With both Arsenal and United desperately seeking to draw positivity from their respective seasons by clinching the last UCL spot in the Premier League. This clash between the Gunners and the Red Devils could not have been any more important.
The English giant’s kick-off at the Emirates Stadium for a mouth-watering clash. Before the ball was kicked, the fans and players in the stadium held minute-long applause for former Arsenal scout Steve Rowley, who passed away at the age of 63.
Early Lead by Arsenal
While the game was touted to be intense and thrilling from the go, nobody could have probably predicted a goal in the first 5 minutes, and that is exactly what the Gunners came up with. Starting strongly against a United side that had captain Harry Maguire on the bench, the North Londoners quickly advanced up the pitch, with Swiss Granit Xhaka smashing a cross that beat both, Raphael Varane, and his left-back compatriot Alex Telles, with the ball falling at the feet of Hale End, graduate Bukayo Saka. Saka was quick to capitalize on United’s defensive gaffe, and the 20-year-old Englishman blasted a left-footed shot towards the United goal.
While goalkeeper David De Gea was quick off his line in parrying the oncoming shot, the best he could do was divert it towards a ready Nuno Tavares, with the young Portuguese defender happily pouncing on the opportunity to send the ball into the back of the net. Tavares, who endured an average performance in the 6-goal thriller against neighbors Chelsea, was overjoyed to have drawn first blood in the game, and from then on, Arsenal looked unstoppable for quite some time.
Tavares, however, briefly went from hero to villain when he seemed to have fouled youngster Anthony Elanga in the Arsenal box. VAR was summoned, and Australian assistant referee Jarred Gillett ruled in favor of Arsenal. Later on in the game, Arsenal also seemed to have had a brief embrace with luck, when the United players claimed Cedric Soares had handled the ball inside the box. However, these appeals were shot down based on the fact that the Portuguese defender was falling to the ground, and his arms were in a natural position.
Penalty for Arsenal
While United kept digging at Arsenal’s defense, the North Londoners eventually managed to break out and aim their sights at the United goal once again. Bukayo Saka played a pass to fellow-Englishman Eddie Nketiah, who took his time and scored a brilliant goal. However, the goal was met with controversy, as Nketiah was apparently off-side. However, the tide did not seem to turn in United’s favor, as Saka was deemed to have been fouled by Portuguese defender Alex Telles in the box in the buildup to the goal. And while Nketiah’s goal was ruled out for offside, Arsenal was given a penalty because of the infringement, and Saka calmly slotted home against David de Gea.
United Reply via Cristiano Ronaldo
However, the Gunners’ style of playing from the back soon got the better of them, and United began to attack with a little more intent. Sure enough, their persistence paid off, when Cristiano Ronaldo finished a Diogo Dalot cross by scoring past a hapless Aaron Ramsdale, with Nuno Tavares caught off his guard. The goal was symbolic for the 37-year-old Portuguese, who had tragically lost his newborn son a few days before the fixture, and whose presence in the starting eleven had raised a few eyebrows.
With the Gunners 2-1 up, they managed to evade any further attacks from the Red Devils all the way until the end of the first half. By now, however, United was beginning to turn up the heat, with Anthony Elanga and Ronaldo linking up well, and new star-signing Jadon Sancho showing brief spells of talent on the wing. The half eventually came to an end, and despite an extra 4 minutes of time, United was unable to level the scores.
Second Half & United Penalty Miss
As the second half began, Manchester United began to put more pressure on Arsenal. They seemed to be more invigorating in attack, and they clearly displayed their intent with a stronger, more determined press on Arsenal’s players. Their resilience soon worked off, as United were handed a penalty thanks to a handball by you guessed it-Nuno Tavares himself. Captain Bruno Fernandes stepped in to take the resultant spot-kick, and after a slow runup, the Portuguese saw his penalty hit the left post and then head outside the field of play. The Red Devils seemingly threw the very lifeline they needed, and fingers were pointed at why Ronaldo was not given penalty duty.
Despite the miss, the Red Devils managed to maintain control of the game, and Ronaldo soon scored an impressive first-touch goal past Aaron Ramsdale. The goal, however, was a clear offside and was not met with any protest by the United players. A few minutes later, Ronaldo linked up with Diogo Dalot, the Italian then seeing his shot palmed onto the post by goalkeeper Ramsdale.
Arsenal Score Again
In the minutes that passed by, Arsenal once again seemed to focus on scoring the third goal, and they did so by constantly mounting pressure on United’s fragile backline. During this period of play, the Gunners were rewarded when Granit Xhaka found himself perfectly placed outside the box. As he has so often done, the Swiss international attempted an ambitious long-range effort. He sent the ball flying into the net past a beleaguered De Gea, with the Emirates bursting into celebrations. It was a special moment for Xhaka, the scarring memories of his angry outburst from 2020 still fresh in his mind.
Now 3-1 up, Arsenal seemed to be firmly in control of their quest for Champions League football, and they managed to see off the game until the end, despite the introductions of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford by Ralf Rangnick. Japanese defender Takehiro Tomiyasu also made a brief return to the Emirates, having been out since January 2022. The Gunners eventually cruised to a 3-1 victory at the Emirates, with the gap to United now extending to 6 points. As things stand, the North London reds will sit at 4th place, unless Tottenham clinches 3 points from their fixture with Brentford.
Full Time & Conclusion
United played with a lack of drive, passion, and chemistry, with only a few standout performances. These included the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Anthony Elanga. Bruno Fernandes seemed absent for most of the game, and Raphael Varane was not too impressive either. For Arsenal, on the other hand, the story was much rosier. Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, Ben White, and Mohammed Elneny all seemed to put their best foot forward in what was a must-win fixture. Nuno Tavares was average, and the young fullback will certainly need more time and better coaching to reach his full potential.
All in all, this result tightens the race for UCL football between rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. It remains to be seen which of these two clubs will push hardest to acquire the coveted Champions League badge on the sleeves of their shirts next season.
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