Manchester United delivered a vigorous display that should have seen off Arsenal on Saturday, only for Olivier Giroud to snatch a late point. Their effort had several hallmarks of a vintage Jose Mourinho performance -- resolute defending, energetic pressing -- but an unusual lack of physical presence in the box ended up costing them two points.
That left the Portuguese with a bitter taste, given his tendency to throw on big players when defending narrow leads. The hosts got most things right until that point, their 4-3-3 limiting Arsenal to few chances and the midfield trio recovering balls in dangerous positions, so Mourinho duly felt the 1-1 was akin to a defeat.
The opposite was true of Arsene Wenger, whose side seemed to suffer from Old Trafford syndrome once more, having not won there since September 2006. They were fluent in spells in the first half, with Alexis Sanchez pulling the strings as a False No.9, but faded badly in the second until shrewd substitutions crafted a fine goal.
That crushing blow made it of scant consolation that Antonio Valencia put in a spirited shift, or that Ander Herrera bossed the midfield alongside Paul Pogba, as United stumbled to a third straight league draw at Old Trafford.
United use counter-pressing
For the big occasions, Mourinho has always favoured transitions ahead of patient possession play. At Real Madrid, he would occasionally ditch his 4-2-3-1 for a 4-3-3 in which two aggressive ball-winners forced lethal turnovers, and something similar happened here, with Herrera and Pogba the weapons of choice ahead of anchorman Michael Carrick.
The strategy often manifested itself in long balls towards Marcus Rashford, who deputised for the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This might have seemed illogical -- Rashford was never going to beat Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny in the air -- but what Mourinho really wanted was for United to come first to the second balls then bear down on a backtracking backline.
This was evident in the first half. United would sit back for spells, but when they had a chance of regaining possession upfield, they went all out. On 11 minutes, a lofted pass towards Anthony Martial was headed down by Koscielny to Nacho Monreal, only for Mata to crash into him immediately. Monreal played the free kick short to Aaron Ramsey, who was hacked down by Valencia. A minute later, Valencia intercepted a pass and stormed down the line to cross, a sight that will have delighted Mourinho.
Similar situations led to opportunities. On 35 minutes, a Monreal clearance was picked up by Carrick and circulated back to Valencia, who had a penalty shout turned down after a duel with Monreal. Closer to half time, Valencia lost the ball against Monreal, but then Arsenal tried to play their way out -- a risky strategy against this kind of pressure -- and Ramsey ended up sending a suicidal crossfield pass to Herrera near the box before the move led to Martial testing Petr Cech.
United kept at it until their goal on 69 minutes, by which stage they had made seven interceptions and committed eight fouls in the opposition half; Arsenal had managed one and three respectively. "We were very positive in our approach, very aggressive, pressing high," Mourinho noted.
Arsenal blunt in False No.9 system
Down the other end, Arsenal tried pretty much the opposite. Wenger went with Sanchez up front but with the less creative Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin in midfield, the Chilean often dropped deep to get involved, which left no reference point up front.
At one stage Sanchez was playing like Andrea Pirlo, while it was Elneny who was the most advanced player -- a recipe unlikely to break down a compact United.
That left the hosts comfortable despite missing three members of their first-choice back four, and heaven knows how thoroughly Mourinho must have drilled Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo over the international break. Their only worry was Sanchez's tendency to turn players and drop into pockets of space in midfield, but the Gunners stuttered when approaching the box, with Sanchez failing with most of his ambitions passes. The visitors didn't muster a shot on target beyond their goal.
Valencia escapes Ramsey
If anything, you could almost say a United defender caused as much havoc as Arsenal did as a team. Having recovered from a fractured arm, Valencia was a menace down the right, repeatedly powering past Ramsey and winning several corners. It was his cross that found Pogba early in the second half, just before Rashford triggered another penalty claim by firing into Mustafi's arm.
Though his crosses led to no goals, the move behind the opener came down his side; Pogba drifted across and found the ubiquitous Herrera, whose cutback was directed home by Mata. Ironically, Pogba had been the one setting up many of Valencia's initiatives, the Frenchman having varied between short combinations on the left and sweeping diagonals.
Lack of height costs Mourinho
At 1-0 with 20 minutes left, Mourinho seemed in control. He had taken off Martial for Wayne Rooney and put Rashford on the left, while Wenger would soon introduce Giroud up front for Elneny as Alexis dropped to the wing. Those changes didn't seem to boost Arsenal at first: United mounted several dangerous transitions, while Arsenal kept failing with the final pass.
Yet at least they had a presence in the box now, and perhaps alarm bells should have been ringing for Mourinho when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Carl Jenkinson as a right-back. The move put the winger up against Rashford, a striker not known for diligent defending, and on 89 minutes, Oxlade-Chamberlain stormed past his marker to set up Giroud's towering header.
Another factor behind the goal was United's lack of height. Mourinho would usually have played Eric Bailly in defence and would almost certainly also have introduced Chris Smalling and/or Marouane Fellaini to stop Giroud. Even Ibrahimovic could have done a job. As it was, the absence of such players proved costly on a day when United deserved more.