Has Pogba cost Devils the title?

WHEN Alex Ferguson left the Manchester United hot seat he wondered if another generation would emerge with the hallmarks of his own great sides: gritty, adventurous and coming on strong at the end.

Well, he now has the answer. And it is not United but, of all people, those noisy neighbours who have not only got louder but are staying up late.

"Pep time" is fast replacing "Fergie time" as Manchester City plough on relentlessly, banging in goals at the death to keep United at arm's length.

Just when the Devils think they've narrowed the gap, City find another gear to ratchet up the importance of an already mouthwatering Manchester derby on Sunday night. Their win over West Ham was a Premier League record-equalling 13th in a row and 20th in all competitions.

If that is not enough to keep an old knight of the realm awake into the early hours, a sober reflection on United's 3-1 win at Arsenal should. And the more we laud David de Gea's heroics, the more we acknowledge that the Gunners should have won the best game of the season at least 6-3.

The scoreline may be the only thing that matters on the day, but can United be comfortable about being so totally dominated by Wenger's men in every other way? Possession – Arsenal had 75% – may be the most meaningless measure in the game, but what of 562 passes to 147? Twelve corners to one? And 33 shots to eight?

And, no, Jose Mourinho did not park the bus – he was forced into a retreat by Arsenal's superiority. United were clinical on the break but took advantage of schoolboy errors by Arsenal defenders. And the Gunners were denied a stonewall penalty with eight minutes of total time remaining.

The Devils were understandably jubilant at their smash and grab heist against an old foe in a game that had echoes of titanic contests a decade ago. But in the cold light of day, United's post-match analysis will ignore their keeper's individual brilliance at the team's peril.

Time and again, the Spaniard's reflexes and agility with hand and foot defied belief to keep United in front. But there were other occasions when the goal had a charmed life and the Gunners wasted gilt-edged chances.

Arsenal carved the Devils open with an ease that would have Pep Guardiola's pass masters licking their lips. And they did so with arch-creator Mesut Ozil some way short of his best.

The vulnerability of the likes of Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo is just one worry United have, but by far the most serious cause of a hangover from Saturday's celebrations is knowing they face City without their star man.

Paul Pogba's emergence as a top-class midfield fulcrum was the reason they could gamble and attack Arsenal from the off. But with the Frenchman's growing influence unavailable on Sunday, Mourinho may have to revert to type – shock trooper Marouane Fellaini and parking the bus.

Those of us expecting the Portuguese to pull some sort of stroke against City were surprised that he did so against Arsenal. If it was a trial run, it may now have to be abandoned – due to the wanton stupidity of his record signing.

There are United fans who feel Pogba's sending off was harsh – especially when Laurent Koscielny escaped for denying what was arguably a clear run at goal although Hector Bellerin was lurking.

Pogba's later stud rake on Bellerin was nowhere near danger, but under today's rules, an open invitation to a red. And it was one the inconsistent Andre Mariner did not refuse.

So, denied his principal link man, Mourinho will have to adjust and we may see the bus parked at Old Trafford after all. But he may still reckon that he has the pace to trouble City whose own central defence is their Achilles heel after all.

For Arsenal there was only frustration. Attack-wise, they were superb and had they won, would have been just a point behind United. This defeat could even persuade Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to leave whereas victory might have had the opposite effect.

Yes, there was an awful lot riding on this game as Arsenal's season could be over in January if the two top guns depart. And progress in cup competitions may not be enough to save Wenger from further ire from the fans.

But there could be even more importance to the Old Trafford derby that has seemed a long time in coming. A City win would see them home and hosed in the EPL in many eyes although fighting on all fronts could take its toll next year.

You feel United must win to dent their neighbours' aura and it says it all about the two clubs that parking the bus may be United's best chance of doing so. That and exploiting a height advantage at set-pieces. Here they do have Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is never shy of trying to put one over his old nemesis, Pep.

If it's half as good as the Emirates clash, it will be compulsive viewing but City are favourites: Fergie may not admit it but will be all too familiar with the reasons why.


GOOD: David de Gea

Jose Mourinho said he did not know enough English words to describe the Spaniard's performance against Arsenal. He settled for "amazing, fantastic and phenomenal" which was about right. Whoever messed up the paperwork for his proposed move to Real Madrid deserves a place on United's honours board.

BAD: Spurs

No sooner had the balance of power in north London shifted, it shifted back. Spurs, victors over Real Madrid and the talk of the game a month ago, have hit a bad trot and Arsenal are looking the better side. Missing Toby Alderweireld more than they thought, they limp on with the same players, several of whom don't look fit. No depth and no threat in the EPL, they seem to be saving themselves for Europe.

UGLY & STUPID: Paul Pogba

The Frenchman had another brilliant 74 minutes (as opposed to cameo) and is now a genuine world-class midfielder. But he is still petulant and could have cost United any chance of catching City in the title race with his unnecessary red card. And his unnecessary applauding of the ref could mean an even longer ban than 3 games.