Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal Analysis: Mourinho denied by faltering Gunners

Despite a largely lethargic and uninspiring performance, Arsene Wenger's Arsenal claimed a late point at Old Trafford against a wounded Manchester United, to maintain their unbeaten streak.

Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal Analysis: Mourinho denied by faltering Gunners
Olivier Giroud's late goal ensured a point for the Gunners. | Photo: Getty Images/Michael Regan

In recent years gone by, this would have been a game that Arsenal would have lost, and surrendered more ground in their title fight. One nil down to Manchester United at Old Trafford, and not just any Manchester United; one under the guide of Arsene Wenger's arch-nemesis and obsessor, Jose Mourinho.

In addition to the setting and personnel, it was an insipid performance by the Gunners, and they could count themselves lucky that United were in a forgiving mood of their own. A match that was so highly billed and anticipated was bitty, sloppy and frustrating for both fanbases and staff.

Laurent Koscielny battles with Wayne Rooney. | Photo: Getty Images/Shaun Botterill
Laurent Koscielny battles with Wayne Rooney. | Photo: Getty Images/Shaun Botterill

Juan Mata's confident finish - a rare moment of quality amongst the 28 players that entered the fray; coming to a staggering combined cost of £614 million - looked to have helped the stuttering United to a crucial three points, but second half substitute Olivier Giroud popped up with a bullet header one minute from time to steal a draw from under Mourinho's nose. It says a lot about their game when you consider that that was the visitors' first shot on target throughout the whole game.

Valencia rules the roost

Making his return from a broken arm, Antonio Valencia was by far the standout performer of the day. Measured in his balance of attack and defence, the Ecuadorian winger-cum-full back was exemplary on the right hand side, causing the trio of Aaron Ramsey, Mohamed Elneny and Nacho Monreal headaches. It came as no surprise to see United utilise his physical threat and target the Arsenal left hand side; although Carl Jenkinson was deputising for the injured Hector Bellerin at right-back, and was thought of as a weak link in the Arsenal back line pre-game.

Valencia clashes with Monreal. | Photo: Getty Images/Tom Purslow
Valencia clashes with Monreal. | Photo: Getty Images/Tom Purslow

Valencia was rampant early on and was instrumental in the hosts' early siege of the Arsenal area, hunting down Monreal and delivering vicious crosses, as well as linking up effectively with Marcus Rashford - who was prone to drifting out wide, despite leading the attack in the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic's absence. Furthermore, Valencia was involved in the first half's flashpoint, denied a penalty when he tumbled over under the watchful eye of Monreal. Marginal, but Andre Marriner made the right call to wave away the protests. Mourinho was far from pleased, however, flapping his arms and sporting a disgusted look.

United hold their shape

As dull and ineffective as Arsenal were going forward, Mourinho's outfit need credit where credit is due. As usual, Wenger played safe away at Manchester United in terms of team selection, which once more, backfired. United were more than content to let Arsenal play the ball around in midfield, the middle men pressing the Gunners into careless mistakes, whilst the defence kept their distance; forcing Alexis Sanchez to drop deeper and deeper in order to influence the game. The consequence was, Arsenal played for the best part of an hour without a central striker, the lacklustre Theo Walcott unable to make any piercing runs in behind from the right wing.

Giroud affirms himself as the super-sub

He's now Arsenal's all-time leading goalscorer off of the bench in the Premier League era, with 10 goals scored whilst starting as a substitute and once more, Olivier Giroud dug Arsenal out of a pitiful mess.

It's not for the first time this season either. Last month against Sunderland with the game even at 1-1, Giroud helped his side to a convincing 4-1 scoreline, scoring with both of his first two touches.

Giroud's arrival changed the game. | Photo: Getty Images/ David Price
Giroud's arrival changed the game. | Photo: Getty Images/ David Price

His arrival helped Arsenal change the complexion of their attack, adding another dimension. His threat in the air can be invaluable in games where there looks to be no way through - such was the case this afternoon. As mentioned previously, Sanchez was too deep to have a lasting effect in attack, however Giroud looked at ease in amongst the centre-back partnership of the fretting Phil Jones and highly unconvincing Marcos Rojo.

The Frenchman's goal was taken well, meeting a looping Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cross with a fine header at the back post, leaving David de Gea little chance - frustrating for the Spaniard, who had no need to make a save all afternoon.

Mata is the Juan for Jose

Cast your minds back two years ago, and Juan Mata is frozen out of Chelsea by none other than Jose Mourinho, the Spaniard leaping at the chance to rejuvenate his stuttering Premier League career with David Moyes and United. Back to the present day, the Spaniard is invaluable to Mourinho and the Red Devils, having played in 61 of the last 63 Premier League games.

Juan Mata took his goal well. | Photo: Getty Images/Shuan Botterill
Juan Mata took his goal well. | Photo: Getty Images/Shuan Botterill

A threat all throughout the game, as he buzzed about the final third from his central position - displacing the demoted Wayne Rooney after his midweek "wrongdoings" - and took his goal superbly. Arriving in the right place at the right time, Mata arrowed a low drive into the bottom corner from his countryman Ander Herrera's cutback, and looked for all the world to have secured three points for his side. He has every right to feel like that should have been the case.

Wenger's league hoodoo at Old Trafford and Mourinho continues

10 long years have now passed since Arsenal's last league win at Old Trafford, but more disconcertingly for Arsene Wenger, he's still without a league victory over Jose Mourinho, in 17 attempts.

However, the Frenchman will undoubtedly be the happier of the two in regards to the result, but not the performance. For the first time since their 1-0 win over Norwich City in April, Arsenal failed to record a shot on target in the first half of a Premier League game. Even worse for Arsenal and Wenger, Giroud's goal came from their first shot in the second half.

Another rivalry rages on. | Photo: Getty Images/Michael Regan
Another rivalry rages on. | Photo: Getty Images/Michael Regan

Those stats may be a consequence of Wenger's debatable team selection, choosing to leave out Granit Xhaka and Alex Iwobi, in favour of the the more industrious Elneny and Ramsey. Had Santi Cazorla been fit enough to start, would Wenger have chanced him? The little Spaniard is the metronome in the heart of the Arsenal midfield, the key man in the transition of defence to attack, alongside a more bruising, defence minded midfielder, such as Francis Coquelin, Xhaka or Elneny. Arsenal fans wait for his impending return from an achilles niggle.

Additionally, Arsenal's mentality was very questionable for 87 minutes of the game, with many of the 11 looking lethargic and largely a shadow of their best; Mesut Ozil in particular. November is and has always been a bitter month for Arsenal under Wenger, and if they can get past Paris Saint-Germain and Bournemouth unscathed, they have every reason to feel a little more buoyant than they did at the start of the month.

But, the performances must improve if they are to assert themselves as real title challengers.