Arsenal showed the steel and determination of, dare I say, champions in today’s 3-2 win over Manchester United. The Gunners came back from 1-0 down and from being pegged back to 2-2 to win on an Eddie Nketiah 90th minute goal, his second of the match. The details of the match hardly matter. The bottom line is that Arsenal were put to the test by a Manchester United team with aspirations of challenging at the top of the Premier League and, as they have all season, responded brilliantly.
It was a somewhat weird match. Arsenal were well below their usual standard in the first half but still the better side. And in a way, Manchester United were lucky to be in the contest at all. Marcus Rashford scored a worldie of a goal on a shot that goes in maybe twice in a season. Aaron Ramsdale gifted Lisandro Martinez a goal by spilling a corner. But football can be funny like that. The scoreboard doesn’t care how the ball goes in, just whether it crosses the line.
Arsenal 3 (2.5)-(0.4) 2 Manchester United pic.twitter.com/zNHHD2rBZh— Cannon Stats (@CannonStats) January 22, 2023
Critically, Arsenal responded. Unlike in previous seasons, the Gunners scored the goals to match their dominance in an important match. An Eddie Nketiah brace sandwiched a Bukayo Saka tally. Nketiah’s first came off a sweeping team move, Saka’s was a moment of individual brilliance, and Eddie’s winner was one of those scrappy, find a way to put the ball in the net, goals that the great teams find.
Eddie Nketiah had a monster game, Man of the Match levels. A lot of people thought Arsenal’s title challenge was done when Gabriel Jesus went down with injury. Since then, Nketiah has four goals in five Premier League appearances. He’s a genuine fox in the box (and he does more, too). To borrow a hockey term, he crashes the net and has a knack for popping up where the ball is going to be. It’s not luck, it’s a skill. He has bags of it.
Eddie Nketiah, Performance - Arsenal vs Manchester United pic.twitter.com/7SnUHmxxkH— Cannon Stats (@CannonStats) January 22, 2023
Alex Zinchenko also deserves his flowers. He was the second best player on the pitch for the Gunners and controlled the tempo / flow of the game as much as Martin Ødegaard (whose elastico pass was a stunning highlight moment even though nothing came of it) and Thomas Partey. Zinchenko was constantly on the ball in the middle and attacking third, playing well beyond his nominal left back position, carrying the ball more than usual, and pulling the strings with his passing. Zinchenko was undoubtedly helped by Antony providing next to nothing in terms of attacking threat down his side, allowing him to freely roam the pitch.
Granit Xhaka quietly put in a really strong performance. He did a lot of work without the ball, including helping win it back before the Saka goal, and was one of the few Arsenal players, especially in the first half, completing his passes.
Partey was a bit off, with some sloppy giveaways and loose passing. Ben White, who picked up an early yellow card, was awful. He had probably his worst game in an Arsenal kit since making his debut against Brentford. White was rightly hooked at halftime for Takehiro Tomiyasu. I’m not concerned in the slightest. Players have off games. White had one today.
As mentioned earlier, Aaron Ramsdale was poor on the second United goal, spilling a corner that he should have caught or punched. A few minutes before the goal, he made a fantastic save on Marcus Rashford. It can’t be easy to play keeper behind Arsenal. Ramsdale has little to do all match and then has to come up huge when called upon.
Gabriel Martinelli wasn’t at his best, either. Some think he’s been off the pace since returning from the World Cup. I think he’s been mostly fine, just not quite as remarkable and dangerous. Perhaps a rest provided by, say, a new signing during an FA Cup week, would do Martinelli some good. Speaking of that new signing, Leandro Trossard looked good in a cameo appearance. He was on the ball in the buildup to the Nketiah winner, and dribbled out from between three Manchester United defenders to keep the ball when Arsenal were trying to kill off the last few minutes.
Another positive from today’s match: Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Magalhaes, and William Saliba all avoided picking up a booking, which would have been their 5th and come with a suspension. They now need to reach 10 total in 32 matches for discipline, at which point it would be a 2-match ban.
Arsenal are back to five points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. The Gunners, almost unfathomably, are five points better off at the halfway post than The Invincibles. Nineteen matches to play, including two against Manchester City, is a lot of football to play. But at this point, you have to believe it might actually happen.