Much like last season, United were there for the taking.
Thankfully though, the result didn’t correlate too, as supersub Olivier Giroud thumped in an equaliser to cancel out Juan Mata’s great finish.
The team selection carried a couple of surprises, as Aaron Ramsey was brought into the side on the left of attack, and Mohamed Elneny was given a start alongside Francis Coquelin, with Granit Xhaka on the bench. The rest of the side picked itself, aside from Hector Bellerin. The Spaniard has been ruled out for a month at least with an ankle problem picked up in the North London derby, and this gave Carl Jenkinson his first Premier League start in a Gunners jersey since May 2014.
Perhaps surprisingly, Jose Mourinho opted to leave Captain Elbows (Marouane Fellaini) out of the side, and opted instead for finesse, with Ander Herrera getting the nod. Wayne Rooney was left on the bench, with Marcus Rashford hoping to do as well as his Premier League debut last season, when he bagged a brace in the 3-2 win.
The first half was a cagey affair, but there were chances. Alexis Sanchez should have done much better with a header in the box, which he screwed horribly wide. United were not to be undone though, as they tested Cech on a couple of occasions, which the Czech dealt with well. It was a see-saw half, but the 0-0 scoreline at half time was probably fair.
There was a flashpoint in the first 45 though. Nacho Monreal and Antonio Valencia were shoulder-to shoulder going for a ball in the Arsenal box, and Valencia fell to thr ground. Replays show that Nacho’s arm was across Valencia – but since when did that constitute a spot kick? Mourinho was apopleptic with rage at the ignorance from Andre Marriner, but it was never a penalty.
The second half was a different affair entirely, as United stepped up their pressing, and it paid dividends. The Gunners struggled to exit their own half with Elneny and Coquelin run ragged as they tried to deal with the runs of Herrera, Mata, Rashford and Pogba. On a sidenote, Herrera really has a flair for the flamboyant, there were at least three occasions where he went to ground as if he had taken a shotgun shell to the abdomen, but the contact was little – or none. Something to watch out for in the future.
The weight of pressure finally told, as Nacho – who had been given the biggest workload by the errant Ramsey – failed to go with his runner, and Herrera cut a ball into the box which Mata expertly met with a first time finish. The Spaniard was unmarked as the defence were ballwatching, and the punishment was severe.
The last twenty minutes of the second half were similar to the first twenty, as United continued to press, but Arsene Wenger shuffled his pack and came up with a hand, as Olivier Giroud found the net from fellow substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain’s perfect cross from the right.
There was much more that occurred during the game, but here are 5 keypoints from the game that really stood out:
Giroud saves the day again – but he must stay as a Plan B
The bearded Olivier Giroud again saved the day with a goal when coming from the bench, just like against Sunderland, and his aerial prowess and linkup play really is an excellent answer to a defence which has our side nonplussed. He is garnering success as the swift change in attacking type is unsettling after facing a certain way for 70 minutes, then having to revert to another method to keep out the bothersome Giroud. The Frenchman will get his fair share of starts, but at this current time, we need to keep working on Sanchez up front, as the signs are that he could be dynamite.
Alexis is the way forward
Whenever we did threaten, it was via the Chilean. With his thigh heavily strapped, he could’ve shirked his duty, but he tracked back, and ploughed a lone furrow up front. Eventually through starvation, he dropped deeper and deeper to try and spark something. He proved a real test to the United defence, and that was all on his own. His goal record when playing up front is testament to what damage he can cause, and the more he plays there, the better he will be. He can undo teams by himself, and while he will have better days, he was still one of the few brighter players.
Ramsey must cement a fixed position
Aaron was our weak link in thi game, and there may be some fervent fans who will disagree, but it was crystal clear that out on the left was not the position to bring the best out of the Welshman. To be honest though, he did himself no favours. He is always full of effort and running, but his positioning was a liability which United nearly exploited – and should’ve done. The reason Antonio Valencia was awarded the MOTM award was because he was afforded the whole of the wing by the absence of Ramsey. This left Nacho double-teamed and undermanned. Ramsey has talent, we know this, but a vague sense of where he plays – and a tendency to be shrugged from the ball too easily – may cost him. This game was one to forget for Rambo.
Jenkinson must take his chance – and it was a good start
Considering it was his first Premiership start for Arsenal since 2014, Jenkinson performed well. He was forced to deal with a lively Marcus Rashford for the majority, and he snuffed out the majority of the threat. He didn’t quite offer the outlet we are used to with Bellerin in the side, but that is to be expected. Plus, this wasn’t the game for rampaging full-backs. It was a solid start from Carl, and he will get the run in the side he craves with Bellerin out for a month. Let’s hope he continues to do well.
Arsenal tactics were wrong
We don’t often see our team play full pelt and truly put our talent on show. When we play our passes at breakneck speed and the runs from each player are unpredictable and frequent. When we do, the results always go in our favour. All teams in the League, with perhaps the exception of City and Chelsea, are not on our technical level, and would not be able to cope with what we are capable of. What is the usual far is we wait and react to our opponents. We are simply reactionary. It is ponderous and frustrating, as it is akin to seeing Max Whitlock playing hopscotch. We should be doing more, especially in this game – and come to mention it, last seasons 3-2 loss was very similar. Mourinho had PHIL JONES and MARCUS ROJO in the centre of defence. All we had to do was attack them, and they would inevitably crumble, but instead we gave them the initiative time and time again. I know it is November, but we are far better than this!!!
There were other highlights that missed the cut, such as Shkodran Mustafi pretty much snuffing out every cross from Antonio Valencia – and there was many -like Oxlade-Chamberlain finally showing he has an excellent end product, and Cech giving us that edge of top class experience he has which made a hige difference.
It was a point gained after an ungainly performance, but we are still unbeaten since the opening day. We may have lost some initiative, but we showed a fair amount of bottle. We can turn this around, but the next game in PSG, which is no cakewalk.
Keep working and keep the belief. November was never going to be pretty.