Jose Mourinho praised Paul Pogba for his role in helping Manchester United land a 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Wednesday night.
World Cup winner Pogba was dropped to the bench following his performance in the weekend draw at Southampton and a dressing down by Mourinho post game, in which the United boss labelled him “a virus”.
It was the latest in a long chapter of ups and downs between Mourinho and United’s club record signing this season, yet it was still a surprise to see Pogba on the bench against the Gunners, amid an Old Trafford injury crisis.
Pogba arrived as a 75th minute substitute, replacing goalscorer Jesse Lingard.
Ironically, the 26-year-old had Lingard to thank for even getting off the bench, with Mourinho having been preparing both Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata when Alexandre Lacazette scored for the visitors to make it 2-1 in the 68th minute.
However, as both were getting ready, England star Lingard equalised and only the Belgian entered the fray.
That allowed Pogba to be United’s third sub on the night, and Mourinho was happy with his performance in the game’s latter stages.
“I think Paul played well,” Mourinho said. “The 15 minutes he was on the pitch he played well, in a moment where our defenders couldn’t push up.
“Every time David de Gea had the ball all my defenders were dead in front of him and I want the team to come up, I want defensive line to push up.
“I want to play in the opposition half, at that moment we have Fellaini, we have [Romelu] Lukaku, we have Paul, but every time David had the ball, everybody was dead.”
When it was put to the Portuguese that United looked ‘happier’ without Pogba and £75million striker Lukaku in the starting XI, Mourinho said: “I don’t understand where you want me to go. No. As I was saying, I think Paul came on and gave a good contribution and didn’t give a bad contribution.
“I brought freshness and power and different qualities to the attacking players but our defenders were dead. Was impossible to take them out.
“David de Gea had the ball, waits two minutes for them, step by step to recover positions, or was kicking long. When he was kicking long was Lukaku and Rashford against five Arsenal players. Our defensive players were completely dead.
“And that made it more difficult to keep that happiness for the 95 minutes.”
Mourinho also insists that it was Arsenal who were hanging on late on.
“In the last part of the game was Arsenal wanting the draw, diving, getting the game stopped, waiting for the game to go to the end and was us dead,” Mourinho added.
“All the defensive players were dead, all of them physically in trouble, which is obviously normal because of the circumstances.
“But again positive and we play in three days at home let’s see if we can now win three points after three Premier League draws because we need to win against Fulham.”