Marouane Fellaini has not put pen to paper on a new deal just yet, but the Manchester United midfielder is already looking ahead to a “big season” and an improved Premier League title tilt.
The 30-year-old has been a divisive figure since arriving at Old Trafford in 2013 but has regularly proven his worth, such as his match-winning influence from the bench against Arsenal on Sunday.
The stoppage-time header only underlined what an important option Fellaini is for Jose Mourinho, who has praised the midfielder regularly and, perhaps most importantly, backed him after being jeered by his own fans.
The United manager’s support has made the Belgium international’s reluctance to extend his contract beyond the summer somewhat surprising, with negotiations at an impasse for the most part of the season.
But there now appears to have been a breakthrough as Mourinho is confident Fellaini will stay, while Sunday’s match-winner has spoken of ending the season with FA Cup glory and more silverware next term.
“I think it is good for the team,” the midfielder said after the late 2-1 win against Arsenal. “We have the three points, we are sure to participate in the Champions League.
“We have to continue, we have three games to prepare for the final. Of course, a club like Man United have to be in the Champions League. But we have to improve.
“I think next season is a big season for us. It will be the third year of the manager (at the club) so we have to try to win the league.”
Marouane Fellaini’s goal is the 12th by a Man Utd sub in PL this season, more than any other team— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) April 29, 2018
2 Rashford, Fellaini
1 Lukaku pic.twitter.com/TBbAaJptUQ
Fellaini snatched victory against much-changed Arsenal after Henrikh Mkhitaryan had cancelled out Paul Pogba‘s opener to set the visitors on course for their first point away from the Emirates Stadium in 2018.
Mkhitaryan was one of Mourinho’s first signings but left for Arsenal in January having failed to win over the Portuguese, but he did not celebrate in respect for the club.
“He scored a good goal and I think he is a quality player,” Fellaini told MUTV. “We know that. I think he will do well at Arsenal. I hope for him he continues like that.”
The Frenchman has enjoyed a long and fraught relationship with Manchester United since his arrival in English football 22 years ago, ruffling plenty of feathers and embracing the role of irritant and adversary.
But having announced his departure at the end of the season there was a show of respect, led by his long-term foe Ferguson.
Wenger was afforded a round of applause from the home support as he walked from tunnel to dugout, and he then posed with Ferguson as the Scot presented him with a silver vase.
Current United manager Jose Mourinho, who has also had a rocky relationship with Wenger, stepped in to shake his hand and shared a few words with his opposite number before kick-off.
An interview with Ferguson also appeared in the United review programme, in which he recalled their early tussles.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) April 29, 2018
“Although the Premier League started in 1992-93, that rivalry became the highlight of the league season,” Ferguson said.
“Liverpool, without question, is the biggest fixture United ever got involved in, simply because of the history of both clubs: the two most successful clubs in Britain. I love those games, they’re fantastic.
“I know that now the rivalry has changed a bit, with Man City doing well, but these are the games that any Man United player would love to be involved in now: against City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham.
“There are some great clubs and some fantastic competition in the Premier League now, but United against Arsenal was great for the game. It made the Premier League.”
In his programme notes Mourinho called for Wenger to receive the “respect he deserves” but that did not prevent some relatively amiable ribbing from the home fans.
When Paul Pogba put the Red Devils in front with an early goal, a chorus of “Arsene Wenger we want you to stay” rang around the stadium.
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Already all but assured of a top-four spot, Jose Mourinho‘s men are looking to tighten their grip on second place and secure their highest finish since Sir Alex Ferguson bowed out as champion in 2013.
Arsenal are the visitors on Sunday as Wenger’s farewell tour continues, with Pogba calling on his team-mates to do a similar job as they did to another north London side last weekend.
Dele Alli’s early goal during a bright Tottenham start could have thrown United off kilter in their FA Cup semi-final, but they bounced back through goals from Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera to emerge 2-1 victors.
“It was an objective of ours to be in the final in the cup,” Pogba said.
“We had a very good result and a very good performance.
“That was the performance we were looking for, and the mentality and the teamwork we are looking for until the end of the season.
“What (coming back again) says is that mentally we are strong, and it showed that we can be a strong team altogether.
“We have shown it during the season against the big teams, most of the time, but we need to keep it up against other teams as well.
“We need to keep playing altogether with the same mentality.”
Pogba looks set to start against the Gunners on Sunday – not something that has been guaranteed in recent months as speculation over his relationship with Mourinho went hand-in-hand with poor performances.
The United midfielder became a shell of the player that lit up proceedings at the start of the campaign but has shown he is getting back to his best with man-of-the-match displays at Manchester City and Bournemouth.
Pogba is now looking to take such positive displays into a game that can see United do the double against Arsenal.
Mourinho’s team ran out 3-1 victors at the Emirates Stadium on a December night when David De Gea pulled off a string of exceptional saves and Pogba was sent off for a dangerous challenge.
“It’s a big one,” Pogba told MUTV. “We need points.
“They have a big game against Atletico so maybe that might help us if they are a bit tired.
“We know it’s going to be a hard game, it was a very hard game against them earlier in the season.
“But we had a very good team performance and David was amazing.
“We need that again and we need everybody to be at their best because when that happens it moves the team up.
“We’ve been great in the last game with the team performance and against the top teams you always have to produce that.”
De Gea will start between the sticks again as back-up Sergio Romero continues to be sidelined with a knee injury picked up on international duty.
Right-back Antonio Valencia is available after being forced off with a muscle complaint against Spurs last weekend.
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