Where the hell do I start with this game. Predictions were all about the United away record against the top 6 and whether Arsenal could find a way round the United bus. As it turned out there was no bus but instead a huge wall by the name of David De Gea who was quite simply on a different planet.
The Watford result in Tuesday probably helped Mourinho make his decision on how to approach the game, a game in which a defeat would probably have meant an end to any hope of catching City. It was obvious he would once again set up with 3 at the back but further proof of how well he felt the team performed in midweek was that it was the same starting 11 as at Vicarage Road. Arsenal were on a good run of form and results, pushing themselves firmly into top 4 contention and seemingly finding a settled side in the process. The big team news was that both Nemanja Magic and Alexandre Lacazette were passed fit to start having both been highly doubtful.
The game got off to a flyer for Mourinho’s men, as United hit the front inside 5 minutes. A shocking pass from Laurent Koscielny was cut out by Antonio Valencia who played a neat one two with Paul Pogba before sliding the ball underneath Petr Cech. It was awful play from the Arsenal centre half and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game. Just over 5 minutes later United had doubled their lead in what was a dream start, once more Arsenal gave the ball away at the back, this time Shkodran Mustafi the culprit, allowing the impressive Jesse Lingard to nip in and toe the ball to Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian showed his power to go away from a challenge before a lovely reverse pass to Anthony Martial who was brilliant in rolling his marker and sublimely flicking the ball into the path of Lingard who easily slotted in from no more than 10 yards.
2 up inside 15 minutes was perfect for a side set up to counter attack, but Arsenal grew into the game and the game grew at times into something resembling a Sunday league fixture. Time after time the United box was filled with red and black shirts and goal month scrambles were a regular occurrence in the remaining half hour of the half. Lacazette came closest when springing onto a moment of pinball in the area, seemingly taken an age to get his shot away, which eventually bounced off the turf and hit the crossbar. De Gea made some more comfortable saves from Saed Kolasinac and Hector Bellerin but produced a fabulous stop from a Lukaku volley towards his own goal, under pressure from an Arsenal attacker. Somehow the Spaniard managed to claw the ball out from what looked an inevitable own goal. The half time whistle brought to an end to a ridiculously entertaining, frenetic but successful half of football.
Arsene Wenger changed his formation due to an injury to Mustafi following Lingard’s goal which I expected to draw a change from Mounrinho after the break. It didn’t come and just like United in the first half, Arsenal scored 4 minutes from kick off. A beautiful chip into the area from Alexis Sanchez picked out Aaron Ramsey who played the ball back to Lacazette in acres of space and he had no problem smashing the ball into the net. I’m not convinced Ramsey meant the touch but it brought Arsenal straight back into the game. The second half was not quite as frantic as the first but Arsenal continued to have the majority of the ball and the chances and United continued to sit off and look to hit on the break. Sadly for Arsenal, De Gea continued to display some super hero powers and keep his side in the lead. Lacazette once again was denied a goal when his turn and shot was brilliantly stopped low the Spaniard’s right and the follow up save from Sanchez was pure instinct but stopped a definite goal.
The United counter attacks had started to become few and far between until just after the hour mark, when Lukaku once again showed he is not just a goal scorer with a lovely touch to Lingard who travelled with the ball until releasing Pogba down the right. The Frenchman did brilliantly to hold off his fellow countryman, Koscielny, who stupidly dived in. Pogba looked up to slide a simple pass to Lingard who had an even more simple job to tap the ball over the line. It reminded me of the Ronaldo goal against Arsenal a few years ago and something I have not seen from United for sometime.
The third goal seemed to settle the game down a little until 15 minutes from time when Pogba was sent off for a nasty looking challenge on Bellerin. In full speed it didn’t look too serious but in slow motion it looked a lot worse and can see why he got his marching orders. However, I have sympathy for Pogba as I think he was trying to toe the ball away from Bellerin, but due to the unusual position of the full backs leg, Pogba’s natural stride was the same place. I may be in the minority but I actually don’t think it is a sending off and more of an unfortunate accident that simply could not be avoided.
The sending off prompted a change from Mourinho, sending on Matteo Darmian to try and help see out the final 15 minutes, which in truth, was fairly comfortable for United to do so other than one challenge from Darmian on ex red Danny Welbeck, which was a definite penalty. The final whistle was a relief to everyone involved with United, resulting in 2 brilliant away wins in the capital for Mourinho’s men. Up next, only a small matter of the Manchester derby.
The Pogba suspension is a real blow to any hope of winning next week, but City are not on top form at the moment. The Arsenal win was probably as good as I have seen United attack for sometime but defensively they were as bad as I have seen for sometime. Mourinho will not want to lose next week and without Pogba I think we will see a completely different set up to this one at the Emirates.