Rarely have Charles Darwin and David De Gea been mentioned in the same sentence. Perhaps never.
Yet the Spaniard’s performance against Arsenal was so spectacular that it optimised the transformation of a skinny teenager arriving at the gates of Carrington in 2011, to undoubtedly the world’s best shot-stopper.
Darwin’s memorable quote: ‘It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change’, is, in essence, a metaphor for De Gea’s Manchester United career.
Early mistakes, from poise in the box to positioning, were seen as motivational tools rather than excuses. De Gea always had the agility and stamina to match the creme de la creme of the goalkeeping hemisphere but lacked the strength and confidence against the consistent power and intensity of the Premier League.
To commit £17 million to a teenager was a brave call, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to buy the Spaniard was a no-brainer for United, having missed a League Cup game against Scunthorpe to travel to Spain to scout him.
His 14 saves against The Gunners was the joint most in league history, alongside Tim Krul and Vito Mannone, but it was the style and timing of them which caught the eye.
Going into the match Arsenal had won their previous 12 home games and even though United took a 2-0 lead through Antonio Valencia and Jesse Lingard, Arsene Wenger’s front three battered and bruised the United rear-guard but could not find a breakthrough.
De Gea’s reflex saves from Hector Bellerin and Alexandre Lacazette were routine, but it was his reaction time just before the break that stunned everyone in the stadium and watching at home, clawing the ball from behind after it had taken an awkward deflection off Lukaku.
With United under the cosh, it was no surprise to see Arsenal pull a goal back, and just before the hour mark, an equaliser seemed inevitable.
Or so we thought. With the noise of the stadium increasing minute by minute it was down to De Gea once again to prevent an explosive eruption of jubilation, grasping at a Lacazette shot and then subsequently preventing Alexis Sanchez tapping in the rebound with his leg.
It was one of the saves which proved so crucial because the timing was integral to the outcome of the match. If Arsenal had scored then the momentum that they had built could have taken them to victory, but instead, The Gunners found themselves 3-1 down within 15 minutes, hit with a sucker punch on the counter.
If one save could sum up De Gea it would’ve been that, but what’s so impressing is the Spaniard’s concentration and ability to read the game. Undoubtedly a master of his trade.