What a game this was. There are so few top of the table matches that actually live up to the billing, but this one did. Two of the Premier League’in-form sides came together at the Emirates on Saturday evening in the game of the season so far.
Despite Manchester United being the architects of some of the most boring games of the season, they played their part in a match of the highest order. Arsenal dominated the game chance wise, but it was United that went into half-time 2-0 up, with Antonio Valencia and Jesse Lingard striking for the visitors early on. Alexandre Lacazette immediately cut the arrears in half after half-time, but the Gunners were caught throwing too much forward too soon, and Jesse Lingard got on the end of a Paul Pogba cutback to complete the scoring with a tap-in. Things were not perfect for United though, with Pogba sent off for a horror challenge on Hector Bellerin in the closing stages, and it means he will miss the Manchester derby.
The win has seen United cut the gap on City to just five points even if it is just for now, while they are seven points clear of Arsneal, who fall to fifth.
From the game, what five things did we learn?
Two old heavyweights remind the league they are still at the summit
In recent seasons, the title winners have been Manchester City, Chelsea, Leicester, Chelsea, and it seems as though Manchester City will be the next name on the list.
With regard to winning the Premier League, neither Manchester United nor Arsenal have been a heavyweight in the last four seasons. Indeed, the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham have all been touted as the teams to beat, with United and Arsenal falling to the wayside, as taking a Champions League place has been the summit of their ambition for a number of years.
Some claimed the importance of the fixture itself had wained, with the two sides struggling to keep pace with those at the top in recent years. However, their match displayed exactly why their rivalry is still very much at the forefront of English football.
The goals, the players, the intrigue, and the high-stakes meant that the game kept fans glued to their seats both in the stadium and at home. It was an outstanding advert for the Premier League, and a timely reminder that these two great clubs should not be dismissed when talking about England’s very best.
Manchester United come out swinging
What a first-half it was at the Emirates as the two sides cast aside the notion that games between the biggest teams in England had to be played out, and end in the dullest way possible.
The first-half saw the two sides share 19 shots, with Arsenal taking 14 of them. Indeed, the Gunners managed to record seven shots on target in a superbly exciting game as second-place in the table visited fourth.
What was most surprising about the game was that Jose Mourinho seemed more than willing to engage with Arsenal in an open game, with the two sides threatening to score.
All too often this season United have been abysmal going forward against the top sides. A 0-0 draw with Liverpool was their worst attacking display of the season, a 1-0 win over Tottenham saw a very defensively predicated United side sneak a win despite rarely threatening, and they were then beaten by a Chelsea outfit that were also defensive, but made sure they made inroads when going forward.
Against Arsenal, Mourinho’s men were outstanding without the ball, and instead of sitting deep, they pressed the Gunners in their half which is where their two goals came from.
The United team that played the entirety of the first-half was a completely different outfit to the one that has run out in the big games this season, and perhaps it is a lesson to Mourinho that there is more to football than just defending.
Arsenal’s good run comes to an end
In recent weeks Arsenal had been building confidence. With every victory came more belief, and Arsene Wenger’s men seemed to be dragging themselves back into the title race, although Manchester City still maintain their huge lead at the top.
A 2-0 dismantling of an in-form Tottenham side was followed by a gritty win over highflying Burnley, and they then defeated a Huddersfield team that ran City very close in their encounter. Clearly, their three wins are not ones that should be taken lightly.
However, their superb run was brought to an end as they were beaten 3-1 by Manchester United. It is now vital for Arsenal to bounce back from this defeat with a win. Too often they embark upon a good run only to lose one game, which snowballs and sees them drop points and fall down the table.
Their next opponent comes in the form of Southampton, and it is a game they simply cannot afford to lose.
David de Gea is the best in the world
What can you say about David de Gea that hasn’t already been said? De Gea has been growing season on season, and he is now the best goalkeeper in the world, it is as simple as that. Of course, there are some that might argue this, with Manuel Neuer’s name cropping up, but the German has been out for months, and he has surely been usurped by the Spaniard now.
Arsenal were the better side in the first-half and created a glut of chances that they really should have taken. In another game, they would have scored a number of goals, and against another goalkeeper, they may have already been out of sight.
However, de Gea once again proved his worth as he pulled off a string of top-quality saves to keep his side ahead. The pick of the bunch in the first-half came from his own player, as Romelu Lukaku tried to clear a free-kick but inadvertently deflected the ball towards the corner, only for de Gea to somehow get across and palm the ball to safety. Incredibly, apart from his hand, de Gea’s entire body was behind the line as he made the save.
Of course, the game did not go by without Arsenal’s Petr Cech showing his class, as he somehow managed to palm a shot from Jesse Lingard in a one-on-one situation onto the post, but it was a day for the away goalkeeper. Indeed, the Spaniard made a world-class save that had the entire stadium in awe as he somehow managed to stop Alexandre Lacazette’s drilled effort, before he threw himself in front of Alexis Sanchez’s shot, with the ball deflecting to safety.
Regardless of the result on the day, or whether United end as the best team in the league this season, Mourinho will know that he has the best goalkeeper not just in the Premier League, but in the world.
Paul Pogba may have cost his side
Pogba put in a superb performance on Saturday as he managed to play out a solid defensive performance that complemented a very intelligent offensive game.
However, as well as he played, Mourinho will be massively frustrated that he ruined his performance with a needless red card. The midfielder went in with a reckless challenge as his studs came down near the knee of Hector Bellerin, and he was shown a straight red for it.
Of course, his sending off did not change the outcome of the game, but it means that he will miss United’s huge top of the table clash with City. Without Pogba, Mourinho’s team lack that arrogance and creativity in midfield, something they will desperately need against City.
While Pogba did not cost his side three points on Saturday, he may have cost them a chance at beating City next weekend.
Arsenal: Cech 7.5 – Monreal 7, Mustafi 5 (Iwobi 7), Koscielny 6 – Kolasinac 6(Giroud 6), Xhaka 6.5 (Welbeck 6.5), Ramsey 7, Bellerin 6 – Sanchez 7, Ozil 7 – Lacazette 7.
Unused substitutes: Ospina, Mertesacker, Coquelin, Wilshere.
Manchester United: De Gea 9 – Rojo 7.5, Smalling 7, Lindelof 7 – Young 7.5 (Rashford 6), Matic 8, Pogba 6, Valencia 7 – Lingard 8 (Darmian 7), Lukaku 7, Martial 7.5 (Herrera 7).
Unused substitutes: Mata, Romero, Blind, McTominay.
Referee: Andre Marriner.
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