Arsenal moved back into the top four at the expense of Manchester United after a thrilling end to end game at the Emirates on Sunday.
Arsenal started with all four of Ozil, Ramsey, Lacazette and Aubameyang; although given Ozil and Aubameyang’s usual indifference to big games they were reliant on hardworking and diligent displays from Ramsey and Lacazette going forward and to some smart stops from Leno.
Arsenal took the lead in the twelfth minute as Xhaka struck a swirling drive that wrong-footed De Gea and went in the centre of the goal. Arsenal extended the lead on 69 minutes as Aubameyang struck a soft penalty into the centre of the goal and in truth, De Gea should have done better on both goals and maybe the contract discussions are proving more of a distraction than both club and player are letting on.
In between Arsenal’s goals, Manchester United were the better side and wasted a flurry of chances on the break as the midfield was an empty mess in a thrilling encounter.
Lukaku should have already put United ahead at nil-nil but managed to hit the bar from close range after good work from Luke Shaw, then Fred hit the post from a placed effort from the edge of the area – Lukaku was also thwarted by two smart saves from Leno. Whilst United had more of the ball too often their choice of pass in the final third was poor and not decisive enough, and with Rashford and especially Pogba hugely out of sorts Arsenal were able to ride the storm thanks mainly to goalkeeper Leno and a superb display from Koscielny.
There remained time for a worrying and disgraceful incident in which Chris Smalling was confronted by a pitch invader and on a day where Jack Grealish was attacked on the pitch, it was another reminder to clubs and security staff not to be complacent on their management of fans.
Both teams will move on to cup games now with Arsenal needing to turn around a first-leg deficit to Rennes in the Europa League and United concentrating on the Champions League draw and FA Cup against Wolves next weekend. If Sunday is anything to go by though both will fancy their chances of finishing above Spurs and Chelsea and finishing in the top four.
Lukaku the enigma
The Belgian frontman has had a patchy season with early season goals leading to a long dry patch that straddled the end of Jose Mourinho’s time at the club and the start of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s. However, the last week saw Lukaku burst into form with vital braces against Crystal Palace, Southampton and Paris St Germain. The run of six goals in a week was a timely reminder of Lukaku’s ability – 113 Premier League goals and Belgium’s record scorer are staggering numbers for a 25-year-old.
And yet, on Sunday Lukaku made those figures seem as if they were a mistake in the record books. Too often his first touch was heavy, and when it wasn’t he wanted four seconds when there was only two. Most disappointing of all were the missed chances; at nil-nil Lukaku sidefooted a shot in the six-yard box into the floor and up on to the bar. He later rounded the keeper but couldn’t find a finish or a pass as another chance went begging.
This profligacy was punished by Arsenal’s second and leaves Lukaku with one league goal against the top six in 17 games since joining Manchester United. Whilst his goalscoring record and leadership skills aren’t in question Manchester United can’t be league champions until Lukaku irons out his inconsistency and starts imposing himself in the biggest games.
Jon Moss a lightning rod for unfair criticism
It has not been an easy week for referees and the rule makers with high profile VAR, handball and offside controversies. Jon Moss attracted plenty of criticism again on Sunday even though his performance was fairly standard.
Moss managed the game in a manner reminiscent of liberal parents who trust their child to do the right thing and not pull them up on everything. Largely it worked and an end to end game was allowed to flourish. The major decision of the penalty was soft but a correct decision given Fred was nowhere near the ball and he impeded Lacazette.
Given the vague nature of a lot of football’s laws, the increasing speed of the game and the skullduggery of some players, isn’t it time we accepted the odd incorrect decision by referees and stopped debating the nuances of every possible decision?
Emery influence slowly starting to show
It has been a slow burn of a season for Emery and in truth, it still feels he doesn’t know his best eleven or formation. However, what has changed is Arsenal’s ability to dig in in big games and get results.
Arsenal were second best for large periods on Sunday but were controlled and comfortable enough with their defensive shape and breaking out when the could. They didn’t panic even when Manchester United constantly broke through either side of half time.
The win means Arsenal have now followed an opening day home loss to Manchester City with home wins against Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United and a draw with Liverpool. They have also gained away points against Spurs and Manchester United.
Emery was handed a mismatch of a squad and issues with Ozil and Ramsey so deserves time to sort out his best eleven but deserves credit for implementing some steel into a soft Arsenal mentality.
Is Lacazette better than Aubameyang?
Aubameyang is often described as Arsenal’s number one striker with Lacazette the Robin to his Batman. Sunday again showed how these roles might need reversing, Aubameyang was again non-existent in a big game and only his penalty goal meant his presence was noticed.
Lacazette was immense. His clever movement, linking to the midfield and bullying of the in-form Lindelof led to the assist for Xhaka’s goal and winning the penalty that sealed Arsenal’s win.
There was also a lovely, telling moment prior to the penalty where without a hint of ego or demanding to take it Lacazette gave Aubameyang a pep talk to inspire him after last weeks crucial miss.
If Aubameyang is the more famous striker – the Liam Gallagher, Morrissey figure, surely it’s time we acknowledge that Lacazette is Noel Gallagher or Johnny Marr, the more talented individual who provides a platform to let the frontman shine.
Ole Gunnar Southgate
The caretaker manager lost his first league game to end a record-breaking start but will feel unfortunate to do so. Even with this defeat, Solskjaer will feel Manchester United are still right in the mix for fourth given Tottenham and Chelsea’s increasing troubles. With a Champions League draw and FA Cup quarter-final to look forward to next weekend the season still looks bright for United and their manager.
Solskjaer has instilled a belief and swagger that was evident even in defeat, the players have clearly bought into him and like England caretaker manager Gareth Southgate, Solskjaer has identified and tapped into exactly what the group of players and club needs and this ability has more than compensated for any perceived weaknesses in CV. Surely the only question now is when do United announce him as full-time manager?