Harry Maguire and Shkodran Mustafi endured a day to forget in the 2019-20 Premier League on Sunday. Both were guilty of defensive mistakes and saw their teams draw 2-2, with United held by Aston Villa at Old Trafford and Arsenal settling for a point on Freddie Ljungberg's managerial debut away to Norwich City.
Ljungberg is being given the chance to prove himself worthy of the job permanently, but an early setback will increase calls for the Gunners to look for a more established replacement for recently sacked Unai Emery.
Brendan Rodgers is a rumoured target, and his stock remains on the rise after Leicester City went second thanks to a last-ditch 2-1 win over Everton. Kelechi Iheanacho and VAR helped the Foxes over the line at the King Power Stadium and endorsed Rodgers' tactical changes.
The 46-year-old is riding high with Leicester, but if he's still keen on the Arsenal job, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's presence may convince him to jump ship. He scored both of the Gunners' goals at Carrow Road and remains a target man who can make any gaffer look good.
- Norwich City 2-2 Arsenal
- Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-1 Sheffield United
- Leicester City 2-1 Everton
- Manchester United 2-2 Aston Villa
Loser: Shkodran Mustafi
Emery was sacked on Friday and quickly replaced by Ljungberg, per BBC Sport. The move led to a swift return to top-flight action for beleaguered Mustafi:
He's rarely won Arsenal fans over because of a penchant for going to ground and making rash decisions. Mustafi's critics would barely have raised eyebrows in surprise when the German quickly found himself bullied and out-thought by Canaries' striker Teemu Pukki.
The Finn lost Mustafi for Norwich's first goal, a shot Mustafi turned his back on. Mustafi also routinely lost tests of strength with Pukki and failed to track runners off the ball.
He was found wanting again when Todd Cantwell put the hosts in front on the stroke of halftime after more easy work for Pukki. Mustafi's struggles were continuing to leave viewers baffled about the price tag he once commanded when moving to north London from Valencia in the summer of 2016:
There's no doubt Ljungberg is facing a tough task having to stick with what he has in defensive areas, which isn't much. However, making Mustafi a reclamation project is a risky move for an inexperienced manager not only tasked with improving results but also with getting fans back onside.
Winner: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The Gunners are eighth and seven points adrift of the top four, but it's scary to think where this squad would be without Aubameyang's goals. He netted his ninth and 10th league goals of what has been a tumultuous campaign, but only after VAR let him retake a penalty following Tim Krul saving his initial effort from the spot.
The numbers are proof Aubameyang's talent is strong enough to overcome trying circumstances.
Having a striker who is ruthless when chances come his way has been invaluable to a team otherwise fragile away from home:
Aubameyang's finishes against Norwich were particularly telling about his importance. Not only did the 30-year-old end a brief drought of sorts after he had scored just once in his previous six league games.
Perhaps more important was Aubameyang finding the net despite starting wide right. Arsenal's best finisher belongs through the middle, but both Ljungberg and Emery have been willing to shunt him onto the flanks.
It doesn't always work, but Aubameyang's brace on his travels might encourage Ljungberg the 4-3-3 setup he tried against Norwich is worth sticking with.
Winner: Brendan Rodgers' Managerial Stock
Sifting through the wreckage of the Emery era is an unenviable task, but Ljungberg "could be given until the end of the season to prove his worth," according to Nick Ames, Jacob Steinberg and David Hytner of the Guardian.
Ljungberg may not have as long as he hopes, though, if he can't find wins soon while Rodgers continues to keep Leicester relevant in the title race.
Rodgers was asked about a possible release clause worth £14 million in his contract and he told Sky Sports (h/t Liam Prenderville of the Sunday Mirror): "There probably is (a clause) in most manager's contracts. It is all hypothetical. My focus is very much with Leicester. I made a change nine months ago and I have been very happy since I came here. We still have a lot of work to do."
Rodgers is one of the names on the shortlist for next Arsenal manager, per Sky Sports News.
His name doing the rounds makes sense since the former Liverpool and Celtic chief encourages a brand of attractive and expansive football Arsenal have struggled to replicate since Arsene Wenger stepped down in 2018.
By contrast, Rodgers' methods have Leicester clicking at both ends of the pitch:
Part of his success with the Foxes has been borne from the way Rodgers has revived the form of Jamie Vardy. The centre-forward scored the equaliser against Everton, and Arsenal would no doubt be encouraged by the kind of success Rodgers might have with Aubameyang and fellow striker Alexandre Lacazette:
Rodgers has only been in charge since late-February, but Iheanacho's stoppage-time winner against the Toffees, upheld when a VAR review deemed him onside, has made Leicester serious title contenders.
It's also made Rodgers the hot name whenever a marquee club is looking to make a change in the dugout.
Loser: Harry Maguire
One reason Rodgers is rated so highly is because Leicester's defence is stronger even after he sold talisman centre-back Maguire to United in the summer. Yet while Caglar Soyuncu has gone from strength to strength alongside Jonny Evans, Maguire is struggling to justify his status as the most-expensive defender on the planet.
United's £80 million man appeared clumsy and off the pace against Villa. Maguire was booked early after a mis-timed challenge on Anwar El Ghazi, a reckless gaffe that summed up United's sluggishness.
United have a right to expect more from a player who cost more than the £75 million Liverpool paid for Virgil van Dijk. Yet while Van Dijk is competing for the Ballon d'Or, Maguire looks uncomfortable in the rarified air.
He's been the central figure in a United defence guilty of conceding seven goals in the last four league games. It's little wonder the 26-year-old is calling for improvement:
Yet said improvement has to begin with a player physical enough to bully opposing attackers and technically assured enough to be an asset in possession. Lately, United are seeing precious little of Maguire's best game.