There was no perfect ending to Arsene Wenger’s iconic 22-season rivalry with Manchester United.
Instead, it was an all-too-familiar feeling for the departing Arsenal manager.
Honored and embraced before kickoff by past and present United managers Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, Wenger trudged away from Old Trafford nursing yet another painful loss after Arsenal’s young and weakened side conceded an injury-time goal on Sunday.
Marouane Fellaini glanced in a header in the first minute of stoppage time to earn United a 2-1 win in Wenger’s last match at Old Trafford before he leaves Arsenal at the end of the season.
Old Trafford has defined Wenger’s time in English soccer more than any other visiting stadium. Arsenal’s 1-0 win here in 1998 sparked an unlikely rally to win the league at the expense of United, and another 1-0 win in 2002 clinched a second league title.
Since then, it’s been just one Premier League victory at Old Trafford in 16 years for Arsenal and some bad, bad memories — the 8-2 hammering in 2011, the 6-1 thrashing in 2001, the ending of the unbeaten run of the “Invincibles” in 2004 and the sending-off in 2009 that forced Wenger to watch a game among the United fans.
Ferguson was Wenger’s greatest rival but Mourinho was arguably his most bitter, and a loss like Sunday’s would have hurt the Frenchman. Especially so with his young team — featuring two 20-year-olds and an 18-year-old — doing their best with many senior players rested ahead of the second leg of the Europa League semifinal against Atletico Madrid on Thursday.
“Unfortunately in my job, you remember much better the defeats than the victories,” Wenger said, “and I have some painful memories here.”
Wenger was applauded to the dug-out by United fans — “Once you are not a danger any more, people love you,” he said — and received a vase from Ferguson before kickoff. Mourinho then shook his hand warmly.
“I am happy with the class my club showed to him,” Mourinho said. “I hope I play against him again. If not in the Premier League, who knows? We (might) have still a big match waiting for us.”
The result ensured Arsenal cannot finish above north London rival Tottenham and guaranteed United a top-four finish and a spot in next season’s Champions League. United moved five points clear in second place, but is 16 points adrift of champion Manchester City.
City beat West Ham 4-1 and is in sight of a slew of records.
A big negative for United was the sight of Romelu Lukaku limping off early in the second half with what appeared a foot injury after being challenged by Arsenal debutant Konstantinos Mavropanos.
Mourinho wasn’t sure about the seriousness of the Belgium striker’s injury, with the FA Cup final against Chelsea three weeks away and the World Cup just over six weeks away.
By then, United was 1-0 ahead thanks to Paul Pogba’s 16th-minute goal.
Former United player Henrikh Mkhitaryan equalized in the 51st — two minutes after Lukaku hobbled off — but Arsenal’s players tired in the final 20 minutes and Fellaini made them pay, glancing in Ashley Young’s cross.
City passed the 100-goal mark in the Premier League and within touching distance of a number of milestones.
With games still to play Huddersfield, Brighton and Southampton, City — on 93 points and 102 goals — needs just three more points to post the most outright in a Premier League campaign and two more goals to surpass the record held by Chelsea in 2009-10. City also moved to 30 wins for the season, matching the record number of Chelsea from last season.
Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho scored for City, with former City player Pablo Zabaleta deflecting in an own-goal. Aaron Cresswell curled a free kick to reduce the deficit to 2-1 for West Ham, which is three points above the relegation zone with three games left.