It was a case of last-minute heartbreak for Manchester United with Eddie Nketiah bagging a late winner at the Emirates on Sunday evening in an enthralling encounter that Arsenal won 3-2.
The talk before the game was centred around how two giants of English football were relishing in their respective resurgences this season under Erik ten Hag and Mikel Arteta, and the football match on show certainly did not disappoint; it was a tightly contested game reminiscent of the clashes that the two teams would play out in their meetings of yesteryear.Embed from Getty Images
Marcus Rashford gave his side an unforeseen lead in the 17th minute when he brushed aside Thomas Partey before unleashing a lethal effort into the bottom corner from distance to silence a roaring home crowd. The forward made it nine goals in nine appearances since the restart of club football, which is the most of any player in the five major European leagues.
The Gunners soon hit back through Nketiah, however, who caught Aaron Wan-Bissaka snoozing on the back post and latched onto Granit Xhaka’s cross to head home from close range just seven minutes later.Embed from Getty Images
It was Arsenal’s turn to take the lead inside just eight minutes of the second half when Christian Eriksen allowed Bukayo Saka the space to unleash a perfectly placed effort into the bottom corner on his left foot.
Supporters have become accustomed to watching United crumble under pressure when they have gone behind in recent seasons, but the spirit instilled by Ten Hag showed when Lisandro Martinez scored his first goal for The Red Devils to equalise for his team. Aaron Ramsdale made a hash of Eriksen’s corner, which allowed Martinez to perform a diving header where the ball took an age to float up and over and loop into the net.Embed from Getty Images
There were passionate and jubilant celebrations in the 59th minute from the Argentine defender, nothing short of what fans would expect from ‘The Butcher’.
The visitors failed to flatter from an attacking perspective for the remainder of the contest, with the hosts fighting for a winner deep in United’s half, spurred on by a vibrant crowd. It looked like the spoils were to be shared and that the United resilience had paid off before Nketiah flicked the ball into the net from close range after a scrappy sequence of play to send Arteta and the Arsenal fans into absolute carnage.Embed from Getty Images
From an United standpoint, it was very painful for the men in white to take. From an Arsenal standpoint, it is goals like that which can win you a league title…
Final Score: Arsenal 3-2 Manchester United (Nketiah 24’ 90’, Saka 53’) (Rashford 17’, Martinez 59’)
Man of the matchEmbed from Getty Images
Martinez was superb for his side on Sunday evening alongside Raphael Varane and the 25-year-old edges his centre-back partner to the Man of the Match award through his goal in the eyes of many supporters.
Sadly, it was a performance that did not deserve to be on the losing side. The Argentina international was faultless throughout the game despite conceding three goals.
He was typically aggressive in duels, tactically astute in his reading of the opposition attack, and even an unlikely attacking threat with his levelling header just before the hour mark where he scored his first United goal.
The word ‘passionate’ gets thrown around like a cliché in football fandom, but to see Martinez acting with such a trait is simply refreshing to see having had such bad characters at the club since the departure of the great Sir Alex Ferguson. His celebration for his first goal brought a proud smile to millions of Reds fans across the globe. To have a figurehead of the team to invest in is such a big positive, in spite of the defeat.
The bigger pictureEmbed from Getty Images
Devastation does not even begin to cut it for fans who watched their side graft until the very end at the Emirates Stadium. If Casemiro played that game, United would have likely got a result and not been as under pressure. Simple as that.
Of course, though, it was not a flawless showing in any stretch of the imagination. There are evident issues at hand, such as the clear drop off after an hour in games at the moment (probably fatigue related) and Rashford being the only attacking outlet to make things happen of late, with Antony looking off the pace.
The lack of chances being created for Wout Weghorst up front is concerning, with the Dutchman yet to really be given a goalscoring opportunity in his first two games. The shortage of quality on the bench is frightening; beyond central midfielder Fred and youngster Alejandro Garnacho, Ten Hag has no attacking substitutes to trust in as Facundo Pellestri and Anthony Elanga are currently out of favour, seemingly.Embed from Getty Images
Picking up on the fatigue issue, this will only worsen if Ten Hag is not given signings to add to the squad and allow him to rotate the personnel. Jadon Sancho and Anthony Martial will be welcomed back with open arms, but the former is the great unknown at the moment and the latter is yet to complete ninety minutes this campaign.
It is a game every three or four days until the end of the season at this rate. It is simply unsustainable given the current squad, and bumps in the road will happen. Signings are essential, but will they happen? Fans and pundits reluctantly know the answer.
The loss should not derail the general mood around United, though. The progress made this season is astounding given that- last year- supporters watched the worst-ever Man United side in the Premier League. Ten Hag is working wonders having instilled a discipline, vision and spirited mentality into his players.
The Reds were getting thumped 4-0 every other week last season. United went toe to toe with the league leaders away from home for sustained periods of the game on Sunday and just, just missed out on a deserved point. Not to mention the victories over Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal already, and we are just halfway through the campaign. The trophy drought should soon be ended. There is a lot of good happening around the club and fans should not be derailed by any negative social media sensationalism.
The result leaves United 4th, level on 39 points with 3rd place Newcastle, six behind Man City in 2nd, but six ahead of Spurs in 5th.
What’s next?Embed from Getty Images
Next up for Ten Hag and United is Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup semi-finals. The first leg will take place at the City Ground on Wednesday 25th January at 20:00 (BST), with the second leg at Old Trafford one week later with the same time kick-off.
Wedged in between that is another cup clash, with United taking on Reading at home on Saturday 28th January at 20:00 (BST) in the FA Cup fourth round.