Man United, Marouane Fellaini give Arsene Wenger a losing send-off
MANCHESTER, England -- Three thoughts from Man United's dramatic 2-1 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford.
1. Wenger witnesses defeat in final Old Trafford trip
Arsene Wenger received a standing ovation from Manchester United supporters and a prematch gift from Sir Alex Ferguson, but the Arsenal manager's final trip to Old Trafford ended in a 2-1 defeat and kept his team waiting for their first away point of 2018.
Wenger, who confirmed last week that he will end his 22-year reign as Arsenal manager next month, has seen his team play out some of the best and worst moments of his time in charge in games against United. But with United unable to catch runaway leaders and champions Manchester City, and Arsenal having one eye on Thursday's Europa League semifinal second leg against Atletico Madrid, Sunday's match was unable to match those that have gone before in terms of intensity.
Paul Pogba's opener after 16 minutes, when the France international volleyed in from close range, had given United the chance to claim the victory that would confirm their top-four finish. But Jose Mourinho's team failed to build on the goal and allowed Arsenal back into the game when United old-boy Henrikh Mkhitaryan struck on 51 minutes.
With the game fizzling out to an unsatisfactory draw, however, United substitute Marouane Fellaini headed in a stoppage-time winner to extend Arsenal's woeful run away from the Emirates this season
2. Pogba goal highlights one of his failings
Pogba can certainly do more for Manchester United in order to justify his £89 million fee, but his first-half goal in this game highlighted one key area where he can improve dramatically next season.
The 16th minute tap-in, after Alexis Sanchez's header had been diverted onto the post, was Pogba's first goal at Old Trafford since Nov. 18 and the first time he has scored the opening goal in a game since the Europa League final against Ajax 11 months ago. It was also only Pogba's sixth goal of the season, from 33 appearances; even accounting for his mid-season injury, six goals is nowhere good enough for a midfielder of his calibre.
The two goals in the derby victory over Manchester City earlier this month showcased Pogba's ability to break from midfield and make crucial contributions in the penalty area, while his goal against Arsenal was also an example of the value of a midfielder arriving from outside the 18-yard box to score. But Mourinho has several flaws to iron out of Pogba's game, including his concentration and work ethic, but scoring should be a fairly simple one to correct.
The United manager built a team around Frank Lampard at Chelsea to make him one of the most prolific midfield scorers in the game during his time at Stamford Bridge. Across Manchester, both Yaya Toure and Kevin De Bruyne (now and in previous seasons) have shown how transformative it can be to have a player capable of hitting double figures from midfield.
If Pogba remains at United next season, he needs to deliver at least 15 goals from midfield.
3. Mkhitaryan returns at crucial moment for Arsenal
It was a good day for Mkhitaryan against his former club, but the Arsenal midfielder will know that his performance back at Manchester United was a means to a more important end.
The Armenia international blew hot and cold during his 18 months at United but undoubtedly impressed on his return to Old Trafford by scoring one and going close with another effort early in the game. After being sidelined for almost a month with an ankle injury, the biggest plus for Mkhitaryan on this occasion, however, was his ability to prove his fitness in time for Thursday's Europa League semifinal second leg against Atletico Madrid in Spain. He lasted 75 minutes of his comeback game and made it clear that he is ready to face Atletico later this week.
Arsenal will need every ounce of creativity if they are eliminate Diego Simeone's team and claim their place in the Europa League final in Lyon next month and Mkhitaryan showed against United that his pace and vision can cause problems for the best defenders. But his other plus point is that he became something of a Europa League specialist while helping United win the competition last season.
Mkhitaryan scored six goals in the competition last year, including one in the final against Ajax in Stockholm. In short, he'll bring belief and knowledge to Wenger's team when they need it the most.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_