Arsenal ended Manchester United’s domestic run under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday, firing themselves into the top four with a 2-0 victory.
In an all-action, entertaining encounter at the Emirates, Granit Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang strikes handed Unai Emery’s side all three points, inflicting a first domestic defeat and first loss away from home for Solskjaer as United caretaker boss.
But what did we learn?
1. Xhaka Khan
David de Gea has had a tough few months, making a number of uncharacteristic mistakes dating back to his poor performance at the 2018 World Cup.
Against Arsenal on Sunday, that lack of confidence reared its ugly head again as Arsenal’s Swiss midfielder, Granit Xhaka, lined up a speculative shot from 25 yards out, only for it to swerve into De Gea’s bottom-right corner.
The effort may have whipped on its way to goal due to the wind, but it still had the Spaniard inexplicably shuffling from left to right as if he were grooving to a Chaka Khan classic, leaving United with a mountain to climb at the Emirates.
Remember the days of Arsenal vs Man Utd when it was Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp against Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke? Fondly.
Sunday’s clash at the Emirates brought a refreshing throwback to the bygone days of strike partnerships, with both managers fielding two up front.
For Arsenal, Unai Emery trusted Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette as his spearhead, with the pair sharing an often telepathic understanding and giving a rejuvenated Victor Lindelof and co. the runaround all afternoon.
For United, meanwhile, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer partnered Marcus Rashford with Romelu Lukaku, who have both undergone resurgences in form during the Norwegian’s tenure at Old Trafford. Rashford’s direct pace kept Arsenal’s defence on their toes and also created acres of space in which Lukaku could devastate.
The only thing missing? More goals. Lukaku went closest from open play, rattling the crossbar from close range and being denied by Bernd Leno in the second half when he really should have scored, while the four managed a combined total of 17 throughout the game – a mixture of the woodwork and some expert goalkeeping the only thing keeping these sharpshooters at bay.
Aubameyang did manage to double Arsenal’s lead from the penalty spot, though, after a great drive into the box from Lacazette drew a foul from Fred, while we were treated to an aggressive, expansive and entertaining encounter nonetheless.
3. Lukaku hits another ‘big six’ stumbling block
With a trio of braces in his last three games, Lukaku has been thoroughly enjoying himself up front for United, looking like the bullish, deadly striker the Red Devils signed from Everton in 2017.
Against Arsenal, though, Lukaku finally drew a blank, extending his absolutely terrible record against the big six for United to just one goal in 18 games.
You know those bad dreams where, try as you might, you just keep running and running but cannot get to what you’re trying to find and then as soon as you’re about to make it, you wake up? Lukaku must go to bed at night and run the length of the Emirates, Anfield and Stamford Bridge pitches in search of a goal, only to be rudely awakened when an open goal beckons.
Had the Belgian giant taken even just one of his glorious chances on Sunday, United may well have gone on to win the game, such is their ability to mount a comeback and swarm teams on the break.
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4. Home comforts
Despite some inconsistent form on the road – a huge reason why the Gunners are battling for fourth, not first – Arsenal have been absolutely flawless at home in recent months.
The Gunners’ victory over United now extends their winning streak in north London to nine games, going all the way back to their 4-2 win over Spurs in December.
Even if Fortress Emirates is breached next time around, the run will be nicely bookended by wins over two of their fiercest rivals, while it has also propelled them into the Premier League’s top four amid stiff competition from Sunday’s opponents and Chelsea.
5. Ole takes a top-four pit stop
‘Ole’s at the wheel’ has been the soundtrack to United’s revival under Solskjaer and to be honest, even if you’re not a fan of the Red Devils, it has been one hell of a ride.
Sunday, however, saw Ole’s roadshow forced to take a break to refuel as the Red Devils crashed to a 2-0 defeat at the Emirates.
It was the first time United had lost domestically or away from home under the baby-faced assassin and while there is still plenty of time to put things right, the defeat couldn’t have come at a worse time or against a worse opponent.
The win fires Arsenal into the top four at United’s expense and with Solskjaer’s side still having games against Manchester City and Chelsea, as well as Wolverhampton Wanderers and Everton away, to come, many will now be throwing their money at the Gunners to secure a first Champions League-placed finish for three years.