Arsenal didn’t go to Old Trafford to play a football match, they went to fight a war. Jose Mourinho had no other way to compete. He’s built a £350m Stoke, a bland execution of hard pressing blended with brazen thuggery. This time though, we were their equal. For every clipped set of heels, we had a shoulder barge. For every elbow, we had a crunched shin. The game wasn’t high on technical wonderment, it was more a brutal showcase of the darker side of the English game. Though it has to be said, United made over 120 more passes than Spurs did at the weekend, and Arsenal roughly the same amount.
Though it was enjoyable to watch us go toe-to-toe, in the end, we walked away with the feeling that we fucked a great opportunity. That was two points lost. Familiar shabby defending and some not-so-familiar missed chances cost us in a game that finished a 2-2 draw.
Arsenal shouldn’t be conceding leads as quickly as we have been. We went 1-0 up from a corner. Mustafi managed to break free from a penalty box tangle and powered a strong header into the slick grass, De Gea fumbled the catch and Herrera on the line volleyed the clearance instead of heading it away, allowing the ball to creep half a yard deeper past the goal line. The ref looked at his wrist and saw that tech had decided the goal would stand. You have to say, Mustafi is an absolute menace from corners.
In a re-run of the weekend game against Spurs, 4 minutes later, we conceded. This time, from a freekick. Rojo surprised everyone and clipped a shot across Leno, the German pushed the ball wide, but he didn’t put it behind the goal. Herrera pounced on the second ball (was offside as well), the cross made its way through a huddle of aqua blue shirts, finding Martial who smashed the ball in from close range.
It was the same story in the second half after Emery introduced Mikhi and Lacazette. The Frenchman timed a great run into the box, he struck his shot into two United defenders and the ball somehow slinked past De Gea. Then, immediately from the restart, we struggled with a long ball, Sokratis misjudging the flight, Kolasinac and Leno were caught in no man’s land allowing Lingaard to zip in and take United level again.
The game turned into a slugfest as both sets of players tired. It was brutal. Violent tackle after violent tackle. I have no idea how Torreira survived, he was crunched over and over again, but never gave up. We had the better of the chances. Auba was denied by De Gea’s dropped leg when he struck from a Kola cut back. Lacazette headed the ball out of De Gea’s hand and struck into the empty net, I thought that was legal, but the ref didn’t. Then there was a moment right at the end when Mikhi came from an offside position to volley in from an impossibly tight angle.
It wasn’t to be. United will be feeling luckier than us today, but the 20 game unbeaten run goes on and we can say that we preserve the progress momentum heading into the Huddersfield game this weekend.
Iwobi: I think I was bang on when I called out his recent performances. He had a really poor game after being subbed at half time versus Spurs. His close control is Hleb like, but his overall decision making isn’t decisive enough and when it is, it isn’t often right. 72% pass completion isn’t great in a massive game at United.
Guendouzi: He stepped in for Xhaka at Old Trafford. I feel like he’s being judged through a 26 year old international lens when he’s a teenager. Though his start was shaky, he really grew into the game. He doesn’t ever give up, he’s always looking for the ball and he can drive forward with clever dribbles, or quick short passes. He delivered an incredible 87% pass completion rate (25 of his of his 65 successful passes made in the final third, 10 more than anyone else). He also made 7 ball recoveries. Just think about that. I was really impressed. Once his nerves subsided, he really made an impact on the game. Fellaini pulling his hair was the height of embarrassing… interesting that MG was also the most fouled (6). United clearly targeting the new boy.
Torreira: A mini man mountain. He is everything you want at the heart of your team. He’s focused, never complains and he’ll go to war with anyone. Each game he grows. To play next to a teenager and still look excellent is quite the achievement (90% pass completion / 10 ball recoveries). My worry is he’s playing all the games and we don’t really have anyone else in the squad to fill in for what he does. He’s integral to our mentality, maybe AMN could step in when he needs a rest? I ADORE this guy.
Leno: You have to call it out, he’s made two errors in two games. I think he could have done better with that free kick. The strike was surprising, but not fierce enough not to put it behind the goal. All players make mistakes, let’s hope missteps in big games isn’t a thing
Holding: Absolutely gutted Rob Baresi picked up an injury because if it’s a nasty one, we don’t have Kos now because he’s broken again. Not an ideal time to lose your best passer out of the back.
Kola: He’s a chance making machine. Absolutely devastating down the left. He created some fantastic chances this evening that should have counted towards goals. His defensive side needs some work, but his power and pace driving into the oppositions box has proved deadly when he’s played. He created three chances yesterday, 5 against Spurs. That’s not bad for a wing back.
Laca/Auba: I love these two. Auba was dying by the end of the game, but it’s great to know you’re always in the game with them on the pitch. I love them both. I’m especially enjoying the more creative side of Auba coming through. He’s starting to show he’s more than just a goalscorer. His pressing from the front was really solid. Lacazette is another warrior. What he delivers with his pressing is underrated. He’s also more attuned to the rough and tumble of the league this year. How he managed to score from two players swamping him is something else.
Mikhi: He started poorly, but I thought he grew into the game and had some excellent moments. With the real Mesut Ozil MIA at the minute, we need an experienced creative in the team. If he can give us Dortmund Mikhi, we’re in good shape. I feel like there’s some form in there somewhere, hopefully, Emery and the coaches can release him.
Warrior Mentality: It was interesting to hear Emery talk about how he was a coward of a player and he doesn’t allow it in his players. The team is motivated, they relish the fight and we are not to be fucked with. I think we’ve seen a lot of evidence that suggests the signings of Papa, Torreira and Lichtsteiner have been very smart. They are brawlers. They bring out the nasty in everyone. You want to go to war with those guys on your team.
We might not have the best squad in the league, but with smart preparation, fighting spirit and a lot of belief… there’s no reason we can’t secure top 4.
Onwards and upwards. What a fucking joy it is to love football again.