The Guardians Jamie Jackson wrote this piece about Paul Pogba’s form against Arsenal last Saturday.
José Mourinho believes Paul Pogba is finding his best form for Manchester United after the midfielder particularly impressed in their draw with Arsenal. The world-record £92.5m signing struggled in the opening phase of the season but he was a pivotal part of a display in a game United were unfortunate not to win.
Pogba was involved in Juan Mata’s fine 68th-minute opener and, despite the disappointment of Olivier Giroud’s headed equaliser 60 seconds from the close of normal time, the manager is encouraged by the midfielder.
Of the Frenchman, who operated in a box-to-box role, Mourinho said: “He is adapting much better in relationships, to the intensity of the competition, and he is much more confident. Obviously he plays with some guidelines over his position but at the same time with some freedom to occupy some attacking areas where he feels and thinks he can be important. He is comfortable on the pitch. That is the best way of saying it.”
Mourinho lined up Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera alongside Pogba in a formation that had Marcus Rashford as the striker, with Mata and Anthony Martial on the right and left. Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian were the defence in what was United’s most complete display under Mourinho.
“Midfield is playing very well,” the manager said. “Pogba, Carrick, Herrera, they are playing very well. The defenders – the way Jones and Marcos performed was so solid and confident. We defended high and we were compact when we had to be. It is a very good performance. I go home with the feeling that I lost against Arsenal in the Premier League.”
This last comment was a quip about how the 53-year-old has never lost a competitive match against the Gunners. The draw leaves United sixth in the table, six points behind Arsenal, and Mourinho is encouraged regarding his side’s prospects. He said: “We had one transfer window and four months of work – we have lots of young players and older players. We need to do a lot of work. But if you see Burnley, Stoke, Arsenal [all draws], if you have six more points which we totally deserved, where would we be?”
On Sunday West Ham United visit for United’s 13th league outing. “At least I want someone to come here and play better than us and beat us,” Mourinho said. “Then you can go home and say these guys were better than us. After the Arsenal match I go home and my feeling is that I have lost.”
Wayne Rooney was a 63rd-minute replacement after starting the previous 3-1 win at Swansea City. Mourinho said the decision to drop his captain was because he lacked the pace required to exploit Arsène Wenger’s side. “I thought we were going to have the ball. 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.”
Carrick has started the past two league victories after being ignored by Mourinho. The manager is now enthused enough to want him to extend his contract beyond next summer for another year. “Michael is 35 years old. With such an intense game he was having some cramps in the last period, which is normal,” the manager said.
“It is very sad to know that time flies for every one of us. He is such a fantastic player and it is a pity. I always loved him but instead of being his manager when he was 24 I am his manager when he is 35. We have a good understanding. We know when he can play. We know when he is ready and when he needs a rest. I am still having Michael Carrick and probably for one more season.”
Jones, 24, was making only a second appearance since 2 January because of a nightmarish spell out injured. “It is awful but as a footballer you can’t feel sorry for yourself, go into a hole and never come out of your home,” the defender said. “You have to go about your day as you would normally, work hard in training and I have worked to get back to where I am now.
“I want to stay here and I want to play more games. I have worked hard on my fitness. It has been tough mentally for me and it has been so frustrating. I can’t put into words how frustrating it has been but that is behind me and I want to move forward to play as many games as I can.”
Jones agrees with Mourinho that United were unlucky. “It is crazy. If we had won today, then we would have been three points behind Arsenal,” he said. “Arsenal have had a world-class season and we are supposed to have had an average season. That is just the way the Premier League works. But we are pleased with the performance. I thought we created chances and probably should have scored more.”
Wenger said: “When you are 1-0 down and you come back to 1-1 with a minute to go, it feels more than a draw, that’s for sure.”