There is so much about Arsenal somehow escaping from Old Trafford with a thoroughly undeserved point that I want to rage about: United’s inability to kill off another game that, in boxing terms, would have been stopped. Switching off in the dying embers when concentration was needed the most. A catalogue of missed chances which left United always susceptible to that sucker punch.
But I can’t. United were brilliant, infuriatingly brilliant.
Yes, Marcus Rashford was culpable of some heavy legged marshaling of the fresher Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but young players making mistakes is all part of the learning curve that has historically served United so well down the years. Just ask the supposed laughing stock that rocked up at Villa Park in ’95. Mourinho will have to bite that bullet, but he looks to finally be embracing the United ethos that has stood the test of time- entertaining the fans and giving youth its head.
There were many hypothetical questions surrounding the almost inevitably written Olivier Giroud equaliser. Would he have towered above the more physically imposing Bailly or Smalling? Bailly is, of course, injured for the short-term but the million dollar question of whether Smalling is actually injured or not has led to more questions than answers. What was not up for as equal discussion was that the centre-back partnership of Jones and Rojo, regardless of how admirably they had defended for 89 minutes, would always leave the door slightly ajar for Arsenal to know if they got a chance they would in all likelihood take it.
Did Mourinho cock up in effectively going into park the bus mode by electing to bring on Morgan Schneiderlin for the imperious Juan Mata, when arguably Memphis or Jesse Lingard would have been speedier, more effective options for the counter-attack ploy? Mourinho made a living for shutting up shop at Chelsea first time round and seeing out 1-0 after 1-0. What is clear is he currently does not have the personnel to replicate that successful formula.
He has bemoaned that United have had an excessive amount of bad luck lately: It just so happens that two goalkeepers in Lee Grant and Tom Heaton, both playing Championship football last season, have had the games of their lives at Old Trafford. United have had their medical staff working overtime (again) this season, second only to Sunderland in the injury stakes. Antonio Valencia was another United right-back denied a ‘seen them given’ penalty in as many home Premier League games, after Matteo Darmian fell under the challenge of Jon Flanagan in the previous. Questionable refereeing decisions are nothing new, but even that has not got my blood boiling as much as it perhaps should.
For the third home game in a row in the league, United’s total dominance has gone unrewarded. Mourinho has foundation for certain instances of bad luck but repeatedly missing guilt edged chances? United have not been ruthless or clinical enough. 74 shots in those games only yielding 2 goals? That is not down to luck.
United once again being their own worst enemies in the scoring stakes has become an irksome habit, enough to make this 25 year old’s grey count rise. But I find myself not raging even at that, as horrible a prospect as that is.
United made these supposed darlings of English football and world-beating Arsenal look distinctly average. Actually, that would be sugar coating the proverbial. They were truly awful. Our ‘crisis’, ‘spent force’ of a club threw everything they had at these apparent ‘untouchables’. Mourinho’s side were hungrier, meaner, creative, just not incisive. However, the fans can be rest assured that, for all the recent uproar, the overwhelming majority of the players have Mourinho’s back and are playing for him.
United clearly still have issues to address which makes them lag behind the rest as potential title winners: Three of Saturday’s back four have previously been peripheral under Mourinho and doubts linger whether Jones, Rojo and Darmian have the durability to survive under Mourinho long-term. It has been a shame that when one area seems to click, another lets United down currently:
Zlatan Ibrahimovic rediscovered his scoring touch at Swansea, problem solved and the big man is back you thought. Lo and behold he picks up a costly booking to miss Saturday’s crunch tie. The midfield was simply sensational against Arsenal. Carrick effortlessly pulling the strings in front of the defence, Herrera typically buzzing and biting with gusto and urgency, Pogba turning on beast mode further up the pitch and Juan Mata’s contributions brilliantly going under the radar for the umpteenth time. Their growing rapport was a huge, huge positive, rewarded with one of the best team goals of the season after their interplay.
For all that was captivating and entertaining, that split second of doziness at the back proved to be so costly. These are the margins that can become so critical when all is said and done in May. It is a big learning curve and these disappoints should teach United that no lead is safe in this league.
The last manager got the axe for not buying into United’s traditional playing style and sapping all the life out of the club. OK, he had a way of getting the occasional result but United needed more.
The results may not be coming Mourinho’s way as often as he or we would like, but the signs are starting to look increasing positive, even if the numbers do not give weight to that. The fears were Mourinho would compromise United’s long-standing, enthralling, cavalier traditions. Instead, he is starting to embrace them and the fans are warming to what they are seeing, after what was served up by Van Gaal.
If United can replicate the Arsenal performance going into the busy Christmas period, and iron out the defensive situation with the you know who’s, United can still force their way into the Champions League places.
As long as the ‘infuriatingly’ in ‘infuriatingly brilliant’ is eradicated.