You can trace the exact moment any lingering essence of Paul Scholes left Old Trafford back to the 92nd minute of Man United’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal.
It was then, with United attempting to summon up the spirit of Fergie Time, that Victor Lindelof took matters into his own square-toed boots.
United inextricably worked the ball back from the edge of Arsenal’s box into their own half, where Lindelof saw fit to slice a cross-field pass out of play with the air of someone chasing £150 from You’ve Been Framed.
The moment wouldn’t have looked out of place on Hackney Marshes, although Lindelof didn’t have the excuse of collapsing out of a provincial nightclub three hours before kick-off to fall back on.
With all the talk of nostalgia ahead of the fixture, it’s perhaps no surprise that United and Arsenal sought to put on a technical display mirroring that of their first meeting on 13 October 1894.
At least on that occasion there were six goals on show. Of the 231 meetings between the sides, few could have been as poor in possession as the latest.
United, who dominated the possession with 439 passes to Arsenal’s 353, shaded the passing accuracy on the night with a collective 80% compared to 77%.
But, as tends to be the way with stats, that only tells one page of the story.
Only one United player, Jesse Lingard, finished the game with a pass completion higher than 90%, although that needs to be balanced out by acknowledging JLingz also made the second-fewest passes of the 11 players who started the game for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
United’s shyest passers, Andreas Pereira and Marcus Rashford, walked off the pitch having found their team-mates with 68% and 63% of their 19 passes.
Paul Pogba put in a typical ‘men versus boys’ performance in which he was simultaneously the man and the boy. In fairness, the Frenchman was one of United’s better passers on the night, finding team-mates with 81% of his 62 passes.
Arsenal fared little better. Granit Xhaka and Sead Kolasinac, two players you never want dictating your side’s tempo, were the only Arsenal starters to make more than 40 passes.
Unai Emery’s decision to play Lucas Torreira, a midfielder so defensive he needs a passport to cross the half-way line, as a no.10 was rewarded with a very on-brand 10 passes.
Matteo Guendouzi tried- as he always does- and completed 90% of his 39 passes which, in the context of the game, wasn’t too far off Juan Roman Riquelme’s efforts against Serbia in the 2006 World Cup.
United v Arsenal used to be a Who’s Who of technical excellence and passing brilliance, even amidst the Manchester downpour which at times threatened to turn the latest meeting into a game of water polo.
But between Arsenal setting up with three defensive midfielders and both goalkeepers making more accurate passes than their respective strikers, this was the death of the fixture being a lesson in how to look after the ball.
Anyone got Scholesy’s number?
All stats courtesy of WhoScored.com
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