Arsenal beat Manchester United, march on toward Premier League title

The Gunners continued their dominant run of form as the old rivals clashed in the biggest game of the year so far

Sajid Khan
Published : 23 Jan 2023, 10:33 AM
Updated : 23 Jan 2023, 10:33 AM

Since the time of Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsenal versus Manchester United has been the definitive rivalry of the Premier League era. Both on and off the field, their dynamic was legendary and entertaining, with both clubs producing stunning victories over the years. Recent seasons haven’t felt quite the same as the two clubs were never at their best at the same time. But now, under resurgent managers Mikel Arteta and Erik ten Hag, the clash was restored to its former glory for a new generation of players and fans and Arsenal emerged victorious in their challenge for the title.

Since the start of the season, Arteta’s Gunners have been in terrific form. Not only did they race to an early lead in the points tally, they’ve fended off the titanic force of Manchester City and have a small cushion to show for it. United, meanwhile, have slowly been mustering strength under Ten Hag, who has built up the squad with care and savvy. Both managers are also keenly aware of the other’s success. Though United got the better of Arsenal at Old Trafford in September, both squads were much changed, in both mentality and discipline, by the time of Sunday’s encounter.

The Gunners were largely unchanged from their triumph over Spurs, only adding new signing Leandro Trossard to the bench. The 4-3-3 setup allowed the team of Saka, Nketiah, and Martinelli to range the field and test United’s defence.

United, in contrast, has struggled with injuries and suspensions recently. Casemiro, now an integral part of the squad, was out of the game after picking up a yellow in the disappointing draw at Crystal Palace. Ten Hag’s 4-2-3-1 saw Scott McTominay return to the lineup to replace the Brazilian and Fred on the bench as a substitute.

It was a cagey start to the match as both teams sized each other up, neither willing to give an inch. But then, in the 17th minute, Arsenal blinked and Marcus Rashford came alive. The striker has flourished during Ten Hag’s tenure, finding his form and confidence. Both were on show as he picked up a ball from Fernandes, nutmegged Partey and blasted the shot into the bottom left corner from outside the box.

But like Rashford, the Gunners have also shown resilience this year and they drew level within five minutes with an excellent team goal. They took a corner short and worked it infield and back out again before Xhaka floated a lovely first-time cross towards the far post. Nketieh, in a cunning bit of play, outsmarted a napping Wan-Bissaka to head the ball home.

Arsenal have become a well-oiled machine this season and they continued to barrage David de Gea as United chose the risky tactic of defending deep. Zinchenko and Xhaka showcased their spirit, while a master class from Ødegaard drove their attack forward. The Arsenal captain has turned many heads, even from Real Madrid, because of his steady development throughout the season. But it was their golden boy, Bukayo Saka, who broke the deadlock, cutting into the defence and curling the ball into the far corner of the net with a stunning strike with his left foot in the 53rd minute.

United, on the other hand, struggled to get much from new striker Wout Weghorst. A staggering figure on the pitch, Weghorst can hold the ball well but offered little to no threat to Arsenal’s defence. The same could be said for Antony, who hasn’t been able to reproduce his brilliance from the World Cup. It was up to Argentine centre-back Lisandro Martínez to even the score. When Ramsdale fumbled the ball from a corner in the 59th minute, Martínez managed a cracking header to level things up.

Both sides shuffled through their subs in the second half. Tomiyasu became essential to Arsenal’s defence, fending off Rashford’s technicality and speed, while Fred replaced the struggling Antony.

Saka came close to duplicating his first goal in the 70th minute, but this time the shot from 25 yards out grazed the post. Arteta’s frustration grew as the minutes ticked by and the Arsenal boss picked up a yellow card for his boisterous remarks to the officials.

In the 82nd minute, he brought on Leandro Trossard for Gabriel Martinelli. The debuting Belgian is still a work in progress, messy at times, but with a lively amount of raw talent. He was instantly on the attack from the moment he took to the pitch.

There was one final twist in the tale. In the 90th minute, just as the gloom of a draw was settling in on fans, Arsenal came up with an unusual answer. Zinchenko’s cross gets parried away from the foot of Ødegaard by Fred. The ball is heading wide when Nketiah, in a bit of quick thinking, deflects it past De Gea with a curled leg. For Arsenal fans, a tense VAR check followed, but eventually the ref pointed to the centre circle. With the winner, Nketiah will have silenced the critics who wondered if he could pick up the slack after the injury of Gabriel Jesus.

“You could see how badly we wanted to win,” he said, ecstatic, after the match. “We kept pushing and pushing and thankfully we got the breakthrough.”

The win will delight the Gunners. They maintain a healthy lead of five points over Man City with a game in hand. Through the brilliance and persistence of their attacking plays, they broke through and defeated the Red Devils in another showcase of their growth in recent months.

“You can see how much it means to everyone. [United are] the only team who have beaten us this season and we really wanted to beat them in front of our own fans. We know how big this win is,” said a grinning Saka.

Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag was of course less than pleased with the outcome.

"Two top teams, but of course we are disappointed when you lose this game at a late stage," he said. “All the goals we conceded today are mistakes -- it can't happen."

Arsenal are on course to win the Premier League title and their success has come, in large part, to trusting the process with Mikel Arteta and their crop of young star players. Arteta took several seasons to chart the right course. With the obstacles of new ownership, structural development of assets, and the need to overhaul and add depth to the squad and the backroom, it might be a few seasons before Ten Hag finds similar success. But the Red Devils’ steady improvement under his stewardship is slowly restoring dreams of former glory to the club’s fans.

This article is a part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication with a focus on culture and society from a youth perspective.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher