On a rainy evening at Old Trafford, two starkly different halves were witnessed by the crowd in attendance. A half of mediocrity which held the glimmer of hope towards the end fizzled into the second-period quite well.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw with Scott McTominay’s superb late first-half slot being canceled out by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 58th-minute goal.
All in all, this was arguably the most lackluster Premier League clash between these two iconic sides and spells the grim reality of where they may be headed this season.
1. Selection Woes
It goes without saying that the game could have been altered starkly had the two gaffers deployed different starting lineups. For Unai Emery, the decision was an easy one.
Mesut Ozil could have been a lethal presence in the game, both creating and being fed balls by the pacey presence of Pepe and Saka. The absence of his role meant that Pepe, in particular, was left to just wasting shots.
As for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Marcus Rashford had no business starting this game as he was obviously not fit enough for the performance. There was a point wherein David De Gea had more accurate passes to his name than the striker.
Despite contributing to the opener and nearly netting the winner towards the end had Leno not saved the free-kick, Rashford as a striker is increasingly proving to be an abysmal mistake.
2. 14 goals in 14 games
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been a consistent beacon of hope for the Gunners. He has now been a consecutive goal-scorer for them and Unai Emery is indebted to his contributions as they have singlehandedly rescued points.
In the Old Trafford game, the fact that he was calm in his finish despite the offside flag being raised speaks volumes of his character as a striker.
Furthermore, situations like this wherein the referee and his assistants had made a massive blunder is why VAR is vital. The technology ensured Arsenal’s fair point was won in what would otherwise have been an ugly post-match analysis.
3. Solskjaer Could Have Done More
While there is no denying Arsenal’s spirit in bringing the game back, it is obvious that the Norwegian gaffer could have done so much more with his team.
The choice to start Rashford aside, Solskjaer seems to have forgotten the key facet of building his team around Paul Pogba in a no.10 role and how it gifted both him and Jose Mourinho ample success last season.
While injuries are a fair point of excuse, one does question the hesitancy to start Mason Greenwood and deploying Fred to free-up Pogba to fulfill the task that Jesse Lingard is immensely inadequate at.
Further, the late substitutions have been a textbook error that he has repeatedly made during his managerial tenure at Old Trafford and yet the crucial game ended with more late changes and a substitution to spare.
At this point, his tactical competence, or lack thereof, has to be seriously questioned.
4. McTominay Keeps Getting Better
The young midfielder has been heralded for his brilliance for weeks now. In multiple games, his performance has been overshadowed by United’s cumulative failures and his first Old Trafford goal was executed in superb fashion.
What has to be highlighted above and beyond all things is the manner in which he was able to slot the goal. The pass from Marcus Rashford wasn’t the best one to start with and yet the midfielder held it calmly and netted the ball in a manner wherein Leno could do next to nothing to stop it.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has his Michael Carrick replacement. Question is how well will he use him?
5. Pepe vs James
The encounter also saw an apt display of two very similar players and the eons of difference that populated their performances.
Daniel James was practically purchased for free when compared with Nicolas Pepe’s pricetag. Yet, the latter was a disappointment during the fixture. His first-half shots were embarrassing even for Emery and the absence of creative figure gave him little work to do.
The fact that he was subbed off speaks volumes.
In sharp contrast, James was his usual pacey presence throughout the game. On more than one occasion it was his electric penetration that powered United through and McTominay’s goal can be directly linked to his spirited half-pitch run.
Sure, he hasn’t scored since his initial flurry of goals. However, his pricetag doesn’t beg such a regular showing either while Pepe’s almost certainly does.