Marouane Fellaini has not put pen to paper on a new deal just yet, but the Manchester United midfielder is already looking ahead to a “big season” and an improved Premier League title tilt.
The 30-year-old has been a divisive figure since arriving at Old Trafford in 2013 but has regularly proven his worth, such as his match-winning influence from the bench against Arsenal on Sunday.
The stoppage-time header only underlined what an important option Fellaini is for Jose Mourinho, who has praised the midfielder regularly and, perhaps most importantly, backed him after being jeered by his own fans.
The United manager’s support has made the Belgium international’s reluctance to extend his contract beyond the summer somewhat surprising, with negotiations at an impasse for the most part of the season.
But there now appears to have been a breakthrough as Mourinho is confident Fellaini will stay, while Sunday’s match-winner has spoken of ending the season with FA Cup glory and more silverware next term.
“I think it is good for the team,” the midfielder said after the late 2-1 win against Arsenal. “We have the three points, we are sure to participate in the Champions League.
“We have to continue, we have three games to prepare for the final. Of course, a club like Man United have to be in the Champions League. But we have to improve.
“I think next season is a big season for us. It will be the third year of the manager (at the club) so we have to try to win the league.”
Fellaini snatched victory against much-changed Arsenal after Henrikh Mkhitaryan had cancelled out Paul Pogba’s opener to set the visitors on course for their first point away from the Emirates Stadium in 2018.
Mkhitaryan was one of Mourinho’s first signings but left for Arsenal in January having failed to win over the Portuguese, but he did not celebrate in respect for the club.
“He scored a good goal and I think he is a quality player,” Fellaini told MUTV. “We know that. I think he will do well at Arsenal. I hope for him he continues like that.”
Mkhitaryan was one of eight changes made by Arsene Wenger as he led Arsenal at Old Trafford for the final time.
Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg at Atletico Madrid took priority, meaning the outgoing Gunners boss gave some of his up-and-coming stars a run out.
Konstantinos Mavropanos looked solid on his Arsenal debut, while Reiss Nelson and man-of-the-match Ainsley Maitland-Niles continued to impress.
“Niles is slowly getting to the player I think he can be in the defensive midfield, and he can create as well,” Wenger said.
“Mavropanos in training has shown top qualities, but then you have always a question mark as long you don’t see that under pressure in a big game. You don’t know.
“And the big players do better in competition than in training, and they make a career.
“We have many players at our level who do less well in the competition than in training, so that was a question mark before the game and I think he surprised everybody by his quality today.
“Certainly, my successor will watch this game today and hopefully he will come to a positive conclusion for the players because I think for them it is (a case of) can they be part of the future of Arsenal Football Club?
“And I think some of them have shown today, yes, 100 per cent. I would say personally, 100 per cent.”