Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal: Henrikh Mkhitaryan shines in his return to Old Trafford
In the Premier League era, there hasn’t been a greater rivalry than Manchester United vs. Arsenal. Defined by the combined legacies of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, this feud has encapsulated an entire generation's imagination. Today, the lingering legacy came to an end, as far as the rivalry is concerned. Arsene Wenger made his last trip to Old Trafford as Arsenal manager.
The Manchester stop on the Wenger Farewell tour shocked us with seven changes to the team that disposed of West Ham last week. Twenty-year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos made his senior debut, much to Romelu Lukaku's regret, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, and Sead Kolasinac were also given rare starts. On the other hand, Manchester United named a full-strength side with only one change. Victor Lindelof deputised for Phil Jones.
Come full-time, almost literally, Jose Mourinho’s men scraped out a 2-1 win over Arsene Wenger’s reserve side. Both teams will be happy with the game. United have officially confirmed next season’s champions league qualification. The Gunners have shown their squad is in good shape before a crucial Europa League second leg in Madrid.
Here are the stand-out performers from Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester United.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 7.5/10
The midfield Armenian was on a mission against the man who sold him. He was in top gear throughout. Such was the electricity of Mkhitaryan's performance that he repeatedly switched flanks. Wenger had given him the freedom Jose Mourinho never did. Mkhitaryan had been out 42 days with a knee injury but showed no signs of wear and tear. He ripped through Manchester United’s defence on several occasions.
It’s unfortunate fellow Dortmund alumnus Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was off form. The Gabonese couldn’t connect with his running mate's intricate link-up play.
In perhaps his best performance at Old Trafford, Mkhitaryan completed three take-ons, created one chance, completed 26 passes, won one aerial and scored Arsenal’s only goal of the game. Fans of both clubs offered warm applause both when he scored and was subbed off.
Konstantinos Mavropanos: 7.5/10
Throughout his 22 years in England, Arsene Wenger has developed a habit of throwing youngsters in at the deep end. That’s exactly what he did with 20-year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos at Old Trafford. Going up against a striker who's scored 134 goals in his senior career is a tall feat on any day. When you must deal with him at the most famous stadium in the world, it becomes even taller.
In spite of the 70,000+ watching, the young Greek was composed on the ball and assured in the air at all times. Showing no sign of stage fright, he completely manhandled Romelu Lukaku. Unfortunately, he took it too far on one tackle, getting a leg in to knock the Belgian off-balance, then catching his shin with the trailing leg. Lukaku went down in pain and had to leave the match. There was no malice in the challenge but afterwards, Jose Mourinho had no idea whether his 27-goal striker would be available for the FA Cup final against Chelsea in three weeks.
In the end, Mavropanos made four clearances, intercepted three passes, completed 36 passes and injured Lukaku. If this is anything to go by, the defender has a bright future at Arsenal. The next manager will all but certainly develop him into a world-class centre-back. Even if it's too late for him, Arsene Wenger is leaving the next boss with some gems.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: 8/10
In his preferred central midfielder position, Ainsley Maitland-Niles put in a world-class performance for a player his age. Alongside captain Granit Xhaka, Maitland-Niles acted as a disciplined box to box midfielder who regularly supported Arsenal’s pacey front three. The 20-year-old’s energy, trickery, and power allowed him to match up well with £90 million Paul Pogba.
In a man of the match performance, the English youngster completed two tackles, 92% of his passes and two take-ons, created one chance, and attempted one shot on goal in an all-around performance (WhoScored). It’s performances like these that make Wenger’s decision to play the youngster at left-back even more baffling.