Arsene Wenger’s farewell trip to Old Trafford ends in defeat

Arsene Wenger’s side remain without a Premier League point in 2018 but a squad with an average age scarcely over 24 had performed admirably at Manchester United, responding impressively to Paul Pogba’s 16th-minute opener with Henrikh Mkhitaryan equalising early in the second half.

Arsenal had shown the steel required to hold on to a draw but were undone by the sort of route one football Wenger has always eschewed, a long ball into the area flicked on by substitute Fellaini to earn a point.

With Europa League semi-final second leg at Atletico Madrid the unquestionable priority Wenger left at least half of the likely starters in London, naming the youngest league starting XI since that famous 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford in 2011.

A centre-back pairing of Calum Chambers and 20-year-old debutant Konstantinos Mavropanos – originally signed in January with the intention of sending him out on loan to the Bundesliga – suggested Arsenal could be in for another rough night. But Jose Mourinho’s strongest side were in little mood to inflict pain on Wenger on his Old Trafford farewell.

Pogba spurned a superb early chance after the ball had broken to Nemanja Matic on the edge of the area. A delicate through ball found the Frenchman, who in his surprise swivelled and shot well wide from close range.

He would make no mistake soon after at the culmination of a move he had begun by driving past a flailing Granit Xhaka. Romelu Lukaku crossed from the right to Alexis Sanchez, who had drifted away from Hector Bellerin. The full-back’s diving intervention denied his former team-mate a goal but as the ball deflected back off the post Pogba was on hand to tap home.

Moments later Mkhitaryan, determined to show Mourinho why he was wrong to cast him aside so swiftly and callously, went close, fizzing a low shot past David de Gea after a brilliant backheel by Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

One of several young guns to shine on the Old Trafford stage, Maitland-Niles had a convincing shout for a penalty on 26 minutes when Sanchez went through the back of him. That incident came amid a period of Arsenal pressure where it might only have required a better cross from Hector Bellerin for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to tap in an equaliser.

It took until the second half for Arsenal to get the goal they had deserved and it was Xhaka – the subject of widespread chastisement for his role in Pogba’s opener – who set the Gunners on their way. The captain for the day beat Ander Herrera and Matic to a loose ball in midfield before slipping a pass through to Mkhitaryan.

Marshalled by the exceptional Mavropanos Arsenal looked to be holding on to an encouraging point but were denied at the last when Fellaini arched Ashley Young’s cross over a despairing David Ospina, Reuters report.

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