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Fellaini winner seals top four finish for United

Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini grabbed all three points with a last gasp goal for Manchester United to beat rivals Arsenal 2-1 on Sunday. The big man was a handful after coming on as a substitute in the 64th minute and he flicked in a clever header from an Ashley Young cross in the 91st minute to give United a dramatic late winner in a slow-burning game at Old Trafford.

Paul Pogba had given United the lead from close range on 16 minutes before Henrikh Mkhitaryan levelled for the Gunners shortly after half time. Fellaini’s winning goal means United are sitting 2nd in the Premier league and cement a top 4 place, and also means Arsenal will finish outside the top 4 and below North London rivals Tottenham for the second successive season and now Wenger’s last at the helm. The Gunners are now sitting 6th in the league, 3 points above 7th placed Burnley. This was the last time the Frenchman would be in the away dugout at Old Trafford as Arsenal manager and before kick off the long serving Wenger was presented with an award by his old rival, ex-United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. 

United won their second league match in a row after their loss to West Brom, which not only handed the Premier League title to their arch rivals Manchester City, but also gave West Brom a chance of survival according to Premiership relegation odds from Betfair. However, despite caretaker manager Darren Moore being undefeated as manager of the Baggies, with the teams around them also picking up points, their hopes of survival remain slim.

Meanwhile, Wenger made seven changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Atletico Madrid in midweek, with an eye on what turned out to be a defeat in the second leg of the Europa League semi-final on Thursday. Koscielny, Mustafi, Ramsey, Monreal, Ozil, Wilshere and Lacazette made way for Chambers, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Nelson, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and 19 year old debutant Mavrapanos. 

United boss Jose Mourinho made just one change from the side that started against Tottenham in last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final victory, with Victor Lindelof coming in for Phil Jones. 

The home side started well and went ahead when an Alexis Sanchez header was blocked by Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin before the ball ricocheted off the post and the ball fell kindly to French midfielder Pogba, who volleyed the into an empty net from a couple of yards out.

Mkhitarayan came close to an equaliser for the visitors soon after they went behind, but he dragged his shot just wide of goalkeeper David De Gea’s far post. United went into the second half with the lead but their star striker Romelu Lukaku was taken off injured and shortly afterwards Mkhitaryan did find the net, a neat finish into the bottom corner from outside the area. 

Arsenal held on and defended resolutely for most of the second half until late on, when United substitute Marcus Rashford had what he thought to be the winning goal disallowed for offside. The striker managed to deflect the ball in when a Fellaini header ricocheted off the post but the goal was rightly ruled offside. 

United did manage to score the winner a couple of minutes later though, when Fellaini rose high in the area to meet an Ashley Young cross and guide a header past David Ospina, much to the delight of the home supporters. The defeat means the Gunners have now lost 6 consecutive away games in the Premier league. 

Speaking to Sky Sports, Mourinho said of his side; “We were a bit lucky with scoring in the last couple of minutes, but we were the stronger side in the last twenty.”

Wenger praised his young Arsenal side in defeat, saying; “It’s difficult to find a bad performance in the team, but it was a bad result.” 

In a somewhat uninspiring game, Arsenal looked to have earned themselves a point with Mkhitaryan’s equaliser against his former club. In doing so the Armenian became the first player to ever score for and against United in the same season. The momentum of the game swung in United’s favour however, after Mourinho’s substitutions. His side were hitting long balls up to the tall frame of Fellaini at every opportunity. The game plan worked eventually when Young picked out the big Belgian, who looped a backwards header over the hapless Ospina.  Arsenal were unlucky to lose the game especially given the unfamiliar and inexperienced starting 11 and despite the defeat, there were some positives to take from the game for Wenger, and in particular man of the match, Ashley Maitland-Niles. The 20 year old impressed in midfield and looks to be a real talent. He was aggressive in winning the ball back all game and completed 36 out of his 39 passes. 

With Wenger leaving the club at the end of the season, the new manager, whoever that may be, will be looking to improve the squad over the summer, in a bid to get the club into the Premier League tips from Betfair. A new manager will give Arsenal a fresh feel, something that they have desperately needed after the last couple of seasons.

Interestingly Arsene Wenger has now failed to win a league game at Old Trafford since 2006 and this result has taken United to 96 wins from the 289 matches they have played against each other, with Arsenal having won 82 times.

Despite United’s superior head-to-head record, this victory meant that for the first time since the 2011/12 season, United have done the double over Arsenal in the Premier League.

The loss for Arsenal has meant that they are still yet to win an away match in the Premier League in 2018, which is something no other team in the top four tiers of English football have done. This is an unwanted record that can be rectified with their final two away league games of the season against an out of form Leicester City and a struggling Huddersfield Town.

Paul Pogba has proven just how valuable he is to the squad, even with the reported disputes between himself and manager Jose Mourinho. United have won all ten matches that the French midfielder has scored in.

by David Hay

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