Result: Arsenal – Manchester United
Competition: Premier League
Date: 30 January 2020
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, Cedric, Partey, Xhaka, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Martinelli, Lacazette
Subs: Runarsson, Gabriel, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Willock, Odegaard, Willian, Nketiah
Arsenal and Manchester United played out a tense 0-0 draw at the Emirates that extends the Gunners unbeaten run to seven games and sees us climb temporarily up to 8th place in the Premier League table.
Clear cut chances were hard to come by in the first half but things opened up after the break with Lacazette and Smith Rowe coming close for the Gunners and Cavani squandering a late chance for the visitors.
Mikel Arteta made one change from the side that started Tuesday’s win against Southampton. A hip problem sidelined in-form Bukayo Saka meaning Gabriel Martinelli was handed a first Premier League start in the league in over a month. He started on the left of attack meaning Pepe reverted to the right flank. Despite being spotted in training on Friday, Kieran Tierney wasn’t fit enough to make the squad so Cedric continued to fill in at left-back. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in quarantine having left the country to deal with a family issue, the absence of three big hitters was far from ideal. On the plus side, new boy Martin Odegaard made the bench.
Both sides had their moments in the opening 45 minutes but by and large, it was a cagey affair mostly played out in midfield. There were a smattering of half chances but neither keeper was unduly worried as the defences mopped up plenty of crosses both from open play and set pieces.
Emile Smith Rowe was a bright spark for the Gunners in the opening stages, dovetailing with Nicolas Pepe who appears to appreciate the youngster’s proclivity for one-touch football. The Academy graduate, always looking to take the ball on the turn, sprung a couple of decent counters but also got caught a couple of times which sparked United breaks.
Bruno Fernandes is a player of obvious quality but he’s also a niggly little shit. He threw himself to the floor on 8 minutes trying to win a penalty and later ran his studs down the back of Xhaka’s ankle. In between Cedric went into the book for waving an arm in his compatriot’s face. Portuguese expletives were exchanged.
Fred drew a fine save from Leno on 20 minutes after trying his luck from the edge of the box after a corner was cleared to him. After that, the Gunners had a dangerous 10-minute spell that saw Pepe curl wide and Partey drag an effort after a Vieira-esque charge through midfield. Xhaka and David Luiz both ought to have done better with headers from set-pieces and Martinelli came close to finding Lacazette with a deliciously teasing ball into the box.
United weathered the storm and wrestled control of matters after the half-hour mark. Rashford and Wan Bissaka went wide with a volley and header respectively and Fernandes, one-on-one with Luiz, turned the Brazilian inside out before trying a curler. Leno watched it fly past his post.
Even after an enforced substitution – McTominay went off with a stomach problem, they kept coming at us. The half ended with Luiz celebrating the clearance of a Fernandes free-kick which he headed over the bar. The Gunners had been lucky in the build-up when Rashford, unmarked at the back post, couldn’t find room to get a shot off.
Somewhat surprisingly, Martinelli was taken off at the break and Willian sent on in his place. The Brazilian had a fine chance to break the deadlock within four minutes when a cross reached him unmarked. His first touch was poor and by the time he attempted his shot, it was quickly closed down.
He was involved again moments later, this time bursting down the left flank and pulling back for Pepe whose first-time effort was hard and true. Maguire stuck out a leg to clear what looked destined to be a goal.
Back came United who should have scored themselves on 58 minutes when Martial and Shaw combined to flash a dangerous ball across our six-yard box. Cavani looked odds on to tap home but hit wide. A corner was given although replays showed Cedric, who’d applied good pressure, hadn’t touched the ball.
We regained our composure and forced the visitors back again. Luiz, clearly pumped up, embarked on a great run that ended with a terrible effort. We came much closer in the ensuing minutes. Lacazette won a foul off Maguire and promptly clattered the bar with the resulting free-kick. Then Smith Rowe tested De Gea at his near post with a well hit effort.
On 75 minutes, Maguire again took out Lacazette in a dangerous area. This time, Luiz took charge. His effort hit the wall and went for a corner.
The game was on a knife-edge. Rashford hit the side netting with a rasper after Partey was dispossessed in a dangerous area. Two minutes later, Pepe went wide with another curler. Arteta’s hands went to his mouth. It was close. Pushing for the win, the boss sent on Odegaard for the tiring Smith Rowe.
As the clock ticked down, United carved out the best chance of the match. A cross from the right found Cavani who attempted an overhead kick that beat Leno but went wide at the near post.
Three minutes of stoppage time started with Maguire and Lacazette left on the ground after a nasty coming together in the air on the halfway line. The Frenchman seemed to hit the turf head first and required extensive treatment. Nketiah was sent on. Hopefully, the striker, who put in a combative shift, will recover in time for Tuesday’s game at Wolves.
In the end, a point apiece was probably the right result. While draws are always frustrating, it was a night not to lose.