By Harry Ogilvie
- Axel Tuanzebe named in starting line-up
- Goals from Xhaka and Welbeck send United to first league defeat since 4-0 loss to Chelsea
After a thoroughly pleasing away result in the Europa League against Celta Vigo, United faced a struggling Arsenal side who have had a shocking 2017 apart from making the FA Cup final.
Marcus Rashford bagged the all important goal in midweek with a breathtaking free kick started on the bench, alongside Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly who were most likely rested for the second leg against Celta Vigo this coming Thursday.
Mata, Jones and Smalling Return After Injuries
Manchester United started academy graduate, Axel Tuanzebe for the first time in his career. The youngster who is predominantly known as a centre back started at right back with Jones and Smalling occupying the centre back positions.
Mata returned to the starting line-up after weeks out injured with Mkhitaryan and Rooney also in the attacking midfield positions and Martial operating as the number nine.
This team to begin with would not have upset many Manchester United fans but by the 90th minute, they definitely would not have been best pleased.
The most impressive performance came from the 19 year-old debutant, Axel Tuanzebe who was also operating out of position. This spoke volumes regarding the quality United had in the starting XI.
Very few players will come out of this game with credit and deservedly so as many were poor and showed a lack of leadership and any sense of incision.
And after Liverpool dropped points earlier this afternoon, many reds would feel even more anger and frustration losing 2-0 to a underwhelming Arsenal side.
Losing 2-0 to a peak, title challenging Arsenal would be at best, understandable. But this is an Arsenal team in shocking form with many outraged fans crying for Wenger to be sacked. This makes the result look even more bleak and disgusting.
A Jose Mourinho Manchester United side failed to beat a sixth placed, bang average Arsenal team led by a manager who many Arsenal fans can no longer stand.
To add salt to the wounds, it was the first time Arsene Wenger has beaten Jose Mourinho in a competitive match.
Tuanzebe Impresses On Full Debut
However, despite the result, two positives came from the game. Tuanzebe making his full debut an impressive one and Scott McTominay making his debut too after coming on for Juan Mata with five minutes to go.
Tuanzebe faced a tough task that may have worried many reds when looking at the starting lineups as it would be the youngster against Chilean winger, Alexis Sanchez whose performances this season warranted a nomination for PFA Player of the Year.
However, as the game went on, it was clear the young Englishman was very much unfazed by facing such a talent and displayed the composure of a veteran on many occasions.
On top of that, he pocketed Sanchez for the majority of the game, he barely gave the winger a look in when he went to take him on. This performance will give many fans like myself something to think about.
The game also gave us an insight into the potential of the centre back and many will hope to see more of him in the remaining fixtures especially considering the amount of fans hoping to see the back of Jones and Smalling.
McTominay Handed Debut Late On
Scott McTominay, the man who replaced Juan Mata in the 85th minute also impressed despite the lack of time he got on the field. He pressed when possible and also seen a decent strike saved by Petr Cech.
The 21 year old has been a regular in the reserves this season, playing in both midfield and attack.
He has been praised by United coaches for his tackling and endless hard work. McTominay was 5’6 two years ago and has since grown to become an astounding 6’5.
Nonetheless, apart from the two debuts, there was little to cheer about from a United point of view. The whole spine did very little.
The experienced players in the side did little to help the side that appeared to be overrun in every aspect, specifically in the second half.
The first half was far more balanced and competitive with both sides fighting it out to break the deadlock. The first goal eventually came in the 50th minute from Arsenal midfielder, Granit Xhaka.
The Swiss international hit a deflected shot which looped over a sprawling David De Gea. The Spanish ‘keeper appeared to be well off his line allowing the ball to drop over his head.
The home side showed far more determination and drive than a gutless Manchester United side who could arguably have been fatigued due to the injuries the team have suffered and countless games played recently.
Despite this, many players just looked like they didn’t care and lacked incision and any sense of dynamism for the most part. This will undoubtedly anger Jose, in the same way it has us fans.
The Manager’s View
Mourinho reflected on the result proclaiming “I’m disappointed in the result, not the performance at all. I like very very much individual performances and the collective.” This is clearly Mourinho’s attempt to sway any negative attention his players may get on to him as it is clear the performance was below par to say the least.
The Gaffer also said “Arsenal were not better than us, in my opinion. They scored, they win. Congratulations.” He continued reflecting on previous encounters with Arsenal by saying “Today is the first time I’ve seen Arsenal fans smile when I have been here.”
Mourinho then commented on Tuanzebe’s performance saying he “did an amazing job” and he now believes “Sanchez knows his name”. This is pleasing to see Jose acknowledge a terrific performance from a youngster, who we’ll hopefully see more of this season.
Finally the boss said “now we are fully focused on Europa League. Everything for Thursday.” This shows Mourinho’s clear commitment to the competition and desire to win it.
The result will disappoint, upset and outrage many many fans but looking at the bigger picture, we shouldn’t be surprised. Mourinho has openly announced his intentions to concentrate on the Europa League, hence his resting of players like Pogba, Bailly and Rashford.
United also have the second leg of the Europa League which provides us with the opportunity to reach a European Cup Final (albeit not the Champions League but still!). So if this match was not huge before, it most definitely is now, considering this is United’s last route into the Champions League.
Every United’s fans eyes will now be firmly fixed on the Europa League second leg on Thursday evening. We will also continue to pray to see captain Wayne Rooney lifting the trophy aloft on the evening of May the 27th.