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Reasons to be Cheerful After An Absolutely Resolute Performance at Old Trafford

Manchester United vs Arsenal, Partey, Manchester United v Arsenal

The Gunners grabbed all three points from the United v Arsenal game after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a second-half penalty for the visitors. The Gabonese forward ended a run of five games without a goal as he sent De Gea the wrong way and put the Gunners ahead on 69 minutes. The game ended with a 0-1 scoreline.

United v Arsenal, Aubameyang goal
(Photo by PAUL ELLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Arsenal went to Manchester United in reasonably bad shape after a series of depressingly narrow losses in the Premier League. The Gunners haven’t won there since 2006 and at that point in time, Arsenal were going into a sharp decline.

Although the current versions of both teams are far removed from the classic sides of the Ferguson and Wenger era, there was still plenty at stake for two sides desperately trying to rekindle former glories. An empty Old Trafford is still an imposing venue, steeped in history and with a tangible air of grandeur that can only really be associated with a handful of stadiums in the world.

Much has been made of Solskjaer’s diamond formation and with 11 goals to their name in recent matches, United appeared to be narrow favourites. The battle of the novices (Arteta & Solskjaer) would provide evidence of which rookie manager had the right plan going forward and would also indicate how much work needs to be done this season.

United v Arsenal, Solskjaer, Arteta
COMPOSITE OF IMAGES- LEFT IMAGE (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) / RIGHT IMAGE(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

It appears that Ole Gunner Solskjaer, one of the nice guys in the domestic game, has more problems than he can solve in this campaign. He is, unfortunately, the beleaguered boss of a club with no plan B. There hasn’t been a plan in place since Ferguson left and this massive juggernaut of world football has been allowed to limp from one disaster to the next.

Sadly for Solskjaer, he manages an eclectic potpourri of talent, left behind by various regimes without any cohesion or fluency. £850m has managed to buy a team that can barely live on terms with Burnley, let alone Bayern Munich and it’s time the Glazers stopped fooling themselves that success is even remotely close.

From the peep of the first whistle, it was evident that the Gunners were fired up for the United v Arsenal contest because they pressed, harried, and chased United down, in a fashion that normally has them on the receiving end. The Gunners appeared to have either four or five players permanently over the halfway line, suffocating the life out of the hosts. We’ll discuss the individual performances in a moment, but let’s enjoy the fact that Arteta’s side dominated the United v Arsenal clash comprehensively.

The expectations were that Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba would annihilate Partey and whoever was alongside him, which was a major misjudgement, to say the least. Fernandes struggled to maintain rhythm and reference in the game, while Pogba frustratingly decided to become less than average.

Thomas Partey must have wondered what all the fuss was about because along with an extremely purposeful and meaningful performance from Mohamed Elneny, they owned the midfield. United could barely reach the halfway line for long periods and looked bemused by their inability to get through the middle or down the flanks.

There were as many towering performances by Arsenal players as there were disappointing ones from United. Holding, who hasn’t been entirely convincing since his injury last year, rolled up his sleeves, dug in, and put in a shift reminiscent of the FA Cup final 2017 where Diego Costa was firmly in his pocket.

Holding kept it simple and was composed throughout the United v Arsenal match, even though he must have been worried about lasting a full 90 minutes after an absence from the side due to a recent injury. You wouldn’t have thought he had been out of the side, such was his conviction and application.

Gabriel was colossal in the middle of the back three and seemed to be everywhere at once. He constantly showed a physical dominance that hasn’t been evident since Sol Campbell wore a Gunners shirt. Forget Vigil van Dijk, this was something very special, even if it was against a low budget United.

Arsenal need to be charged with theft for what they paid for this robust and intelligent 22-year-old. I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of Gabriel, Saliba, Mari, or Holding. This young man could and should be one of the first names on the team sheet after Aubameyang and Leno.

United v Arsenal, Thomas Partey
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Other performances worthy of note were Thomas Partey’s masterclass for his dominant display in the middle but the big surprise was the immaculate performance of Elneny. The Egyptian looked full of fight and endeavour, combining well with the attack and providing cover for defence. His distribution is improving and the addition of Thomas Partey has bought out the best in a player that I once referred to as a lost cause.

On the evidence of the performance in the United v Arsenal game, I can’t see Ceballos or Xhaka getting a game anytime soon, that’s how solid he was. His positional awareness was better than Xhaka’s by a country mile and he certainly drove the Gunners forward in attack.

He might not have the ability and range of Ozil, but I can’t recall the German offering a performance as complete as this when circumstances required a combination of tenacity and ambition. He combined beautifully with Partey who was technically the best player on the pitch.

The Ghanaian spent the 90 minutes pinching the ball, blocking the attack, and spraying passes into space. He looked comfortable on the ball and breezed forward past his United counterparts (Fernandez and Pogba) like they weren’t even there. His physical presence also meant United found it hard to get past the number 18 and between himself and Elneny, they sapped all the imagination from United’s feet.

There remains a creative void that certainly needs to be filled, but this pairing will certainly help Arsenal push for a Champions League slot and this win sees the Gunners just four points behind Liverpool and two behind a floundering Everton. I’d now be interested to see Ceballos in the mix as a number 10, orchestrating the attack, with Aubameyang in the central role but with a roaming remit.

Elsewhere, Saka was bright and busy and could have even got the winning goal with a header. Summer transfer Willian had a better game and at the point where I had just questioned his form on social media, he clanged the ball into the bar. That’s so football!

It was the Brazilian who was responsible for the penalty, with a beautiful little forward dink through to Bellerin in the area. Pogba’s feet couldn’t keep pace with the ball and he was tricked into offering a foot that clipped the heel of the flying Spaniard. With Aubameyang back on the score sheet, I came over all Grahamesque and could reference the classic “One-nil to the Arsenal”.


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Essentially, Arsenal richly deserved the win in the United v Arsenal fixture because of their commitment and desire, something we haven’t been able to say very often, but then, this side is morphing. In the end, the disappointments will make Arteta’s side stronger, the criticism will make them more determined and their togetherness will enable them to achieve success.

They are still, at least, two signings short and next season will see more change. Buckle up, it’s going to be a ride worth taking!

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The Highbury Flyer
Anti Kroenke , anti Gazidis but always a gooner. Still wishes he could watch from the stands at the Highbury library.

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