It is 15 games unbeaten for Mourinho now in real competitions, with Wenger’s only win coming in last year’s Community Shield.
Yet when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain accelerated away from Marcus Rashford in the final minute of normal time, when Olivier Giroud rose to head home a fine cross and steal a point, Wenger might have allowed himself just a small snigger.
Mourinho felt it too. “Finally I lost against Arsene,” he said as he got up to leave his press conference, an aside he knew was the best line of the afternoon. “That”s the feeling I take home,” he said, adding, just in case we missed it: “Finally I lost against Arsene.”
Just five words encapsulated so much. It echoed his theme that United were the “unlucky ones” at present and the way Mourinho tells it United (annual turnover £515million) are the plucky underdogs in a Premier League full of giants. It also, of course, reminded us that, in fact, he hasn”t lost against Arsene.
And, in truth this was an afternoon during which Mourinho”s team had done easily enough to merit victory. Of course, it wasn’t as one-sided or as full of chances as the Stoke and Burnley games, where United also drew at home. But against a side much superior to those, they were clearly better: more incisive, more coherent and more compact.
“I don”t explain it,” said Mourinho of the result. “What I explain is what my team did. Amazing control against a team that is very good.
“A team that normally produces very good attacking football, was completely controlled; a team with some amazing players, but we didn”t see them. I”m happy with the players, but it feels like a defeat. And for sure, for Arsenal, it was feeling like a victory.”
He ran through a list of problems he had inherited: an unbalanced squad, formidable rivals and having to play “mistake-prone youngsters”.
In doing so, he wasn”t being especially harsh on Rashford. “It can happen,” he said of him allowing Oxlade-Chamberlain in at the end.
“I put him on the left side, but he is not a defender and he got caught in a left back position.” It sounded more like he was making a case for additional spending.
That said, both Oxlade-Chamberlain”s cross and Giroud”s header were excellent. And both were substitutes â€” some kind of Wenger master stroke then? “It would be pretentious to say that,” said Wenger. He knew his side had played poorly, but he drew the inevitable positives. “We”ve done that so many times this season, that there is something in this team quite remarkable: great unity, great resilience. But we know we need to do better going forward. Offensively we didn”t have our usual style. We weren”t sharp enough.”
He was right; they weren”t. But though this wasn”t vintage United, it was good; and at times it was perhaps as well as United have played under Mourinho. All over the pitch, there was confidence in the system; in Ander Herrera there was excellence, dictating midfield rhythms; from Juan Mata, once discarded by Mourinho at Chelsea, leadership and clinical interventions.
If you wanted to undermine Mourinho, you could highlight that this was more points dropped at home; that this is their worst start for 12 years, which includes the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal eras. “In a very difficult Premier League, I know, the players know, the board know, the owners know, and from the reaction of the public, the fans know, that when you see a performance like that, there is work behind it,” countered Mourinho.
“And we are very confident and very happy with our work.” And, on this occasion, his words reflected the mood. Old Trafford has a way of embracing its own and when fans repeatedly chanted his name after the Mata goal, it felt like he is beginning to establish himself.
The early exchanges were more promising for Arsenal, when Mesut Ozil and Mohamed Elneny cleverly worked a corner to Nacho Monreal. His cross was flicked on by Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez headed wide. It was a surprise to see the Chilean starting after scoring twice against Uruguay on Tuesday. His hamstring strapped, it became apparent his desire to play had superseded better judgement and he struggled.
That Sanchez chance apart, United had the better of the first half, though the most-animated performance of all was Mourinho”s when Monreal stuck out an arm in the box impeding Antonio Valencia.
Valencia”s theatrical reaction cost him the decision and from Mourinho apoplexy ensued, though diplomacy unusually prevailed later. “Andre Marriner is always a referee with balance,” he said. “I have seen the replay three or four times so I know if it was or wasn”t a penalty. And I don”t want to say what I think. I want to reaffirm that the referee did his best.”
United were producing the better chances; Cech saving from Mata and Anthony Martial, Shkodran Mustafi blocking Rashford. Their moment was coming.
On came Wayne Rooney but it was two Spaniards whom Mourinho had to thank. From a throw in, Herrera cut back to Mata and he swept the ball past Cech on 69 minutes. So enthused was he, his celebrations earned Mata, a well-known rabble rouser, a yellow card. He probably felt it was worth it. He left on 85 minutes to a standing ovation, before the cruel denouement. Mata though, perhaps surprisingly, looks as much a part of the future as Mourinho.
Mail on Sunday
Original source: Jose: I am the unlucky one