In a dramatic evening in the rain, Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-0.
The Gunners gained a measure of revenge after their FA Cup exit to The Red Devils, denting their rivals’ top four hopes by picking up a huge win – inflicting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first-ever domestic defeat in charge of United. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Bernd Leno
Arsenal haven’t had a truly dominant goalkeeper for over a decade. Sure, they’ve had and have Petr Cech on their books but the Premier League legend arrived at the Emirates a washed-up force. Since Jens Lehmann fell off, they’ve struggled to replicate anything like the authority that the German gave them.
Well, now they have another German in the net, and even though he started slowly, this evening was an example of just what Bernd Leno can offer when he’s on his game. Leno was superb against United, constantly getting his body in the way of shots and commanding his area well, too. He is the first Premier League goalkeeper to stop Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United from scoring a goal, and if he can build from this, Arsenal will relish the fact that they have a colossal presence in the net again.
Loser: Romelu Lukaku
It may seem harsh to label Romelu Lukaku a loser because actually the Belgian played very, very well. His movement was electric, his touch was tight and his passing was precise. He routinely bisected lines of defence to find team-mates and on another day, he could have created a goal or two. This was almost everything you’d want from a striker display but… the finishing. Oh, the finishing.
Lukaku came into this game with a phenomenal six goals in his last three games, a trio of braces. This was the first time anyone had done that for Manchester United since 2006, and Lukaku would have been hopeful of extending that streak against the Gunners. He certainly had the chances! Lukaku fluffed a hat-trick of golden opportunities with strangely poor finishing, shooting tamely at Leno or into the ground. The fact that he left the Emirates with no goal was almost wholly down to him, and why he has to be a loser.
Winner: Granit Xhaka
Before today, Granit Xhaka had scored more than one goal against just two opponents in his career. Two against Young Boys u21, and two against Winterthur u21. Well, now he can add Manchester United to that list after his second long-range banger against them.
Xhaka was given a huge job as the chief central midfielder against Manchester United, as the Gunners partnered him with Aaron Ramsey. The Swiss international had a decent game but illuminated it with one moment of magic, a shot that swerved so much that David de Gea was left rooted to the spot. The audacity to take the shot on and the technique to pull it off were worthy of winning any game, and that is essentially what it did. The goal gave the Gunners a lead they never surrendered and a huge three points in the race for fourth.
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Loser: David de Gea
As much as Granit Xhaka deserves credit for his goal, it has to be said that David de Gea deserves an unending torrent of jokes, memes and nonsense at his expense for letting the damn thing in. Alright, it swerved, but this wasn’t exactly Roberto Carlos in Toulon – it was a well-hit shot that swerved early enough that a goalkeeper of De Gea’s class should have been able to get it.
And yet De Gea, a man who put in a masterclass in this very stadium a year ago to enable a Manchester United win, remained rooted to the spot. He was utterly wrong-footed, left staring forlornly at the ball as it went in, then making some weird hand gestures to his team-mates afterwards. Sure, maybe Nemanja Matic could have closed Xhaka down faster, but there’s no excuse for De Gea letting that shot in. And worse still, he let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang score a penalty late on, Aubameyang! Oh, the shame!
Winner: Unai Emery
For a manager who has been doubted almost non-stop for the last few months, Unai Emery has never once looked like giving in to his critics. After a shocking result in France where the Gunners lost to Rennes, the Spanish coach pulled off a masterclass today to take down Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium.
Emery’s XI was spot on, his use of Aaron Ramsey in midfield to provide energy and thrust alongside Granit Xhaka’s excellent passing. Playing Mesut Ozil so far forward and keeping him upfield with Aubameyang and Lacazette ensured that United were always very wary of being caught on the counter, even as Arsenal withdrew the rest of their players, and that conditioned the way United attacked. He even timed his substitutions perfectly to retake control of the game as United looked to be in the ascendancy in the second half.
This was a superb performance from Emery in the rain. His first victory over Manchester United at his fifth attempt, and a result that gives the Gunners a huge dose of momentum ahead of the second leg against Rennes in midweek and the larger race for the top four in general.
Spurs were about 10 points ahead of Arsenal a few weeks ago. They were being spoken of as part of the title race rather than the top four race. Then a horrible run of form, failing to win in their last four Premier League games, losing three, has seen Arsenal close that gap to just a single point. Spurs have dropped out of the title race and now have their third place genuinely under threat.
And worse, they’re actually in the top four race now because Manchester United, currently in fifth, are just three points behind them. United lost in London but played brilliantly with the kind of verve and intent that will see them win many more games this season. Those three are all going to battle over two spots, and Spurs are the side with the worst form (and don’t forget Chelsea, they’re just four points behind Spurs with a game in-hand). Mauricio Pochettino’s men have been well and truly dragged down into the scrap.