AT ONE point late on at Old Trafford, Lucas Torreira’s performance became so gloriously hateful that Jose Mourinho launched a furious kick at his dugout wall.
Arsenal’s pitbull midfielder from the Uruguayan town of Fray Bentos has definitely added beef to the Gunners midfield.
Getty – Contributor6 Lucas Torreira is a blast from the past prepared to spill blood for the Arsenal cause
His was a real retro performance from the days when Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira used to ring this fixture in red ink, then steal themselves to spill blood and mince bones.
Torreira possesses the menace which Arsenal so desperately lacked in Arsene Wenger’s later years.
And he was at the centre of an pug-ugly struggle as Unai Emery’s men extended their unbeaten run to 20 matches.
The Torreira challenge which enraged Mourinho was a late one on Marouane Fellaini, with ref Andre Marriner mistakenly awarding a free-kick to Arsenal and the United manager reacting with a rage, followed by a high-five to apologise for a young fan he’d apparently terrified.
BT Sport6 Jose Mourinho was left kicking the wall in frustration after a Torreira hit on Marouane Fellaini
Getty Images – Getty6 Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira used to go at it hammer and tongs in the old days – Torreira plays with the same attitude
This had been adults-only football, anyway. Impressionable kids might have been given nightmares.
Apparently, crocodiles go to sleep worrying whether Torreira might be under their bed.
As tackles flew during a thunderous spell late in the first half, the former Sampdoria man followed through and studded Ander Herrera in the thigh.
He has produced far more accomplished displays than this, not least when he scored to cap Sunday’s 4-2 drubbing of Tottenham in a red-blooded North London derby.
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Somehow Torreira managed to escape a red card for a litany of fouls here but after so many years of Arsenal being the Premier League’s soft touches, you have to grudgingly admire the little rascal.
Arsenal, literally unrecognisable in their mucus green kits, scored two of the season’s least beautiful goals to take the lead twice.
But on the second occasion, they committed the childish blunder of switching off and were punished straight from kick-off when a shocking Sead Kolasinac blunder gifted Jesse Lingard the equaliser.
If Emery is to lead Arsenal beyond their current status of scuffling top-four contenders, he’ll need at least a couple of players with Torreira’s over-my-dead-body mentality in his defence.
“He comes from Uruguay, he’s only five foot high,” the Arsenal fans sing of Torreira, in a purely fact-based chant to the tune of their old Vieira song.
Getty – Contributor6 Torreira was a pitbull in the Arsenal midfield and is a real throwback
And at least the travelling Gunners fans have something to sing about – ‘Jose Mourinho we want you to stay’ was a particular favourite last night.
For five and half years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, United are still fumbling in the dark.
Five and half months after Wenger left town, and from a far less promising start-point, Arsenal have improved under Emery.
They hadn’t arrived here with this sort of optimism since Sylvain Wiltord was winning titles.
It was the first United-Arsenal match without Ferguson or Wenger since 1986 but the pre-eminence of the fixture had been washed away by oil money years ago.
Keane and Vieira, Keown and Van Nistelrooy, fire and brimstone, flying pizza and trophies galore – with these teams starting in eighth and fourth, it felt as though all that was nostalgia.
The Gunners are a more brisk and business-like team under Emery – their players less indulged, their football more pointed.
The warm fuzzy glow of happiness surrounding them could barely have differed more starkly to the dark iciness of Old Trafford.
Mourinho’s mood had shown signs of thawing a few weeks ago but three League matches without a win and the deep chill is back.
Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku were benched until the second half – significant but fair enough on recent form.
Getty – Contributor6 Arsenal need to have Torreira as the bedrock of their new era under Unai Emery
Despite an improved performance here you have to wonder whether anything can turn things around for a manager who, even after two and a half years, seems to be just passing through.
This is a great city and yet Mourinho has never embraced it, holed up in his penthouse at the Lowry quietly seething.
Having said that, this was the sort of Mancunian day when you could understand Mourinho’s point – skies like northern Norway, dark at lunchtime, the climate of a mildewed dishcloth.
This famous theatre always used to provide an escape but lately the only drama has been that of a macabre soap opera.
A ticket to Old Trafford felt a strange way to honour Tyson Fury after his heroics in Los Angeles.
Boxing’s Gypsy King arrived 17 minutes late, however.
A man can climb off the canvas after being knocked sparko by Deontay Wilder, yet none can tame the Manchester traffic.
Getty – Contributor6 Marouane Fellaini hauled Matteo Geundouzi back by the hair
He’d missed an up-tempo start from United but Arsenal grabbed the lead on 26 minutes.
The goal was freakish, a Torreira corner, a stooping Shkodran Mustafi header and David De Gea only able to push it back over his own head – Herrera’s attempted clearance failing, according to goal-line technology.
The lead did not last long, though, and this time Herrera benefitted from the linesman’s naked eye missing him being fractionally offside from a Marcos Rojo free-kick which Bernd Leno pushed away.
Herrera seized on his let-off and cut back for Anthony Martial to drill home.
Then, the fireworks – four bookings in as many minutes as Rojo somehow escaped red for a shocker on Matteo Guendouzi.
Rob Holding left on a stretcher and Aaron Ramsey limped out at half-time.
But Rojo netted an own goal as he attempted to tackle Alex Lacazette.
Then came that horrendous brainstorm which saw Arsenal lose concentration immediately.
This is still a work in progress but, with Torreira about, Emery will not lack for bite.