“That happened” is about the best I can do for tonight’s match. Arsenal - Manchester United used to be a marquee fixture, a can’t-miss grudge-match between two clubs with players that proper hated each other managed by titans of the game. This was worse than a rainy Wednesday night in Stoke.
The Reds and the Gunners played an insipid match to an uninspiring 1-1 draw. While I’m sure United will think they could have had the full points, the result is more disappointing for Arsenal. This is the worst Manchester United side they’ve faced in longer than most can remember. After today, they’ve won 2 of their last 12 Premier League matches.
The Gunners were set up to cede possession and sit back against the husk that used to be Manchester United. Unai Emery trotted out all three of Matteo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka, and Lucas Torreira. Arsenal looked terrible. Turns out, when you don’t have any creative players in the center of the park who can hold onto the ball, you can’t muster anything on attack.
Because of the formation used match-in and match-out, when Arsenal do manage to get something going, they wind up with noted not-goal scorers Lucas Torreira or Matteo Guendouzi making the late run into the area. That exact situation happened this evening. Great attacking move, good service into the area, and Torreira totally mistimed his volley.
To be clear, this isn’t to rag on Torreira. He’s being set up to fail by a manager intent on playing him out of his best position. Imagine having someone like Dani Ceballos, Mesut Ozil (who was left out of the squad completely today), or, I don’t know, Aaron Ramsey being the late-arriving man into the area.
To nobody’s surprise, when Dani Ceballos replaced Torreira, Arsenal immediately looked better. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a VAR-awarded goal within minutes. Sidenote: how the linesman thought he was offside in the first place is beyond me - he was onside by several yards. The Gunners had a brief period in the ascendancy, lost the thread, and stumbled through the rest of the match. Oh. And the shooting was horrendous today. Arsenal wasted three or four gilt-edged chances with utterly scuffed shots.
Bernd Leno had a strong match. He made several important saves, two or three of which were extremely difficult. He’s raised the keeping at Arsenal at least a few notches above “how is he going to blow the match for us” which is a welcome upgrade. Bukayo Saka also played well. He’s still raw and makes mistakes, but his confidence on the ball and his attacking threat are undeniable. Matteo Guendouzi and David Luiz put in good shifts on the evening. Sead Kolasinac had his best defensive game in a while, but it came at the cost of his attacking involvement.
A word about Granit Xhaka “ducking” on United’s first goal. Still photos lie. Sure, you can time the freeze frame so that he appears to be getting out of the way of the ball. But go back and watch the replay. The ball deflects off Sokratis. For my money, Xhaka tries to adjust to the ball and direct his block away. Also, he’s 20+ yards away from goal, so it’s possible he thought the shot wasn’t on frame. It’s better to get out of the way than to deflect it and wrong-foot your keeper. Also, he’s human. It’s a natural, split-second reaction to get out of the way of an object flying 90+ MPH at your face.
I think Arsenal are running an experiment on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to determine just how long one player can bail out an entire club. He did it again tonight. He now has:
- 7 goals in 7 Premier League matches this season
- A goal or assist in every Premier League match this season
- 14 goals in his last 14 Premier League starts
- 17 goals in his last 17 games for Arsenal (bonus fact: United, as a team, have 17 in 17)
- 39 goals since joining the Premier League, tied most over that period with Mo Salah
If not for Aubameyang, Unai Emery is probably already out of a job. It’s disappointing that his world-class, remarkable run of form is happening in relative obscurity because of the mediocrity around him. He deserves better.
Arsenal are headed into a nine-match league stretch that will likely determine the outcome of their season. They should be favored to win all nine and need to rack up the points. They’ve got Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney, Hector Bellerin, and soon, Alexandre Lacazette coming back from injury. Time for the Gunners to put up or shut up.