41 min: This is getting feisty. United wants Bellerin booked for a clumsy foul on Darmian. They get their wish.
40 min: Lingard sees yellow for a sneaky foul on Torreira in the centre circle, intended solely to abort a promising Arsenal move.
38 min: Mustafi booked for a sliding tackle on Rashford. He got the ball … after sliding through Rashford’s left leg. United have a freekick a yard outside the box but a yard from the byline on the left. They play a sly one to the edge of the box, where Rojo is alone. He fires into a slew of bodies and then slides in to try to retrieve it, taking the feet of Guendouzi. That triggers some shoving and whingeing from Arsenal players. But maybe Rojo has done them a favour because they need to wake up a little here.
Arsenal substitution: Lichtsteiner on, Holding off. Holding has departed on a stretcher.
35 min: Kolasinac’s corner is headed away. Holding is still off the pitch being treated.
34 min: A hefty touch by Bailly near half way allows Arsenal to dash forward. Ramsey ignores teammates and tries to curl the ball around two defenders and into the top corner from 20 yards. It’s deflected behind for a corner.
33 min: Holding is off the pitch receiving treatment on a knee after being clattered by Mad Dog Rashford.
32 min: That was weak defending by Arsenal. They were too slow to react after Leno batted the ball away from his goal. Mind you, Herrera was fractionally offside when the freekick was taken, which is why he was able to get to the ball first. Arsenal should still have cut out his cross, though.
United 1-1 Arsenal (Martial 31)
United equalise almost immediately! Rojo curled a decent freekick over the wall. Leno pushed it wide but Herrera retrieved it and pulled a gentle low cross back into the six-yard area. Two Arsenal players missed it but Martial did not, sweeping it into the net from six yards!
29 min: Martial runs into Guendouzi and gets a freekick. It’s three yards outside the D and almost perfectly central…
28 min: Now United have have to find a goal and nothing about their midfield suggests they can create an opening. Arsenal have them where they want them…
GOAL! United 0-1 Arsenal (Mustafi 26)
Mustafi plunges to meet a corner with a header into the ground. It bounces up … and De Gea somehow allow it to slip through both his hands. Herrera tried to boot it off the line but technology lets the ref know the ball had crossed. Arsenal have the lead thanks to an awful mistake by United’s normally reliable keeper!
25 min: Lingard penalised for tripping Torreira on half-way. He’s been close to the Uruguayan for the whole game so far, evidently instructed to try to nullify his influence.
23 min: For all their zest, United haven’t created much. And now Arsenal look like they’re getting into a groove and are controlling possession.
21 min: Arsenal produce their best move of the match, Ramsey playing a lovely ball behind Dalot for Kolasinac. The Bosnian crosses low and hard towards Aubameyang, but Smalling slides in to swipe it away.
19 min: Superb play by Bailly to win possession twice in quick succession in the centre circle. As if to celebrate after the second one, he performs an implausible flick to shock Guendouzi and stride forward. And then he passes to empty space.
17 min: Torreira flights in the corner. Darmian does well to head clear despite the risk of getting a boot in the head from Aubameyang.
16 min: Better from Arsenal, as Iwobi outruns and then overpowers Bailly to collect a pass by Kolasinac and win a corner.
14 min: United remain the better team, first to most breaking balls. Not quite mad dogs but definitely a little piqued. There’s a disturbing hint of the pussycat about Arsenal.
12 min: Sokratis steps in to relieve Rashford of the ball after Lingard slipped an inviting ball through to his teammate in the box.
10 min: Herrera harasses Guendouzi into coughing up possession mid-way inside the United half, allowing the hosts to launch a counter-attack. They run out of steam before reaching the danger zone.
8 min: Rojo spoons a pass into the left-hand channel. Martial chases and wins a corner. Rashford’s delivery is cleared at the near post.
6 min: It’s as if Arsenal spent the buildup reading the pre-match thoughts in this here MBM and were lulled into complacency. by all the woe-is-United talk. They’ve been sluggish so far.
5 min: Rashford lets fly from 20 yards after a bright buildup. He catches it sweetly but it’s straight at the keeper, who holds it easily.
3 min: There’s encouraging zest to United’s start and the home fans are responding to the intensity by cranking up the volume.
2 min: Holding tries to Beckenbauer it out from the back and his attempt ends in predictable fashion, Martial dispossessing him. United may be at a low ebb but that was a taking a liberty by a player who has no business doing so.
“If Jose were playing Championship Manager, would he restart the computer and flip the keyboard?” asks Joe Rickards. Or might he kick in the screen and launch a campaign against the manufacturers?
“As an Arsenal fan, there are few phrases as likely to summon forth a cold sweat as much as your ‘Arsenal should win this,” says Karl Tulinius with a shiver. “In the last decade or so, the team could be facing FC Bumbleby, a team from the third division of a country that is only famous for its cheese, and still there would be the expectation that a slip-up was likely. It will take more than half a season of success to unlearn those harsh lessons.”
The teams are in the tunnel. The home team at least look like Manchester United, in red jerseys, black shorts and red socks. Arsenal are in pale blue, like a sick Manchester City.
“I admit to be being massively biased against Mourinho,” announces Ben Lake. “I will never be able to get past him throwing medical staff under the bus in a pathetic attempt to cover his teams failings. Keeping that in mind, I’m not getting on board with any attempt to lessen the fault he carries with United’s current problems. Yes, recruitment has been an issue, in that he hasn’t been able to get exactly who he wanted but he has had a lot of money spent on this squad. A lot. The problem remains the manager, we saw at this year’s world cup that plenty of his players are completely capable of fantastic performances. Lukaku and Pogba being the obvious ones. It’s also not like Pogba was being played in a dynamic attacking formation. I also won’t get on board with the lazy players idea. Yes, some might not be putting a shift in but if you had a miserable boss who came into work everyday and blamed the tea lady, the feng shui and everyone around him for all his problems, we might all lose motivation too. Context must be provided but we shouldn’t shy from the idea that Mourinho is cocking this up good and proper.”
“Jose’s constant team changes seem to me a reaction to being mercilessly trolled by his own players,” reckons David Flynn. “His starting 11 never play well and results are only saved by his subs. So he starts those same subs in the next game and they revert back to awful until he replaces them and the cycle continues. It would without doubt be hilarious if I weren’t a United fan.”
Here’s Arsenal fan Krishna Moorthi with a summary of where these teams are at: “United are eighth, have 22 points from 14 games and a negative goal difference. Arsenal are unbeaten in 19, won the North London Derby convincingly and have been a joy for fans recently. This is the perfect time for us to screw up.”
“I’ve noticed how the United players tend to get more dynamic the longer they are away from any Mourinho interaction or tactics or when his gameplan is changed via an opposition goal,” writes Paul Fitzgerald. “Then they reset when he gets them in at half-time. Last week’s game against Southampton was a prime example.”
“It is with immense sadness that I provide a counterpoint to James Kelly,” chimes Matt Richman. “I never like to stump for sacking anyone (Mou is still a person, after all), but if I owned a business where the CEO was lashing out at all the change agents he hired I would be looking for a new CEO. Jose does not seem happy by any stretch at any rate; parting ways just seems a sensible thing to do. Another painful aspect of this is I have no replacement in mind. Would love to see Poch at the club, but he’s far too dignified to make that move. Zidane would be a massive coup, but I severely doubt his interest. Sad days for this long-time supporter.”
“James Kelly [19.33] is right,” hollers Loren Dunlop. “These are sad times for United fans, and sheer delight for the vast, vast majority of the rest of the footballing public.”
“In regards to Mourinho’s alterations match to match, in his defence (and I’m loathe to ever defend this guy) the recruitment, scouting and youth development have been all over the place since the last few years of Fergie through Moyes and Van Gaal resulting in a lopsided, incoherent squad that has no style apart from containment (which only some of the players are capable of),” writes Eddie Munro. “Emery has taken over from the vision of one other person, added a couple of proper central midfielders and the squad suddenly looks balanced (obviously he’s also a bit of a genius).” That’s true. But it can’t be ignored that the recruits that Mourinho sanctioned have not worked out so far. Mourinho certainly isn’t the only problem at United, and maybe not even the biggest. But he’s not looking like part of the solution these days, after good early years.
“When I read the line where you wrote ‘Arsenal should win this’, I felt like kicking a cat, not a real one, but my twins’ stuffed toy,” miaows James Kelly. “I thought ‘How dare he!” Then I realised it’s because the truth bloody hurts. I’ve never called for a manager’s head at United and I won’t start now. And I remember when it was bad. However, the fact the two marquee signings of Jose are now benched due to not trying hard enough can’t be ignored. I still hope he turns it around, just because the manager merry go round creates further instability. Sad times for United fans. Sheer delight for ABUs.”
Funny, isn’t it, how Emery is acclaimed for adjusting his team from match to match to take account of the strengths and weaknesses of different opponents; while when it comes to Mourinho’s alterations, you suspect some of them are motivated by exasperation and a slightly desperate bid to cover his own team’s problems.
Asked whether his team selection, particularly players just coming back from injury, represents a gamble, he replies: “I don’t think gambling, I think sacrifice. They are confident. I would never play a player if he has too many doubts. That was what happened against Southampton, they had too many doubts. They are confident and ready for that sacrifice you need, the sacrifice Jones was able to do against Southampton. Now it’s for others.” About Rojo, in particular, he says: “Zero minutes of competition all season, I think it’s hard to play a game of this dimension but he’s confident, mentally ready and very happy.”
And about the omissions of Pogba and Lukaku he says: “You know, technical and tactical decisions. We’re going to play with Lingard, Rashford and Martial. We did that before against Young Boys. We were not successful with the goals we wanted to score but we were happy with the situations we were able to create. We believe the combination of these three young, fast, creative players … we believe in their dynamic and appetite.”
That’s a barren looking United midfield, chosen primarily to provide protection to a frail back three. Arsenal should win this. But Emery isn’t careless enough to declare that publicly before the game. Instead he says: “They have big players and a very experienced coach … This is a big challenge for us.” He also says of United: “We’re in a very early stage of the season and there is still time for them to get into the top four.” Patronising much?
Mourinho has made seven changes to the side that struggled to a draw at Southampton on Saturday – and two of them are especially notable: Pogba and Lukaku have been demoted to the bench. Both were awful at St Mary’s. Without naming names, Mourinho writes in his programme notes for this match that “there is no space for players who are not ready to give their all”. Meanwhile in defence, Bailly makes his return after two months out and Rojo is drafted into a back three to play his first game since being tormented by Kylian Mbappé at the World Cup – there’s every chance that Aubameyang will treat him to a similar ordeal?
United: De Gea; Bailly, Smalling, Rojo; Dalot, Herrera, Matic,
Darmian; Lingard, Rashford, Martial.
Subs: Pogba, Mata, Lukaku, Romero, Valencia, Fellaini, McTominay.
Arsenal: Leno; Papastathopoulos, Mustafi, Holding; Bellerin, Torreira, Guendouzi, Ramsey, Kolasinac; Iwobi, Aubameyang.
Subs: Cech, Elneny, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette, Lichtsteiner,
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)
Hello, welcome to something momentous. This fixture used to be a title decider and then, in the last decade, it became a barometer showing by how far Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal had slid. Now Arsenal arrive at Old Trafford looking to provide yet more evidence of a resurgence under Unai Emery by gaining their first Premier League win at this venue since 2006 – and that, in turn, would intensify the focus on how far United are sliding under José Mourinho.
It is hard to believe United finished second in the Premier League last season, 18 points above Arsenal. Now United are eighth, eight points behind fourth-place Arsenal. That’s a 26-point swing and today’s match is not going to radically alter the underlying causes of that – but it could certainly reinforce them.
Mourinho is not responsible for all United’s current ills, of course – the board and certain players also bear much blame – but nor is the manager looking like part of the solution. Injuries have complicated his selection for today’s match, especially in defence, where the chances of United keeping Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang at bay look slim. United have already been tonked here by Spurs this season – and held to draws by Wolves and Crystal Palace – and there is a real danger of Arsenal inflicting more punishment if United remain as stodgy, dishevelled and blunt as they have been for much of the season. For United to defy expectation and win, the Mourinho will need to coax the inner mad dog out of his team, especially in midfield, where Arsenal have found new dynamism. Otherwise expect more talk of a virus in the United camp, and calls for the whole place to be fumigated.