Taking charge of his final match at Old Trafford as Arsenal boss, Arsene Wenger fielded a very young side seemingly with an eye on the upcoming midweek clash against Atletico Madrid.
Just before kick off, Wenger was presented with an award by erstwhile Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson this was after the United supporters had applauded him onto the pitch in what was a heartwarming gesture by the united faithful to Wenger. Even arch-rival Jose Mourinho embraced him as they met in the dugout which is much more than the customary handshake between managers. Though, the United Coach was unwilling to join in a photoshoot with Wenger and Ferguson.
As the line-ups were announced by the stadium announcer, the Arsenal supporters would have been forgiven for harbouring the fear of another demolition at the hands of Man Utd with Wenger fielding his youngest premier league squad since the 8 – 2 thrashing by the same team at the same stadium seven years ago.
But things played out quite differently as the Arsenal youngsters consisting the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Calum Chambers, Alex Iwobi and debutant Kostantinos Mavropanos played with much composure and confidence.
Playing his first match for Arsenal since his arrival from PAS Giannina, Greek defender Mavropanos played with so much confidence and authority that he was able to silence Lukaku(who was lost early in the second half to injury). He worked in tandem with the unusually impressive Calum Chambers in containing United attackers as the Arsenal defenders were able to choke up spaces in the defence making it difficult for the likes of Lukaku, Rashford(who came in for Lukaku) and ex-Arsenal striker Alexis Sanchez to perform. Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac completed the defence line as the former played much better among his peers with the latter going off injured. Hopefully the usually suspect Koscielny and Mustafi would have been watching to learn a thing or two.
Just in front of the defence, three more youngsters had a run in the midfield(Iwobi inclusive although he belongs to the first team). Maitland-Niles who has been used frequently in the fullback positions this season staked a claim for more appearances in midfield as he covered every blade of grass and took his stand against the likes of Pogba and Matic. The England youngster even took some forays into the opposition box, one of which should have resulted in a penalty as he was tripped by Sanchez in the box but overlooked by referee Kevin Friend. Reiss Nelson also had a good game on the wings although he found it a bit uneasy to deal with the physicality of United fullback Antonio Valencia. He had two chances on goal which he squandered, could have done better with the second. Midfielder Joe Willock came on as a substitute and also played pretty well in midfield.
With a managerial change already a certainty at the end of the season after Wenger announced his decision to step down, the new coach will have a plethora of talented youths at his disposal. Hopefully they will go on to take the league by storm next season and make a name for themselves in a new era at the Arsenal.
The match between Manchester United and Arsenal ended with 2 – 1 loss against the Gunners with Fellaini scoring a last gasp winner after Mhkitaryan(who became the first player to score for and against United in a single season) canceled out Pogba’s opener. This was a record six consecutive away defeats by Wenger’s men who are the only English top flight team yet to gain a point away from home
Next up for Arsenal is the second leg semi – final tie against Atletico Madrid on Thursday. The Gunners will be looking to avoid a defeat as they played 1 – all draw in the first leg at the Emirates last week in which the Madrid side have an away goal advantage.