Toothless United underwhelm against an Arsenal side ripe for the taking
On Saturday evening, the stage was perfectly set for a statement bounce-back from the horrors of midweek. Victories over Arsenal have always proved sweet, and with Mikel Arteta forced to sideline Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kieran Tierney, the odds were in United’s favour.
Upon kick-off, the effects of midweek showed. Arsenal seized the early initiative and fashioned a more accomplished midfield showing, outplaying the duo of Fred and Scott McTominay. While the defence beyond United’s midfield proved equal to this early challenge, McTominay seemed to be in visible discomfort and lacked his usual authority.
The team around the towering Scot soon found their footing. United fought back, and would have taken an early lead had Bernd Leno not tipped Fred’s sumptuous effort round the post.
Nicolas Pepe had a chance of his own for the hosts, though his inaccuracy represented the only clear-cut chance Arsenal fashioned for themselves in the first half. United accelerated towards the first whistle, and pushed forward even harder when McTominay was eventually substituted for Anthony Martial.
Bruno Fernandes had the pick of the chances, played through by Paul Pogba only to curl his effort marginally wide. The underlying sense that United’s attack was missing a gear grew, as few would have bet against Fernandes missing the target from such an angle.
Half-time: Arsenal 0 – 0 Manchester United
The second half began with a much-needed increase in pace from both sides, though United felt the urgency more in the knowledge that they needed a win far more than the hosts.
The urgency translated into more chances, but with the chances came nerves. Marcus Rashford was found unmarked only yards away from the far post, but attempted to work his way through a busy penalty area rather than sneak an effort past Leno.
Rashford’s decision bore some fruit however as Fernandes resultantly won a free kick in a dangerous area, though his subsequent effort was well met by David Luiz in the Arsenal wall.
The Gunners pushed back and squeezed off shots of their own. The pairing of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire both produced world-class blocks to repel the best of them, and again United surged forward.
Edinson Cavani, bereft of chances for much of the game, could only steer Luke Shaw’s driven cross wide of the post, before United had to give thanks for their own goalpost when Alexandre Lacazette thundered a free kick straight off it.
With the minutes ticking down, United produced their best chance of the game. Wan-Bissaka teased a cross in towards both Cavani and Martial, and though Martial may well have had the easier chance it was the Uruguayan who acrobatically met the ball. Leno froze, rooted to the spot as the shot rolled harmlessly wide of his post.
The final whistle beckoned, and with it a poor week for Manchester United drew to a close. One point from a possible six, and in neither game could United feel cheated.
This had been a golden chance to shrug off an upset and kick-on with style. Now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to turn his eyes away from Manchester City, and down to the teams below.
Full time: Arsenal 0 – 0 Manchester United
Man of the Match: Aaron Wan-Bissaka