Eddie Nketiah’s 90th-minute winner gave Arsenal a thrilling 3-2 victory over Manchester United to restore a five-point gap to Manchester City at the Premier League summit.
Arsenal kicked off just two points clear at the top, having seen City win twice since they last played, but they reestablished a more comfortable cushion at the end of a gripping Emirates Stadium encounter on Sunday.
United – themselves maintaining remote title hopes – scored first through Marcus Rashford, only to require a scruffy second-half leveller from Lisandro Martinez after goals from Nketiah and Bukayo Saka had turned the game on its head.
Only Arsenal looked capable of providing a further twist, though, and it came through Nketiah with seconds remaining of normal time, giving the Gunners surely their biggest win of the season so far.
BIG. THREE. POINTS. pic.twitter.com/1Tbu8SP8p9
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) January 22, 2023
Rashford’s stunning opener came somewhat out of the blue as Thomas Partey ceded possession in his own half and was then nutmegged by the United forward, who arrowed a 20-yard drive into the bottom-left corner.
But that lead lasted only seven minutes before Arsenal brilliantly worked a crossing opportunity for Granit Xhaka on the left, from where he picked out Nketiah for a straightforward close-range header.
Saka’s goal, which put Arsenal ahead early in the second half, was perhaps the best of the lot as the winger was allowed room to shoot from distance and blasted into the same corner Rashford had found at that end of the stadium.
Aaron Ramsdale initially kept Arsenal in front with a sharp stop from Rashford, but he was at fault when United equalised, dropping a corner to allow Martinez’s stooping, looping header to beat both the goalkeeper and a man on the line.
It did not look as though the decisive fifth goal would follow as Saka struck the post and David de Gea superbly denied Nketiah, yet it was the Arsenal striker who had the final say with a deft flick that withstood a VAR check for offside.
What does it mean? Arsenal pass January test
January was always going to be a real test of Arsenal’s title credentials as they played Newcastle United, Tottenham and Manchester United in succession. They have finished the month unbeaten with seven points from a possible nine. That can only be considered a success.
Only Newcastle could frustrate Arsenal, although United gave it a good go – seemingly destined to earn a draw as they had on the previous two occasions they had visited the Gunners when top of the table (also March 2004 and November 2007).
Unlike against Newcastle, Mikel Arteta’s men were rewarded for their patience at the last as their 25th and final shot found the net.
Nketiah an unlikely hero
When Arsenal splashed out on City champion Gabriel Jesus, Nketiah must have wondered just how much gametime he would see this season, despite finishing the previous campaign in impressive form.
But Jesus’ injury presented an opportunity for the academy graduate, who has seized it with both hands. Nketiah now has 19 goals in his past 26 Arsenal starts and is in fine company in scoring a last-minute winner against United – Thierry Henry is the only other Gunner to have done so in the Premier League
No control without Casemiro
It came as no surprise United were far less composed both with and without the ball in the absence of Casemiro, who collected his fifth yellow card of the campaign against Crystal Palace in midweek.
Without that shield in front of the United defence, they could not contain Saka, Martin Odegaard or Gabriel Martinelli. Odegaard had six shots, none of which hit the target, but supplied the telling assist with his late scuff.
Key Opta Facts
– Eddie Nketiah is the second Arsenal player to score a 90th-minute winner against Manchester United in the Premier League, after Thierry Henry in January 2007.
– United have failed to win any of their last five away games in all competitions against Arsenal, losing four times and conceding at least twice in each defeat (D1) – it is their longest winless run at the Gunners since October 2000 to March 2004 (five games).
– Arsenal are now unbeaten in their last 13 Premier League games (W11 D2), their longest unbeaten streak in the competition since December 2018 (14 games).
– This was just the third time Arsenal have hosted United in a Premier League match while top of the table, with the Gunners going unbeaten in all three matches.
– Bukayo Saka is only the third Arsenal player to score in three consecutive Premier League appearances against United after Freddie Ljungberg (1998-2000) and Thierry Henry (2000-2001).
Arsenal will get their first opportunity to measure themselves against City in the FA Cup on Friday, while United have little time to recover ahead of an EFL Cup semi-final first leg at Nottingham Forest on Wednesday.
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