Arsenal vs Manchester United
The final Premier League game of the day on Wednesday saw Arsenal and Manchester United facing off.
This fixture once showcased the pinnacle of Premier League football, pitting two of England’s top clubs against each other, with Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger squaring off in the dugouts.
However, both clubs’ stature has declined a fair bit in recent times.
Arsenal would begin the game week’s action sat all the way down in 12th place in the English top-flight, 11 points off a Champions League spot.
The Gunners had also won just one of their last 15 outings across all competitions before kicking off at the Emirates.
New boss Mikel Arteta, meanwhile, was still searching for his first win as Arsenal manager, after drawing vs Bournemouth and losing to Chelsea in his first two ties.
As for Manchester United, they entered the clash 5th in the English top-flight, and four points off a Champions League spot.
Man United’s starting eleven was fairly standard, but Paul Pogba was completely omitted from the matchday squad.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 1, 2020
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would confirm prior to kick-off at the Emirates that the Frenchman has an ankle issue.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 1, 2020
As for Arsenal, they made four changes from their defeat to Chelsea.
Four changes from Sunday
Sokratis, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Pepe
Chambers, Saka, Guendouzi, Nelson#ARSMUN
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) January 1, 2020
Man United started the tie on the front foot, with Marcus Rashford firing a shot at Bernd Leno with less than a minute played.
But it would be Arsenal who opened the scoring on Wednesday, as the ball fell to Nicolas Pepe in the United box, before the Ivorian scored just his second goal from open play this season to put Mikel Arteta’s side 1-0 up inside eight minutes.
Arsenal lead Man United!
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 1, 2020
That strike seemed to give Pepe a big confidence boost, with the tricky winger whipping in a good cross to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang moments later. But the Arsenal striker was unable to get his effort on target.
The first 20 minutes or so was largely positive from an Arsenal perspective, with their players’ work rates very high in the opening exchanges. Even Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were covering a lot of ground and tracking back.
The Gunners would have a similarly positive start in their last outing vs Chelsea.
However, unlike in the Chelsea game, Arsenal kept piling on the pressure, and probably should have had two or three by the half-hour mark.
Lacazette turned Harry Maguire in the box before scuffing his shot wide, and then Lucas Torreira placed an effort just wide of the goal moments later.
Pepe then smashed an effort off Man United’s post 38 minutes in.
The first 45 vs United was arguably Pepe’s best performance since his big-money move from France, and it was also arguably Arsenal’s best display for some time.
Arsenal’s dominance in the first 45 was once again rewarded just before the interval, as Sokratis fired the ball into the roof of the Man United net.
A poor Man United display
The first 10 or so minutes of the second-half didn’t see too much created by either side, with OGS clearly unhappy with how his side started after the interval. The Norwegian made a double change in the 57th minute.
The double sub had little impact, though, as United’s chances continued to be few and far between.
Arsenal’s second-half display was perhaps not as positive as the opening 45.
However, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that their overall display on the evening was superb.
The Arteta effect
Mikel Arteta’s impact looked to have been felt somewhat vs Chelsea, but this win over United felt like a key moment for the Spaniard at Arsenal.
The Gunners played the tie with an intensity not seen at the Emirates for some time now.
Even Arsenal’s defending, which is normally somewhat questionable, was actually largely positive vs United.
Arteta also looks to be getting a lot more out of both Mesut Ozil and Pepe, with the latter playing a pivotal role in Wednesday’s victory.
Sead Kolasinac also put in a solid shift before being withdrawn in the 69th minute. The marauding full-back caused the Red Devils all sorts of problems down the left-hand side, and linked up well with Aubameyang.
Granted, Arsenal are by no means the finished article, but this victory feels like a huge step in the right direction.
Arsenal’s new-found intensity under Arteta did appear to have a bit of a negative impact towards the end of the tie, though, as a Gunners side probably not quite fit enough to play how the Spaniard wants to for 90 minutes began to look slightly fatigued.
But that issue should resolve itself in the coming weeks, as Arsenal’s fitness levels improve.