Arsenal left it until Fergie Time to claim the three points against Manchester United at the Emirates, but they fully deserved the win. The Gunners came to play football and dictate the game. Erik ten Hag set up his side to do...something and hope they could snatch the points with some good fortune.
And the visitors nearly managed it, too. Alejandro Garnacho looked to have scored a late goal on a counter to give United a 2-1 lead, but it was offside by the faintest of margins. It was a massive letoff for the Gunners, who still look vulnerable to the break. Arsenal have developed a nasty habit of losing focus and allowing opponents all-too-easy ball progression that turns into a chance. It’s something Mikel Arteta needs to hammer out of his side because it will cost Arsenal points.
Minutes after Garnacho almost stole the points for Manchester United, Arsenal claimed them. The ball fell to Declan Rice off the Gunners’ 12th (!!!) corner of the match, and he hammered home a volley into the near corner. Sometimes the best thing to do is to simply put your laces through the ball and smash it on frame. The shot took a slight deflection on the way through, but it hardly mattered. There was no way Andre Onana was stopping anything hit that hard from that range.
Gabriel Jesus put the match out of reach (well beyond the announced eight minutes of added time — I might add), converting a breakaway with the composure you expect of a star striker. Fabio Vieira delivered a perfect, on-time ball, and the Brazilian did the rest. He sat down the recovering defender with a calm cutback and guided it around Onana into the far corner, sending Arsenal and the Emirates into jubilant celebration.
The two late goals from Arsenal bailed out Anthony Taylor and VAR Jared Gillett, who were minutes away from being the focal point of the conversation. Just shy of the 60th minute, Kai Havertz looked to have won Arsenal a penalty. He cut inside Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who clipped the back of his left heel, just as Casemiro crashed into his right leg. Havertz fell, as one generally does when both of their legs have been clipped mid-stride, and the penalty was given.
But Gillett recommended Taylor review the incident on the monitor, and the penalty was rescinded. It’s really difficult to see how a penalty given on the pitch, with clear contact from two defenders on the attacker, meets the supposed “high bar” of a clear and obvious error necessary to overturn a penalty. But here we are. It was a baffling decision. If the roles were reversed, does anybody think the penalty award is taken back?
Thankfully, it doesn’t matter. Arsenal found a way to win, a victory that might prove a watershed moment early in the season. A late victory over a top six rival will do wonders for the momentum, vibes, and confidence at the club. It’s not lost on me who made the difference, either. Declan Rice, who had an absolutely monstrous match, the man brought in to put the club over the top and Gabriel Jesus, who completely transforms the Arsenal attack when he’s fit and at his best. The goal will hopefully springboard Gabriel Jesus back into form, too. His difficulties converting chances have been well-documented, and sometimes seeing the ball hit the back of the net is the tonic a striker needs to get going.
A few things to improve / areas of concern / general observations:
- Arsenal need to capitalize on periods of games where they’re in control. They bossed the opening 15-20 minutes of the match and had nothing to show for it.
- As mentioned earlier, Arsenal need to do something to improve their defensive consistency. They’re vulnerable to the counter and allow their opponents a half-chance or two from seemingly innocuous situations as a result of seemingly switching off.
- The Gunners need to generate more quality shots on target. Gabriel Jesus’ return to the lineup should help with that.
- Bukayo Saka had one of his worst performances in recent memory. He consistently lost his 1-v-1 matchup with Diogo Dalot and didn’t create havoc / chances like he normally does. He also hit a gilt-edged chance to put Arsenal ahead straight at Onana.
- Gabriel Martinelli’s short corners to the near post were dreadful. Arsenal need to create more from corners, generally. From 12 corners, they managed a good headed chance for Declan Rice in the first half. The winner came more from the scrambling, broken sequence after a corner rather than anything in particular the team did on the corner itself.
- Martin Ødegaard looks every bit a captain and leader on the pitch. The effort he put in gave the appearance of a player determined not to see his side drop points. The flip-side of that is at times, he looked a bit over-exuberant, trying to do a bit too much when he might have been better off keeping it simple and playing within himself.
- Kai Havertz was good, and he was bad. He was really good defensively and in the middle third. He plays a tough, physical game. He started some attacking moves, and the left side looked better with him linking up with Zinchenko and Martinelli. But he also fanned on a golden opportunity and gave the ball away leading to the United goal. I think he may not have seen the United defender because Anthony Taylor was blocking his vision, but he still misplaced the pass.
It’s much, much easier to work on the areas that need improving with points in the bank nonetheless. Arsenal still don’t look the finished product, but they’ve managed three wins and a draw to start the season. The squad looked more comfortable playing with last season’s preferred back four, an improvement that hopefully won’t go unnoticed by Mikel Arteta. Arsenal have more control in matches, but there is still plenty of room to turn that additional control into tangible results on the scoreboard. He’ll get the side there.