Sunday was a day when Arsene Wenger finally got the better of Jose Mourinho. In all the times that Wenger’s Arsenal have faced Jose Mourinho’s teams, which were mostly Chelsea and now Manchester United, the former has never ended on the winning side, regardless of where the match was being played.
But on Sunday, goals from Granit Xhaka and former United man Danny Welbeck saw Mourinho’s side go down 2-0 to Arsenal. It ends a six and a half-month, 25-game unbeaten run that Manchester United have been on in the Premier League. It also looks like Manchester United’s bid for a top four finish may have well and truly come to an end.
It is still not an impossible task for United to finish in the top four but now, it also depends upon them winning all the matches that they have remaining and the results that Liverpool and Manchester City in their final run-ins.
“Finally, I leave this (Emirates) stadium with Arsenal fans happy,” Mourinho said in the post match interview. “It’s the first time I see them smile, enjoy.”
Mourinho had made it clear before the match that Manchester United were prioritizing the Europa League. It means that they fielded a side that was made of youngsters like Axel Tzuazeben and players making returns from injury like Juan Mata and Phil Jones. Wayne Rooney also played the full 90 minutes. “Of course, we knew we were not coming in our maximum power,” Mourinho said, “Thursday is the match of the season.”
This was the 16th competitive head to head between Wenger and Mourinho – and the 13th in league play – since 2004. It has been a one-sided rivalry but Wenger finally got a victory over the man who once dubbed him a “specialist in failure,” for a result that might end United’s chances of a top-four finish and leaves Arsenal with some hope.
Arsenal moved two points behind fifth-place United with a game in hand, and is seven points behind third-placed Liverpool having played two games fewer and six behind fourth-placed Manchester City having played one game fewer. Wenger’s team have four matches remaining to earn a 20th straight season in the Champions League.
“We still have a mathematical chance but we need some help,” Wenger said. “But the best help we can get is by winning our own games.”
A disappointing game burst into life in the 54th when Xhaka, afforded plenty of space in central midfield following a throw-in, advanced and sent in a 30-meter (yard) shot that struck the turned back of Ander Herrera and looped over goalkeeper David de Gea.
Welbeck, who was sold to Arsenal in 2014 to end a 13-year association with United, has now scored in each of his last three appearances against his old club after powering a header in off the bar in the 57th from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross.
Mourinho made eight changes to his starting team from the 1-0 win over Celta Vigo in the first leg of the Europa League semifinals on Thursday. The second leg is at Old Trafford on Thursday and Mourinho has suggested the European competition, which offers a place in the Champions League for the winner, is his priority for the remainder of the season.
Mourinho also brought in 20-year-old Scott McTominay, in the second-half with Paul Pogba on the bench, clearly saving him for United’s Europa League semi-final second leg match against Celta Vigo at Old Trafford on Thursday.
United hasn’t scored away to a top-six rival all season.
Arsenal will climb above United with a win at Southampton on Wednesday.