Manchester United secured their place in the top-four thanks to a late Marouane Fellaini winner as Arsene Wenger saw his final visit to Old Trafford as Arsenal manager spoiled in the closing minutes.
The home crowd were unusually amicable to Wenger before kick-off as the departing Gunners boss, erstwhile target of their unrelenting jeers for the past two decades, received a special salute, with his old sparring partner Sir Alex Ferguson handing over a parting memento.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) April 29, 2018
After the pre-match pleasantries, the actual match itself began with a very polite exhibition air as Arsenal fielded their youngest line-up in almost seven years – the likes of Konstantinos Mavropanos (20), Ashley Maitland-Niles (20), Alex Iwobi (21) and Reiss Nelson (18) all starting.
24y 67d – The average age of Arsenal's starting XI (24y 67d) is their youngest for a Premier League game since August 2011, which was also at Old Trafford against Manchester United (24y 65d) when they lost 8-2. Inexperience. pic.twitter.com/gQ3SETeKlO
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 29, 2018
The entente cordial lasted roughly 15 minutes, right up until the point that Paul Pogba stabbed United into the lead from point-blank range.
The French midfielder was in the right place at the right time to swat the ball over the line after Hector Bellerin had first denied Alexis Sanchez at the back post with a quite brilliant block…
Jose Mourinho’s side began the second half with a double helping of the ‘Oh buggers’ when they lost Romelu Lukaku to an ankle injury in the 50th minute before conceding an equaliser in the 51st.
Indeed, in driving one in from 20 yards against his old side (after some decent harrying from the oft-maligned Granit Xhaka), Henrikh Mkhitaryan became the first ever player to score both for and against United in the same Premier League season…
Arsenal then began to retreat as United enjoyed the majority of the second half possession in the opposing, turning the screw without actually creating many clear-cut chances of note.
However, the introduction of Marouane Fellaini shortly after the hour-mark allowed United to adopt a more direct tack with which to assault the Gunner’s rag-tag back four.
It looked like the visitors might just slip out of Old Trafford with a point to their name when they survived a late scare in front of the Stretford End.
Fellaini – whose elapsing contract situation is yet to be resolved – glanced a header off the bar with the rebound ricocheting in off Marcus Rashford’s pelvis, but an intervention from the assistant referee saw the effort chalked off for an offside in the build-up.
Not to be perturbed, United attempted the exact same approach less than three minutes later and this time Fellaini managed to guide his backwards header beyond the outstretched arm of David Ospina…
And that’s how it ended: a sixth straight away defeat for Arsenal, who are still to pick up a single league point away from home in 2018.
The result leaves Wenger’s water-treaders trailing 20 points behind United and a full 36 behind champions-elect Man City, while also ensuring that they’ll finish beneath rivals Tottenham for the second successive season.
Who knows, a change might do them good.