Man United 1 Arsenal 1: Wayne Rooney can — and did — protest all he wishes about the unfair treatment he received over “Wedding-gate” but the fact remains that, with every passing week, the Manchester United and England captain is proving ever more dispensable for club and country alike.
His arrival just after the hour as a substitute in this disappointing draw with Arsenal coincided with United taking the lead, although it is putting it kindly to describe Rooney’s contribution to proceedings as “insignificant”. In fact, the only impression Rooney left upon a fixture in which he has scored 14 times over his glittering career was an injury-time booking picked up for a petulant verbal outburst at referee Andre Marriner.
Still, this is a Rooney battling for his very career, for both club and country, and at the end of a week in which he took the ill-advised decision to attend, and drink, at a wedding reception while on England duty, and still in his squad kit, he was able to hog the headlines with an outburst against the media’s handling of the affair.
“What’s been going on is disgraceful,” said Rooney, just days after he had issued an unreserved apology for his behaviour.
“I’m proud to play for my country and I’m proud of my achievements. It’s not finished yet. I think what’s been going on is disgraceful. It shows a lack of respect and I think enough to enough. That’s all I want to say.”
Sadly, Rooney has to make such points verbally these days — long since having lost the ability to let his football do the talking.
Out of the starting line-up since mid-October — apart from a solitary start in a win at lowly Swansea — Rooney, 31, now sees games pass him by in a way which has been inconceivable for so much of the past decade.
At least the outburst at Old Trafford following the Arsenal draw proved there may be some fight left in the veteran forward because there had been little evidence to suggest there was much left from his on-field performances in a season which has seen him fail to score a league goal since the opening day.
“I thought we were going to have the ball,” said manager Jose Mourinho when asked why he did not start Rooney in place of the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“Arsenal are a team who let the opponents play. I thought we would have space and the ball would arrive quite easily to the attacking players. I believed ones like Mata, Martial, and Rashford were faster than Wayne, better attacking opponents one to one in the last line. I thought it was the best option.”
And it was. Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba combined for Mata to open the scoring, only for United to draw a third consecutive home game for the first time since 1992 when Olivier Giroud headed in a last-minute equaliser.
One also has to go back a dozen years, to 2004, to find a season in which the opening 12 games have brought fewer than their current tally of 19 points, although Mourinho was adamant that such was their domination of those three draws, with Stoke, Burnley, and now Arsenal, that his team should have six more points on that total.
Little wonder that Mourinho is already in defensive mode, quick whenever the opportunity arises, to claim that he needs more time and more, higher quality players, to return United to the heights they scaled under Alex Ferguson.
“We had one transfer window and four months of work,” he said. “We have lots of young players and older players. We need a lot of work to do.
“But if you see Burnley, Stoke, Arsenal — if you have six more points which we totally deserved. If we had six points more, see where we would be. If we keep performing the way we are doing. At least I want someone to come here and play better than us and beat us. Then you can go home and say these guys were better than us. Today I go home and my feeling is that I have lost.”
Although he saw his team waste the opportunity to, temporarily, move to the top of the table, Arsene Wenger drew understandable satisfaction from the manner in which his Gunners played so poorly but battled gamely until the final minute and a scarcely-deserved equaliser.
That tried and trusted criticism of Arsenal lacking the spirit and backbone to maintain a title challenge certainly looks wide of the mark this term and the manner in which Alexis Sanchez, nursing a hamstring injury and less than fresh after international travels with Chile, battled through the 90 minutes spoke volumes.
“I think he played very well in the first half,” said Wenger. “In the second half, we didn’t give him enough service.
“Overall, for a guy who has played a decisive game on Tuesday for Chile, or basically Wednesday morning, travelled after and had jet lag, it’s remarkable.
“It’s very unusual to play an ‘injured’ player But I did it because Sanchez is a guy who can take people on and I knew that would be a quality.
“He’s good in counter attacks in short spells as well, he’s always a player who is not scared of anybody.
“That resilience was the main thing and we kept our composure as well, even at the end. I believe there’s a great harmony in the squad.
“The players who come on make a difference every time and that’s not a coincidence. That is down to attitude and overall, I took some gambles as well. That’s not the first time but they only work if the players have the right attitude.”
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-1-4-1):
De Gea 6; Valencia 9, Jones 6, Rojo 6, Darmian 5 (Blind 63, 5); Carrick 7; Mata 8 (Schneiderlin 84, 5), Herrera 7, Pogba 7, Martial 5 (Rooney 62, 5); Rashford 6.
Subs not used:
Memphis, Lingard, Young, Romero.
Cech 8; Jenkinson 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 83, 8), Mustafi 6, Koscielny 7, Monreal 5; Coquelin 6 (Xhaka 80, 6), Elneny 5 (Giroud 73, 8); Ramsey 5, Ozil 5, Walcott 6; Sanchez 7.
Subs not used:
Gibbs, Paulista, Ospina, Iwobi
A Marriner 6.
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