It’s a sign of how far Manchester United have slipped that Jose Mourinho praised his team’s ‘big heart and soul’ to earn a draw against Arsenal at Old Trafford.
It was the first time in 32 years that this fixture took place without Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger in one of the dugouts (though Ferguson was a keen observer from the stands).
Those clashes were, more often than not, top-of-the-table ones dominated by United. But this time it was eighth against fourth, with even some of the fiercest United fans fearful of a Gunners onslaught.
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Mourinho made a big call by leaving Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku on the bench, while the forgotten Fred was nowhere to be seen.
The United manager has made a habit of tinkering with his team, even so, leaving $286-million worth of talent on the bench for such a crucial match could have had major ramifications.
United legend Paul Scholes, though, wasn’t all that surprised to see Pogba dropped from the starting line-up.
“I can understand why he’s not playing Pogba,” Scholes said on BT Sport. “He was poor at the weekend. He (Mourinho) can’t trust him. He can’t seem to pass a ball without doing a flick or trick. Performances week-in, week-out, it’s taking him too long to become a mature player”.
Rio Ferdinand went on to compare the role Pogba played for France coach Didier Deschamps during the World Cup, to the relationship the French star has with Mourinho.
“I look at Paul Pogba when he played in the World Cup and he was an integral player of that team and they won the World Cup,” Ferdinand said on BT Sport. “He wasn’t the showboating Paul Pogba that we’ve been used to seeing, but he was an effective Paul Pogba in that team. “And that comes from the manager laying down the law.
“That relationship with Deschamps, there seems like there’s more of a respectful relationship between them — there’s more of a closeness between them”.
United may have started the match the stronger of the two teams and, as Mourinho pointed out, ‘drew 2-2 but we scored four goals’, but the home side were always chasing the game.
It speaks volumes that Arsenal left Old Trafford the more disappointed of the two sides, despite the draw extending their unbeaten run to 20 matches across all competitions.
United have now conceded more goals at Old Trafford this season (10 goals in seven games) than they did in the whole of 2017-18 (nine in 18 games).
While Pogba came off the bench with 15 minutes to go, he offered little and Mourinho couldn’t resist having a subtle dig at his big money superstars.
“There isn’t space for people that are not ready to give their all,” he said in his programme notes.
And after the match said: “There are things which I cannot get from them and I cannot say much more than that. Everyone gives everything, that’s for sure, and that is a positive feeling.
“I cannot tell you much more. I prefer to say that I am happy with the soul, the commitment, the bravery, I am really happy with that.”