LONDON – Arsene Wenger got the better of managerial rival Jose Mourinho for the first time in a competitive game as Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-0 in the Premier League on Sunday to keep alive its Champions League qualification hopes.
Granit Xhaka, with a deflected shot, and former United player Danny Welbeck, with a bullet header, scored goals in a four-minute span early in the second half to end United’s 25-match unbeaten run in the league dating to October.
This was the 16th competitive matchup between Wenger and Mourinho — and the 13th in league play — since 2004. It has been a one-sided rivalry but Wenger finally got a victory over the man who once dubbed him a “specialist in failure,” for a result that might end United’s chances of a top-four finish and leaves Arsenal with some hope.
“Finally, I leave this (Emirates) stadium with Arsenal fans happy,” Mourinho said. “It’s the first time I see them smile, enjoy.”
Arsenal moved two points behind fifth-place United with a game in hand, and is seven points behind third-placed Liverpool having played two games fewer and six behind fourth-placed Manchester City having played one game fewer. Wenger’s team has four matches remaining to earn a 20th straight season in the Champions League.
“We still have a mathematical chance but we need some help,” Wenger said. “But the best help we can get is by winning our own games.”
A disappointing game burst into life in the 54th when Xhaka, afforded plenty of space in central midfield following a throw-in, advanced and sent in a 30-meter shot that struck the turned back of Ander Herrera and looped over goalkeeper David de Gea.
Welbeck, who was sold to Arsenal in 2014 to end a 13-year association with United, has now scored in each of his last three appearances against his old club after powering a header in off the bar in the 57th from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross.
Mourinho made eight changes to his starting team from the 1-0 win over Celta Vigo in the first leg of the Europa League semifinals on Thursday. The second leg is at Old Trafford on Thursday and Mourinho has suggested the European competition, which offers a place in the Champions League for the winner, is his priority for the remainder of the season.
“Of course, we knew we were not coming in our maximum power,” Mourinho said. “Thursday is the match of the season.”
It meant the 19-year-old Axel Tuanzebe was handed his Premier League debut, at right back up against Alexis Sanchez, and he performed excellently. Scott McTominay, a 20-year-old midfielder, came on as a second-half substitute for his first-team debut while Paul Pogba — the world’s most expensive player — didn’t even come off the bench.
United hasn’t scored away against a top-six rival all season.
Arsenal will climb above United with a win at Southampton on Wednesday.
Liverpool could only draw 0-0 at home to Southampton in the other league game played on Sunday.
Liverpool hasn’t scored a goal against Southampton in four matches this season — two in the league and two in the League Cup.
Even when the team was gifted a penalty, it couldn’t capitalize.
James Milner’s perfect record from the spot this season ended when his kick was saved by Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster in the 66th minute of a lackluster game at Anfield. The penalty was awarded for a handball against Jack Stephens.
Milner scored from his first seven spot kicks this season and hadn’t missed a Premier League penalty since 2009.