Throughout Manchester United’s history numerous chapters of impact substitutions have been written, from Ole Gunnar Solskjær to Javier Hernandez.
Now Marouane Fellaini can add his name to the list after his unique header, towering over three Arsenal defenders in the process, found the net to salvage a 2-1 victory for the Red Devils in injury time.
In truth, it had been coming. After Henrikh Mkhitaryan had cancelled out Paul Pogba’s opener United piled on the pressure, looking for the route one option and Fellaini became their greatest asset.
Just minutes before his header found the net, another rattled the upright in what was arguably an easier position to beat David Ospina.
Yet the Belgian recovered in the home side’s time of need, connecting to an inch perfect Ashley Young cross to send the Stretford End faithful into delirium.
Arsenal had rested the majority of their first team for their crunch Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid on Thursday but the likes of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Hector Bellerin started.
A majority of United’s attacks materialised down the left hand side early on, Jesse Lingard proving a nuisance against a struggling Sead Kolašinac, but whenever it looked like the Arsenal rear guard would be broken down the blue shirts recovered in a flash and cleared their lines.
That was until Romelu Lukaku managed to position himself on the edge of the 18 yard box, and when his whipping delivery to the back post found Alexis Sanchez it looked like United would go ahead.
Although the Chilean’s header rebounded off Bellerin onto the post Paul Pogba was there to tap the ball home, giving the Red Devils a deserved lead in an atmosphere that in all honesty mirrored a testimonial.
The matter of fact though was that even though Arsenal eyes were concentrated on Madrid, a certain Armenian had a point to prove on the pitch.
And just a few minutes after Pogba’s opener United nearly got a taster of what they had missed when Mkhitaryan dragged his shot from inside the box inches wide of David De Gea’s right post.
As the game stagnated both sides failed to create any real openings, with Arsenal’s bright and vibrant midfield cancelling out United’s power and presence in the middle of the park.
Then on 50 minutes a goal out of nothing. Chris Smalling has created a myriad of headlines this year for the right and wrong reasons and his role in Arsenal’s equaliser was definitely in the latter category.
With Arsene Wenger barking on from the touchline in his final game at Old Trafford the free flowing football associated with the Gunners began to materialise, Mkhitaryan picking up a loose ball after Smalling lost his balance, with the Armenian firing home the leveller from the edge of the box. No celebration.
All United needed to secure Champions League qualification for next year was a win so it was no surprise that Jose Mourinho decided not to hang about against Brighton and Hove Albion to get it, bringing on Anthony Martial down the left hand side.
With Lukaku off injured it seemed that the imposing direct threat had vanished up-front but with Martial and Young combining on the left a barrage of crosses were chucked into the box, the ever present late substitute Fellaini on the end of most of them.
His jump to beat Granit Xhaka to the ball in the air in the 91st minute was testament to a player that offers an alternative yet deadly dimension. Mourinho would be wise to keep him at the club.