On a cool spring evening in Manchester, two of the game’s managerial titans Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger squared off for what seemed to be their final date with destiny against each other, at least on the Premier League stage. A rejuvenated Wenger, after announcing that he would step down as Arsenal boss at the end of the season, hoped to enjoy his last game at Old Trafford as Gunners manager.
While many might argue that he did indeed savour the contest and was proud of the effort put in by some of the younger guns and fringe players, his team ended up on the losing side.
After former Manchester United attacker Henrikh Mkhitaryan equalised for the visitors in the second half, Marouane Fellaini’s late winner proved to be the undoing for Arsenal as the Red Devils secured a 2-1 victory and also booked a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Three things we learned:
1) Wenger gets the send-off he deserves from two of his foes of yesteryears
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 29, 2018
Before kick-off, Manchester United Football Club decided to pay tribute to the man in the visiting dugout by offering him a memento for his contribution to English football and proving to be one of the brightest managers of the Premier League era.
Former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and current boss Jose Mourinho were there to present the memento to the Frenchman after they shared a hearty laugh and congratulated Wenger for being such a good competitor as an opposing manager.
This was a real touch of class by Manchester United and Wenger was also overwhelmed by the act. He would have liked the three points on Sunday to cap off a perfect evening, but that was as far as fairy tales went for the Arsenal manager.
2) Arsenal show signs of resilience and assure fans of a brighter tomorrow
The Gunners may have come back from their trip from Old Trafford empty-handed but it was far from an abject display from them. The side from North London gave it their all in what was dead rubber, given the importance of Thursday night’s Europa League clash against Atletico Madrid.
Wenger chose to give several key players a breather for what could be the make or break game of Arsenal’s season at the expense of being humiliated by their age-old rivals away from their fortress in London.
However, to the contrary, the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Reiss Nelson all gave the travelling support something to show for, while the likes of Hector Bellerin, Granit Xhaka and Henrikh Mkhitaryan played with real heart and desire to get a result from the game.
This would have undoubtedly pleased the Arsenal fanbase, and they could hope that a new manager will spark about changes from the word go.
3) Marouane Fellaini’s performance could earn him a new deal at the club
A divisive figure among the Old Trafford faithful, midfielder Marouane Fellaini has often been criticised and made the scapegoat for United’s poor performances. However, despite all the negativity, he has stood firm and put in a shift for every manager he has worked under.
Sunday’s performance against Arsenal was a testament to that as he came off the bench and absolutely wreaked havoc in the opposition backline. Their defenders could not seem to deal with him and he was duly rewarded with a winning goal in injury time.
After the game, Mourinho admitted that the defender could put pen to paper to an extension very soon. He said: “We are almost there but I can’t celebrate because almost is not enough. I want to see the white paper with the United crest and [executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward and Marouane Fellaini’s signatures.”