The rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United is not what it once was. In the days of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, Arsenal and Manchester United were the two best teams in the country, constantly battling out for the league title and just about every other trophy you could think of along the way. Though both teams are nowhere near their former glory, the antipathy has not dissipated.
Despite their 1-3 win over Southampton, Arsenal went into Saturday’s match with an air of foreboding. Key players Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney were all missing due to injury or fitness levels, leaving Arsenal with a rather depleated side, depraved of it’s best players, with only one change from the side that won at St. Mary’s Stadium as Gabriel Martinelli came in for the injured Saka.
Arsenal started well, though Manchester United found a few avenues to explore, mainly through Bruno Fernandes, Arsenal were the team that left at half-time with the better pleased of the two sides.
Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pépé and Emile Smith Rowe all linked up well throughout the half and though it was perhaps not the best attacking display on the day, Arsenal still looked menacing.
Half-time saw the controversial tactical substitution of Martinelli in favour of Willian.
The Brazilian has failed to have much of an impact at the Emirates Stadium since his summer switch from Stamford Bridge, so this was seen by many as a chance for him to prove himself.
The second half was a bit more exciting than the first, with both teams having guilt-edged chances. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani all came closest for the away side, whilst Willian, Pépé and Lacazette all came closest for the home side, Lacazette in particular, rattling the crossbar from a free-kick.
The final whistle bought an end to a game that, goals aside, had had it all. It was a fast-paced attacking display from both sides and with plenty of intricate tactical planning from both Mikel Arteta and Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
The performance of Willian was perhaps the only down-side for Arsenal on the night. Though the former-Chelsea winger played much better than in previous weeks, there was still a feeling of anti-climax about the Brazilian’s performance. He was handed a guilt-edged chance early in the second-half, which he deliberated over for too long, causing the moment to pass. Though he did redeem himself later with a mazy run which set-up Pépé’s chance a few minutes later. Willian will have to show a lot more than he is doing at the moment if he wishes to be in the starting eleven for Arsenal’s match against Wolves.
Elsewhere, the continued rise of Emile Smith Rowe is plain to see. Though there were the usual sloppy moments one would expect to see from a young player, there were the Manchester United found it very difficult to contain him. Smith Rowe showed new signing Martin Ødegaard that he is not assured of a first-team place and will need to battle Smith Rowe for the position.
The performances of Rob Holding have been astounding to see as well. Though the famous proclamations of Arsène Wenger who said: “I’m sorry he didn’t cost £50m, so he cannot be good” are constantly referenced on social media, it is perhaps a testament to Wenger’s transfer policy to show just how good a bargain of £2m for Holding is in hindsight.
With England manager Gareth Southgate in the stands keeping a watchful eye over proceedings, Holding did very little to keep Southgate from a potential selection headache. Holding was first to every ball, partnered well with man-of-the-match David Luiz and looked as solid at the back as he has in recent weeks.
Though Arsenal (and by extension Manchester United) will be disappointed to come away with only a draw, there was plenty to be excited about for Arsenal fans as the final day of the transfer window draws ever closer and their match against Wolves beckons as well.
1.) Bernd Leno
2.) Héctor Bellerín (c)
16.) Rob Holding
23.) David Luiz
17.) Cédric Soares
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Willian 45’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Ødegaard 83’)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Nketiah 94’)
33.) Maty Ryan
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
21.) Calum Chambers
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
25.) Mohamed Elneny
28.) Joe Willock
11.) Martin Ødegaard
30.) Eddie Nketiah
Manchester United team:
1.) David de Gea
29.) Aaron Wan-Bissaka
2.) Victor Lindelöf
5.) Harry Maguire (c)
23.) Luke Shaw
39.) Scott McTominay (Martial 37’)
6.) Paul Pogba
10.) Marcus Rashford (Greenwood 80’)
18.) Bruno Fernandes
7.) Edinson Cavani
Manchester United subs:
26.) Dean Henderson
3,) Eric Bailly
38.) Axel Tuanzebe
27.) Alex Telles
31.) Nemanja Matić
34.) Donny van de Beek
21.) Daniel James
11.) Mason Greenwood
9.) Anthony Martial