Result: Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 30 September 2019
Venue: Old Trafford
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s second-half strike, awarded after VAR overruled an initial offside decision, saw Arsenal recover a point at Old Trafford after Scott McTominay had given Manchester United the lead just before the break.
The 1-1 draw is enough to take the Gunners back into the top four, however, the passive nature of the performance, particularly in the opening 45 minutes, will have many questioning Unai Emery’s tactics.
Unai Emery made two changes from the team that started against Aston Villa. Calum Chambers, who excelled in the Carabao Cup, retained his place at right-back ahead of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Lucas Torreira replaced Mesut Ozil; the German, not for the first time this season, wasn’t included in the squad. On the left wing, Bukayo Saka became the youngest Arsenal player to feature against United in the Premier League era. Rob Holding made the bench, Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin, did not.
It became obvious from the off that United wanted to target Chambers’ flank with the pace of Daniel James. The former Swansea won a corner with his first dash and with his next was felled off the ball by our right-back. Kevin Friend had no hesitation flashing a yellow.
Torreira pressed high ahead of Xhka and Guendouzi. We were happy sitting deep and compact, ceding possession to the home side. The football was scruffy and stayed so for much of the opening 25 minutes.
Our first sustained period of pressure came on 21 minutes as Luiz and Chambers exchanged crosses from either flank, failing on each occasion to find a yellow shirt in the middle. The virus spread, as Pepe overhit a free-kick in a decent position straight out for a De Gea goal kick.
A run by Andreas Pereira did have the Arsenal defence backpeddling but the Brazilian’s shot was matched by a smart save by Leno down to his left. At the other end, Saka squeezed a pass to Pepe who fluffed his lines and hit high and wide.
Rashford and Pereira both went in the book for late challenges, the latter setting up a free-kick 35 yards from goal. Given the soaking wet conditions it was a prime chance to test De Gea, instead, Xhaka overhit a clipped ball in Chambers’ direction. The United fans just laughed.
The final five minutes saw the game open up. First, Pogba sprung an attack that saw Rashford freed on goal. Sokratis got back to take the sting off the England international’s shot.
We hit back on the counter, De Gea making a great double stop to deny Saka and Guendouzi. From the corner, we again failed to find an Arsenal man and this time United showed a cutting edge.
It initially looked like the danger had passed when James run down the right ended with an overhit cross, but Rashford kept the ball alive, fed a pass to the edge of the area where McTominay took one touch and lashed into the top corner past a flat-footed Leno. The clock ticked into stoppage time as the Red Devils celebrated. (1-0)
Emery, who’d spent most of the half grimacing at the poor decision-making of his players, did not look impressed.
The game continued to lack quality after the break but with both sides pushing forward at least it wasn’t drab.
Aubameyang picked out Torreira who mishit an effort into the ground and Kolasinac got lucky when the ball hit his arm in the area. VAR checked the incident while play continued and decided it wasn’t worth a penalty.
VAR was to play an even bigger role five minutes later.
When Tuanzebi gave the ball away on the edge of his own box, Saka pounced quickly playing a first time pass to Aubameyang who promptly dinked a shot over De Gea. It was a beautiful finish but his celebrations were cut short by an offside flag. Surely he was onside? VAR took a look. He was! By about three yards. Friend went to his ear, pointed to the sky. Goal given. The away fans roared. Then hailed Auba, then the new technology. (1-1)
We had the momentum. Guendouzi gave Chambers the ball inside the right channel, he found Saka but the teenager couldn’t keep his shot down.
United wrestled back control. Pogba’s curler went just wide and McTominay should have scored but headed over from point-blank range as he rose unmarked from a corner. Leno produced an acrobatic stop to parry Maguire’s piledriver for a corner.
Ceballos, Nelson and Willock all came on as the half progressed but we couldn’t find any fluency. The Spaniard did curl a shot wide with three minutes remaining, but much like most of the action that preceded it, it was a lame attempt.
In stoppage time, Leno made a fine one-handed save to deny Rashford who lined up a free-kick from the same area that Auba grabbed our winner last week. There was still time for Nelson and Greenwood to scruff efforts but neither side had the composure to snatch a winner.