You would be forgiven for wondering when Manchester United’s luck might change this season.
Sure, there have been some horrible performances in what still constitutes early days for new United manager Jose Mourinho, but after another good performance in the Premier League, this time against Arsenal, it would be fair to say that Mourinho’s United have played more good games than bad.
The problem for the most part is United’s failure to turn said good performances into wins and points. And while, in isolation, one might accept that occasionally, you are going to play well against an Arsenal team and not come away with the points, the size of the failure is exacerbated by frustrating draws at Old Trafford against Stoke City and Burnley.
Throwing points away like that at home is unacceptable if Mourinho is serious about mounting a challenge in his first season – something which looks less and less likely with very passing week – but the habit is getting to the point now where it could seriously threaten a top-four finish.
Here are our five lessons from the 1-1 draw.
POGBA IMPRESSES, BUT LET DOWN AGAIN
Paul Pogba has endured mixed reviews this season, but had his team-mates been able to capitalise on the sheer amount of chances he creates, those reviews would be a lot more favourable.
It is unfortunate that the fortunes of the Frenchman rest so heavily on the ability of his team-mates to capitalise on his good play, because at present moment, no one has stepped up to the mark.
A player like Javier Hernandez – a real gambler and poacher in the box – would have scored at least one goal from Pogba’s services on Saturday alone. Too often, the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial – who otherwise had decent games – were caught flat-footed, almost watching on in awe as Pogba turned Arsenal’s defence inside out.
Pogba, despite playing deep in midfield, got to the by-line on a number of occasions after beating a host of defender, only to cut the ball back without a single United shirt reading the situation quick enough to latch on and score.
It is becoming an all too familiar tale for the Frenchman. Once again, another terrific performance which will not get the credit it deserved because at the end of the game he did not have a goal or assist to his name.
ERRATIC REFEREEING WREAKS HAVOC AGAIN
Once again, it is hard to put too much blame on the referee for a result United had more than enough chances to win on its merits, but the inconsistency and blatant errors are starting to pile up.
On one hand, Matteo Darmian is booked for running behind Theo Walcott and maybe clipping his trailing leg. On the other, Nacho Monreal makes a deliberate and effective attempt to halt Antonio Valencia’s goalbound charge on goal by throwing his arms across the Ecuadorian and somehow Andre Marriner does not deem the tackle worthy of a foul!
Incredible. Ironically, the inconsistency worked in United’s favour when Darmian avoided a clear yellow card and a subsequent sending off when he was late in the challenge later in the half, but the fact he even had such a fate hanging over his head was the product of another terrible call.
The argument that United won soft penalties at Old Trafford during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign holds some water – even if greatly exaggerated – but if this is some sort of payback for those years, then the ledger should be pretty square by now.
Hopefully next time a player rugby tackles a United player in the box, or a goalkeeper leaves his studs in Wayne Rooney’s shins as Cluadio Bravo did in the Manchester derby, United get the call.
VALENCIA ON SONG
Valencia proved his worth once again on Saturday as he turned in a man-of-the-match performance from right-back.
Hopefully Mourinho shouted the medical team some nice wine after their remarkable efforts to get the Ecuador international back on the park after his broken arm only a couple of weeks ago.
The Ecuador international put in a brilliant performance rightly rewarded with the man of the match award post-game.
If there was one criticism that you could make, it is that he fails to put in really troubling balls given the amount of good positions he gets into, but nevertheless he has been a constant source of attacking threat for United as his directness and pace continues to unsettle opposition defences.
MOURINHO SUBS A MIXED BAG
One area that Mourinho has received constant criticism in since taking over at United has been in his use of substitutions.
On this occasion, it was a mixed bag. Introducing Wayne Rooney was a good move. While he lacked the pace and energy of Rashford, who moved to the left-hand side, his movement was a lot more astute and opened up the acreage of space from which Juan Mata scored United’s opener.
His decision to bring on Morgan Schneiderlin for the Spanish goalscorer was less astute.
Swapping the Spaniard for the Frenchman effectively signalled to Arsenal that United were done chasing the two-goal advantage and that – after absolutely dominating second-half possession – United were prepared to forfeit the initiative.
The Arsenal we have come to know over recent seasons might have conceded defeat after going a goal down, but the hungry combination of Alex Oxade-Chamberlin and Olivier Giroud – both who want to show their manager they should be starting games – meant that was never going to happen on Saturday and the two combined brilliantly to ensure Arsenal took a share of the points with just one shot on target.
POSITIVE FOOTBALL, POSITIVE MOOD
As long as Mourinho can ensure the players keep their heads up, it is fair to be confident that the wins will
United are simply playing too well to keep tossing away points.
Pogba is well and truly in the groove at Old Trafford and United are creating good chances. Now, someone needs to stand up and take them. Between Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Martial, Rashford and Rooney there are no shortage of players capable of scoring goals. The question is, who will stand up and take the mantle of being United’s hero?