The criticism of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United mounts by the week — lots of it from the manager himself — but as Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard came up with crucial equalisers last night, a t least his players at least showed there can be no questioning their durability.
Not for this week at least. It was significant that Mourinho left Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, the most under-achieving of many such stars in the United dressing room, on the bench for a game in which United twice quickly came from behind, replying to two defensive nightmares by their team-mates.
In fact, the opening goal featured that rarest of collector’s items, a David de Gea error, before Marcos Rojo capped an eventful first game of the season by turning the ball into his own net.
De Gea had been one of the few — arguably the only — dependable part of a United team that has been slowly but surely imploding in on itself for most of the past 12 months although he was finally dragged down to the standard of those around him after 26 minutes.
Lucas Torreira’s cross from a left-wing corner found Mustafi unmarked in the middle of the United area, thanks to Chis Smalling’s slip, and his powerful header took an awkward bounce off the Old Trafford surface.
De Gea should still have been able to deal with it comfortably but, with both hands to the ball, succeeded only in pushing it over his own head where it crossed his goalline despite Ander Herrera’s desperation clearance.
It was a stunning development although, arguably, a bigger surprise came in United’s spirited response and an equaliser just four minutes later.
Rojo was the unlikely source of the goal with a terrific 25-yard free-kick which Bernd Leno saved at the foot of his left-hand post, pushing the ball away from goal.
Herrera responded quickly, however, reaching the ball and crossing into a crowded six-yard area where Martial connected with the ball, showing composure to steer it into the Arsenal goal.
There were Arsenal suggestions of an offside call against Herrera and Emery’s concerns grew a few moments later when Rob Holding was forced off injured, after a collision with Marcus Rashford, but, for neutrals at least, the equaliser set up the game nicely.
That might not have been the case had Rojo not escaped with just a yellow card before the interval, when he might have seen red for a late lunge at Matteo Guendouzi.
But, not for the first time this season, at least United had responded to going a goal behind — the 11th time they have done so in 21 games to date.
Arsenal, having lost Holding early, were unsettled further when Aaron Ramsey, injured late in the first half, was unable to start the second.
But despite Arsenal’s reshuffle, the dramatic pattern of first half scoring would be repeated after 68 minutes when they regained a lead they could only hold, on this occasion, for 74 seconds.
First, Rojo was badly at fault, gifting the ball to Alexandre Lacazette deep in United territory.
The Arsenal forward played a one-two with fellow substitute Henrikh Mkhitaryan and advanced into the area where Rojo tackled him from behind and succeeded only in turning the ball into his own goal.
But there could be no faulting United’s response as Arsenal panicked at a long ball punted forward, almost directly from kick-off.
Substitute Lukaku caused uncertainty in the visitors’ area and as Sead Kolasinac tried to turn the ball back to his goalkeeper, he allowed Lingard to ghost in and complete a simple finish past Leno.
FULL-TIME Man Utd 2-2 ArsenalDecember 5, 2018
Error-strewn as it might have been, there could be no faulting the entertainment in the first Manchester United-Arsenal fixture since 1986 to take place without either Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger in one of the dug-outs.
In the final 10 minutes of the first half, Rojo was lucky to stay on the field, earning a yellow for a sliding foul on Guendouzi, while Mustafi and United pair Lingard and Nemanja Matic all joined him in there were also booked.
And before the flurry of second half goals, Rojo forced Leno into a fine save as he tipped over his swirling 25-yard shot.
After the teams exchanged goals for the second time, there was also an opportunity for De Gea to make amends for his first half error which he did with two fine saves to deny in-form Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with Mkhitaryan also wasting a good close-range chance in between.
In injury-time, former United man Mkhitaryan had the ball in the United goal only for him to have been judged out of play, after another impressive de Gea stop, this time from Torreira.
MAN UNITED (3-4-1-2): De Gea 6; Bailly 5, Smalling 5, Rojo 6 (Fellaini 72, 6); Dalot 7, Matic 6, Herrera 7, Darmian 6; Lingard 8 (Pogba 75, 6); Rashford 6, Martial 7 (Lukaku 63, 6).
ARSENAL (3-4-2-1): Leno 7; Papastathopoulos 7, Mustafi 7, Holding 6 (Lichtsteiner 36, 6); Bellerin 6, Torreira 8, Guendouzi 7, Kolasinac 6; Ramsey 7 (Mkhitaryan 45, 6), Iwobi 7 (Lacazette 64, 6); Aubameyang 6.
Referee: A Marriner 7