In his pre-match press conference, Erik ten Hag underlined the importance of United’s clash with Arsenal by insisting his men “don’t play friendly games.” They responded accordingly, beating Arsenal 2-0 and then 5-4 on penalties in their first game of the Tour 2023.
Both Ten Hag and Arteta fielded strong XIs in front of a sold-out capacity crowd of 82,500 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. In particular, the midfield of both sides were crowded with new signings: Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Kai Havertz.
One more new face manned the middle of the park, albeit he cost United nothing and was perhaps the most stand-out midfielder of all on the pitch.
Mainoo shines for Manchester United in their 2-0 win over Arsenal
Instead of deploying Casemiro as the number six from the get-go, the Dutch coach placed his trust in Kobbie Mainoo, who passed the test against Arsenal’s star-studded midfield and their aggressive press with flying colours.
One fan tweeted: “Declan Rice must be enjoying learning how to play CDM by watching Kobbie Mainoo’s first-half masterclass.”
Another added: “£0 Kobbie Mainoo cooking while £100m Declan Rice is hiding.”
“Kobbie is a special special player,” a third noted.
A fourth fan stated: “Mainoo doesn’t look out of place at all. When he drops deep to help in the build-up, it’s cinema. So much composure and awareness for such a young player.”
The 18-year-old was involved in all phases of the game. In his side’s own third, he consistently dropped between the centre-backs to create new passing options and aid build-up play. Moving forward, his passing was decisive and created both goals for the Red Devils.
Mainoo has so far enjoyed a brilliant pre-season, impressing in all three friendly outings. However, for United fans, it’s vital they keep their expectations in check and don’t get too itchy should the academy talent fails to feature for the first-team in competitive games at the start of the season.
There’s little doubt concerning his talent, but all young players need time and patience to find their feet – irrespective of the ease with which they move in possession. For now, the focus should be on the forthcoming friendly challenge against Real Madrid.