Arsenal’s 4-3 win over Manchester United on the weekend showed why having a top footballer is vital in soccer. Over recent seasons, teams have been able to turn into nothing without their key players and it will be interesting to see if this trend continues throughout the Premier League season.
Arsenal’s wild win vs. Man United showed why top clubs are able to compete with the big boys in Europe. They were able to create enough chances and score goals at a high rate, while still being defensively sound and solid.
LONDON, United Kingdom — Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta called Champions League qualifying as a “game-changer” this week, and Saturday’s tumultuous 3-1 win over Manchester United highlighted why the teams battling for fourth place in the Premier League so sorely need it.
The fact that United still had a chance at a top-four finish before kick-off, despite Ralf Rangnick barely concealing his displeasure with the scale of the rebuild at Old Trafford ahead of incoming manager Erik ten Hag, is perhaps the biggest indictment of the flaws and inconsistencies in both the Gunners and Tottenham Hotspur.
The challenge of resurrecting United’s fortunes had been characterized as “open-heart surgery” by United’s temporary leader, but they hardly had a pulse for the opening few minutes here. Arsenal took the lead as David de Gea stopped a shot from Bukayo Saka, only for Nuno Tavares to bundle in the rebound.
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To be fair, United reacted well — considerably better than their pathetic midweek loss at Liverpool — and came near on many times, but if dropping Harry Maguire was intended to strengthen United’s defence, it backfired miserably.
After a second goal was first ruled out for offside, VAR correctly identified a foul in the area by Alex Telles in the build-up, Saka increased Arsenal’s advantage from the penalty spot on 32 minutes.
Cristiano Ronaldo reacted two minutes later with his 100th Premier League goal, a fine left-footed finish assisted by more dreadful Arsenal defense, this time from Gabriel, and the home side seemed to be unsettled. Aaron Ramsdale, the goalkeeper, smashed a clearance into the stands. The Emirates Stadium crowd erupted in laughter when Cedric Soares clipped another behind for a corner.
United were the superior team, with Ronaldo denied an equalizer by a close offside decision, and should have equalized when Bruno Fernandes missed a penalty in the 57th minute. However, the midfielder’s penalty attempt struck the outside of the post, and 13 minutes later, he threw the ball away, allowing Granit Xhaka to score the game-winning goal with a 25-yard strike. Eddie Nketiah seemed to have obstructed De Gea’s line of sight, but the Xhaka strike withstood a VAR assessment.
The fall from grace since these two teams were a duopoly at the top of the Premier League either side of the turn of the century has been well documented, but there were head-shaking reminders of the yawning gap that now exists between Liverpool and Manchester City in particular everywhere you looked here. So many facets of this game are unrecognisable from previous superpower tussles, such as Nuno Tavares’ placement, Telles’ defense, and Nemanja Matic still being part of United’s midfield in a game of this significance. Both teams can’t be depended on for consistency if they keep defending like this, but Arsenal moved into fourth place with back-to-back victories after three straight losses, ahead of Tottenham’s trip to Brentford later in the day.
“My conviction is that we will give it our best, that we will win football matches, but the margins will be razor-thin, and we must be extremely mindful of that,” Arteta said after the game. “In this league, winning and losing is characterized by tiny margins, and we have to take the game where we want to win in 95 minutes.”
The game was decided by Fernandes’ penalty miss. Ronaldo “thought he couldn’t handle it,” according to Rangnick, thus the duty was given to his Portugal teammate. However, Fernandes was so inefficient in open play that the worst thing he could have done was convert his penalty into a pass, sliding the ball against Ramsdale’s right-hand post.
Despite the fact that United has made few player commitments in their current state of flux, with Ten Hag on the way and Rangnick almost desperate to get away from this squad and upstairs so the cull can begin, they chose to give Fernandes an improved contract despite his previous contract expiring in 2025.
The penalty miss by Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes against Arsenal might be a turning point in the fight to qualify for the Champions League next season. Getty Images/Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside
If he wants to be the focal point of a new United team, the 27-year-old must improve his play efficiency. He spent more time berating referee Craig Pawson than conversing with his teammates, and he was lucky not to be sent off late in the game for a tackle on Tavares. Compare his performance to that of Saka, who continued his penalty comeback with a calmly executed penalty kick, or opposition captain Martin Odegaard, who completed the day with the local broadcaster’s Man of the Match award for another impactful performance.
United’s troubles, of course, go well beyond Fernandes, and they showed enough in attack to feel cheated, with Rangnick disputing many VAR rulings.
“In the first half, there was another handball incident [with Cedric] when Jadon Sancho was engaged,” he continued. “Cristiano’s second goal was not offside. In that whole view, you could see that they were all in one line. Their third goal was definitely offside; after the game, I talked with David de Gea, who stated he couldn’t see the ball because Nketiah was between him and Granit. They double-checked it, but for some reason, they awarded the goal.
“But, again, this is why we have a VAR, and you should expect the referee and the VAR to make the correct judgment in the end. We were at least unfortunate, but we still need to improve our box defense. We were at a higher level five or six weeks ago.”
Thinking about their previous levels does not reflect highly on any of these teams, although Arsenal is disguising their flaws better than others right now. And it may be enough to earn fourth place and a return to the Champions League, which would allow for much-needed reform to be accelerated.
The “manchester united standings” is a team that has been in the top since the beginning of the Premier League. Their win against Arsenal showed why they are still at the top.
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