After Wednesday night’s surprising 2-4 win over Chelsea, Arsenal entered Saturday lunchtime’s match against Manchester United with a renewed sense of vigour.
With only one change to the team (Cédric Soares replacing Rob Holding, allowing Benjamin White to move into central defence), Arsenal were ready to try a fresh attempt at getting back into the top four.
And they couldn’t have hoped for a better start. A ball into the Manchester United penalty area from Granit Xhaka was not dealt with by either Raphaël Varane or Alex Telles, which allowed Bukayo Saka to rifle a shot at goal, which was well saved by David de Gea, but was palmed into the path of the onrushing Nuno Tavares, who tapped in from close-range to give Arsenal the lead.
Manchester United had a few chances of their own, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Elanga and Diogo Dalot all coming close for the visitors, which shot a couple of warning signs Arsenal’s way.
However, it was Arsenal who added to the game’s tally next. A good bit of inter-play between Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka allowed the England youngster loose in the box before Alex Telles bought him to ground. Eddie Nketiah rifled home the second of the match, but VAR deemed him to be offside, which also meant that Alex Telles’ challenge on Bukayo Saka would result in a penalty, which Saka promptly dispatched to double Arsenal’s lead.
It wasn’t all good news though, a deft cross into the box from Nemanja Matić caused Aaron Ramsdale to hesitate, which allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to tap in from close-range to pull one back for the visitors.
The whistle blew for half-time, which was perhaps for the best, as Arsenal had started to look sluggish.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, it persisted in the second. Manchester United had plenty of chances, which culminated in a penalty being given after a handball from Nuno Tavares. It was yet another example of Arsenal shooting themselves in the foot.
Bruno Fernandes stepped up and…missed. His effort bounced off the post and out for a goal-kick. A tremendous let-off for Arsenal and arguably the turning point of the match.
Arsenal seemed to accept that they had little to no choice but to attack further. They needed a third and they needed it badly.
Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka began to wreak havoc on the United defence from the right-hand side – claims for a handball in the United box courtesy of Diogo Dalot were waived away, which led to Bruno Fernandes regaining the ball, only to be hussled off it by Mohamed Elneny, who laid it off for Granit Xhaka, who took a touch and then let off an absolute screamer. A bullet, an arrow, whatever it was was unstoppable and flew past David de Gea and wrapped up the win for Arsenal. An astoundingly good goal.
Arsenal rejoiced at the final whistle as they moved into fourth spot, 2 points clear of Tottenham and 6 points clear of Manchester United, with a game-in-hand.
It was by no means “vintage Arsenal”. In fact, at times, it was downright dangerous. At the heart of it all, was Nuno Tavares.
Not since Yaya Sanogo was starting upfront, have Arsenal had a player who so typifies the very essence of chaos, quite like Tavares. The full-back was a total mess at the back, but an unbelievable asset going forward. For every misplaced pass and poor tackle, there was a fantastic run or brilliant dummy-run which bamboozled the opposition. While Arsenal may come away with all 3 points today, the need for Kieran Tierney to return has never been greater.
It was also a welcome return for Takehiro Tomiyasu. The Japanese international has been missing since January and Arsenal will be beyond relieved that he is back and available for selection once more, potentially ending a run in the side for Cédric Soares, who also did not look at his best.
However, Granit Xhaka, Eddie Nketiah and Mohamed Elneny, three players often singled out for criticism, were at the heart of all things great about Arsenal today. The two midfielders contained United nicely and were a constant thorn in their side, either with intricate playmaking or brilliant shielding of the back-four (later five), while Nketiah did not give former-Real Madrid defender Raphaël Varane a second’s rest all day.
It was a brilliant win for Arsenal. 2 wins on the bounce against the “big 6” and into 4th place for the foreseeable future. Arsenal’s Champions League destiny is now, once again, back in their hands, but a tough trip to West Ham next Sunday will be a must-win match for Mikel Arteta and co.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
17.) Cédric Soares (Tomiyasu 91’)
4.) Benjamin White
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
20.) Nuno Tavares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
34.) Granit Xhaka
7.) Bukayo Saka (Holding 74’)
8.) Martin Ødegaard
10.) Emile Smith Rowe (Martinelli 64’)
30.) Eddie Nketiah
1.) Bernd Leno
16.) Rob Holding
69.) Zak Swanson
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
38.) Miguel Azeez
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Manchester United team:
1.) David de Gea
20.) Diogo Dalot
2.) Victor Lindelöf
19.) Raphaël Varane
27.) Alex Telles
39.) Scott McTominay
31.) Nemanja Matić (Rashford 77’)
36.) Anthony Elanga (Lingard 77’)
18.) Bruno Fernandes (c) (Mata 84’)
25.) Jadon Sancho
7.) Cristiano Ronaldo
Manchester United subs:
26.) Dean Henderson
3.) Eric Bailly
5.) Harry Maguire
4.) Phil Jones
29.) Aaron Wan-Bissaka
8.) Juan Mata
14.) Jesse Lingard
75.) Alejandro Garnacho Ferreyra
10.) Marcus Rashford