days, since the in­fa­mous 8-2 de­feat here in Au­gust 2011 and, to put it into per­spec­tive, there were three teenagers on the bench – Ed­die Nke­tiah, Jordi Osei-Tutu and Joe Wil­lock - with a shirt num­ber in the 60s. Ar­se­nal’s en­tire match-day squad in­cluded only one player, Mkhi­taryan, with a num­ber from one to 11.

Wenger’s record against Mour­inho – two vic­to­ries out of 19 at­tempts – is fairly lam­en­ta­ble even with his strong­est group of play­ers avail­able. Here, though, he was try­ing to do it with the kind of in­ex­pe­ri­enced team he would usu­ally put out in the ear­lier rounds of the Carabao Cup. In the process, he gave Kon­stanti­nos Mavropanos, a 20-year-old Greek de­fender signed from PAS Gian­nina in Jan­uary, his first start. Ar­se­nal’s mid­field quar­tet in­cluded Reiss Nel­son and Ains­ley Mait­land-Niles and, with so many changes, it must have been trou­bling for Mour­inho that his team could not ex­ert more con­trol.

Alexis Sánchez, for in­stance, found it heavy go­ing at times against his for­mer club. He was, how­ever, promi­nently in­volved in Pogba’s goal after Romelu Lukaku’s cross had picked him out at the far post. Sánchez’s stoop­ing header was goal-bound un­til Héc­tor Bel­lerin jut­ted out his leg to di­vert the ball against the post. The re­bound fell kindly for Pogba and he turned the ball into an ex­posed net.

The goal had orig­i­nated with Nel­son, Ar­se­nal’s youngest player, los­ing the ball to Jesse Lin­gard close to the half­way line. To be gen­er­ous, it was a les­son for the 18-year-old that, at this level, those kind of mis­takes tend to be pun­ished by the elite teams. Yet Nel­son, to give him his due, showed flashes of po­ten­tial and the build-up to Ar­se­nal’s equaliser was a re­minder that even play­ers of con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence can be guilty of costly lapses.

For this one it was a com­bi­na­tion of er­rors, with An­to­nio Valencia play­ing a short pass in­side from the right touch­line and Ne­manja Matic and An­der Her­rera leav­ing the ball to one another. As soon as Granit Xhaka took pos­ses­sion, United were vul­ner­a­ble. Mkhi­taryan had sprinted up­field to be in sup­port and his shot went through Vic­tor Lin­delöf’s legs to find its way into David de Gea’s net.

By that stage United had lost Lukaku to an in­jury and it was not un­til the fi­nal ex­changes that they man­aged to pin back their op­po­nents. Fel­laini hit the post with one header and when the sub­sti­tute Mar­cus Rash­ford bun­dled in the re­bound the goal was ruled out by a late flag. Un­for­tu­nately for Wenger, the next time Fel­laini won a header in the penalty area it was the win­ner

– Guardian


Manch­ester United’s Vic­tor Lin­de­lof slides in to tackle Ar­se­nal’s Joseph Wil­lock at Old Traf­ford yes­ter­day.

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