Sunday, March 3, 2024

Arsenal 3-1 Man Utd: Late drama and three huge points

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For the second season running Arsenal beat Man Utd at home thanks to a late, late goal. Last season it was Eddie Nketiah, this time it was Declan Rice – followed by some Gabriel Jesus icing on the cake. A cake which made my heart rate go so high my Garmin watch buzzed a warning at me. Seriously.

That it came not long after United had had a goal disallowed for the tightest offside you will ever see made it all the more enjoyable. They thought they’d won it, then we broke their hearts into tiny little pieces. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Well, I suppose you could have asked Bukayo Saka to finish that chance late in the game which probably would have won it for us without such late drama. You could have asked for a bit more from our performance, but football is such a crazy game that you can ask for one thing, and get something you just don’t expect. Although late goals at the Emirates are now becoming something of a feature for this time, and this time – thankfully – we didn’t do the early concession thing, which was nice.

The team looked pretty much like I thought it would. Gabriel came back in, Zinchenko was there too, and Eddie started up top. It was a bit tentative at first, but Kai Havertz had a great chance when the ball broke to him in the box but whiffed at his shot and United got it away. He really should have done better. United seemed content to play it around in their own half, with Andre Onana ending up with more touches of the ball than Antony, but we were happy enough to let them do that too. I would have liked, perhaps, a little more from us when they had that sterile possession.

Again like last season, Marcus Rashford put United ahead. We lost the ball high up the pitch, they got it forward quickly, and I do think Ben White and William Saliba might have been a bit better defensively. Still, it was a hell of a hit, Ramsdale got fingertips to it, but couldn’t keep it out.

If not exactly against the run of play, it was the first time United looked in any way threatening, but our response was immediate. Lovely interplay down the left, and some one touch passing saw Eddie feed the lively Gabriel Martinelli whose pull back was swept home by Martin Odegaard. Just 35 seconds after they went ahead, we got level. And then we let United have the ball a lot, almost 60% possession until half-time.

They had some moments in the second half, Ramsdale saved from Martial, White and Saliba made important blocks, then on the hour mark we were awarded a penalty when Havertz drove into the box and went down. There was contact, which is why I was surprised it was overturned – I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like that reversed before, but there you go. I remember seeing David Luiz sent off for us for less contact than this. Havertz was sandwiched between two United players, and I think they got a bit fortunate.

I enjoyed Lisandro Martinez clattering into Eddie and getting booked, but also injuring himself in the process. Football’s answer to Scrappy-Doo had to go off and he was replaced by Harry Maguire. Martinelli shot just wide from a good corner routine, Vieira and Jesus came on, and we had that opportunity for Saka on 81 minutes. He didn’t make good contact, but that was exactly the kind of routine you know they’ve worked on in training countless times, and he’s good enough to have applied the finish.

The chance for Garnacho, which was ruled out for offside, came when Jesus was tackled from behind, something I thought was not allowed these days, but hey. I suppose in that sense justice prevailed as Gabriel leaned back and the United man was caught just the wrong side of the lines.

And while we all have our issues with VAR and its implementation, perhaps the least controversial element of it is offside. Sometimes it feels harsh, but it’s a black or white thing. It is or it isn’t, so Erik ten Hag’s post-game bleating about that in particular seemed really weird to me. I know he was probably deflecting a little bit, but they benefitted when the penalty was overturned so he should probably just stay quiet on this one.

The board showed 8 minutes of injury time when it went up, and we were into the 6th minute of it when Odegaard’s shot deflected out for a corner. Saka took it, aimed it to the back post, and Declan Rice swivelled and shot, the ball taking a deflection on its way beyond Onana. United wanted a foul on Jonny Evans, but that’s nonsense. The reality is, if you bring on Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans, you get what you deserve. That would be like us complaining we didn’t defend well with a centre-half partnership of Mustafi and Steve Bould.

What a moment for Rice to score his first Arsenal goal. It was interesting to hear him talk on Sky about how, when he was younger, he might have tried to lay that ball off instead, but he took the responsibility, and executed it really well. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned a great deal is that it was technically quite difficult to pull off, but he cracked it perfectly and in it went. Delirium.

As I mentioned, the Gabriel Jesus goal was icing on the cake. Vieira’s through ball as we broke was perfect, and the way he sat down the defender then rolled by the ball home was quality and calmness personified. It was quite fitting he scored as I think he had a really impressive cameo when he came on. 3-1. Game over. Three points. And three very important points too because of how Man City have started the season.

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:

We all worked so hard and plan everything to live moments like this. Those moments are going to stick with us. To see the crowd so connected with the team again and celebrate in a big match like today with the history of this clash is something great, so very happy.

And on the performance:

We’ve played four games, we deserved to win four games, it could’ve be very different but the margins that we are arriving at the late stages of the game doesn’t reflect what the team has done before. There are things that are still in our control that we can do better, and the team will try to progress and evolve in that direction to close games earlier and win them easier.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the balance between the euphoria you feel when you win a game like that, with cold light of day analysis of the performance. Where I am this morning is being delighted we won, obviously, but I also feel like we still haven’t really clicked as a team yet this season. However, the fact that we’ve taken 10 points from 12 while we’re in this phase where things aren’t quite as fluid as you would like feels like a positive to me. Some people might view it differently, that perhaps we’ve been a bit lucky, but in this league you have to be able to scrap out points when you’re not at your best. I think previous iterations of this team would have dropped points yesterday, whereas this version had the mentality to take all three.

Obviously there is room for improvement, and I hope we see that, but while we’re heading in that direction, getting into the habit of winning games is very important, and we seem capable of doing that (even if we did fluff our lines a bit against Fulham). So, overall – a good way to go into the Interlull. The fact we can seek to do better with those points on the table is a nice place to be.

Right, let’s leave it there. James and I will have an Arsecast Extra for you a little later on this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

For now, have a good one.

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