Manchester United may not have been very convincing, but they did manage to edge arch-rivals Arsenal 2-1 on Sunday and Red Devils midfielder Juan Mata has insisted the win gave them momentum as the 2017-18 season draws to a close.
“April is coming to an end, and so is this season,” Mata penned on his personal blog as he continued, “It’s still soon to make an analysis of the year, but after games like this Sunday’s at Old Trafford you can’t help thinking that there are only four more games to play and that the end of the season is very close. We want to finish in the best possible way.”
After Paul Pogba had given the hosts the lead in the first-half at Old Trafford, many expected the Red Devils to raise the level of their game and take the tie away from a youthful Gunners side.
Jose Mourinho’s men, however, did nothing of the sort as they allowed the visitors to equalise and it was left to the gangly figure of Marouane Fellaini to secure a last-gasp win with a very well-taken backward header deep in injury-time.
“The win against Arsenal in stoppage time takes us a little bit closer to secure the second place, which is our goal since we knew that we couldn’t mathematically win the Premiership. These three points were very good for us, in a game that was the last one of Arsene Wenger as the Arsenal manager at Old Trafford.”
Mata was among many to pay tribute to the departing Gunners boss, who was at the helm of the club for an eventual 22 seasons.
“In 22 seasons he’s been through everything in this stadium and I think that at the end the football world is showing to him the affection that he deserves. A lot of things have changed with him in the Premier League, he was an innovator and it’s fair to admit that he has contributed so many things to English football, and to thank him for that.”
Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, involved in a swap deal for Alexis Sanchez in January, returned to his old stomping ground and starred for the opposition with a fine equaliser and Mata was happy to see his former teammate score.
“Also, in this game I could see (Henrikh) Mkhitaryan again, to whom I wish the best. He scored a good goal that he didn’t celebrate, and Old Trafford also showed its affection to him.”
United next take on Premier League newcomers Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium, a tie they are expected to win, but Mata warned against any complacency as he pointed out the Seagulls will give it their all.
“Now we have two away games in a row and then we will close the season at home. First of all we will visit Brighton.”
“They’re having a commendable performance this season but they’re still fighting to avoid relegation, so that gives us an idea of how tough the game on Friday is going to be. We will try to get three points that allow us to secure the second place regardless of any other scores.”
Romelu Lukaku’s ankle injury during the win over Arsenal was the only blot on United’s copybook and Mata wished his teammate a speedy recovery.
“The bad news was (Romelu) Lukaku’s injury. He is (and he’s been) a very important player for us this season, I hope it’s nothing serious and he can recover soon.”
United have secured Champions Legue football for next season and are almost certain to finish in second place but will be praying fervently that Lukaku returns in time for their FA Cup final with Chelsea on May 19.