Wayne Rooney began the Arsenal match on the subs’ bench because he isn’t fast enough, Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has revealed.
Club and country captain Rooney endured a tough week engulfed by the controversy over his boozing antics on England duty, then suffered a further blow by being omitted from United’s starting line-up for one of the showpiece fixtures of the season.
Although he played almost half an hour and the Reds scored their goal five minutes after his introduction, skipper could not help his side win. And Mourinho admitted afterwards that the 31-year-old forward’s lack of pace was the reason he did not start.
“I thought we were going to have the ball,” said Mourinho. “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 Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford were faster than Wayne — better attacking opponents one-to-one in the last line. I thought it was the best option.”
Despite his frustration at seeing United concede an 89th-minute equaliser to drop two points, Mourinho claimed he could not fault his players and the level of their performance.
The United boss looks to have found his most effective combination of midfield personnel in Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick, with the latter set to be offered a one-year contract extension.
“The midfield is playing very well,” said Mourinho. “Pogba, Carrick and Herrera are playing very well. The defenders, the way Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo performed, were so solid and confident. We defended high and were compact when we had to be.
“It was a very good performance, but I go home with the feeling that I lost against Arsenal in the Premier League.
“Pogba is adapting much better in relationships, with the intensity of the competition and he’s 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 feel and thinks he can be important.
“He’s comfortable on the pitch. That’s the best way of saying it.”
Although Carrick is 35 and out of contract at the end of the season, Mourinho wants him to stay on at United for a further year after finally acknowledging his enduring worth.
“It’s very sad to know that time flies for every one of us,” said the Portuguese. “Michael is such a fantastic player and it’s a pity, because I always loved him.
“But instead of being his manager when he was 25, I’m his manager when he is 35.
“We have a good understanding. We know when he can play. We know when he’s ready and when he needs a rest. I’m still having Michael Carrick — and probably for one more season.”
Mourinho feels United should be six points better off than they are, having dominated against Stoke, Burnley and Arsenal at Old Trafford but ending up drawing all three games.
“We had one transfer window and four months of work,” he said. “We have lots of young players and older players. We need a lot of work to do.
“But if you see Burnley, Stoke and Arsenal, and you have six more points, which we totally deserved. If we had six points more, see where we would be [near the top].
“They were three miracles [not winning those games]. Don’t tell me West Ham will come here and we’ll play amazingly well [and not win].
“At least I want someone to come here, play better than us and beat us. Then you can go home and say ‘These guys were better than us’. But now I go home and my feeling is that I’ve lost.”