There’s no other place to start today other than that super ending to a dramatic day and it is yet another injury time winner – or couple of winners – that sent us all in to dreamland at the Emirates against Man United.
I’ll go through the chronology of the day yesterday in a bit, but first, the emotions of going from what seemed like a late sucker-punch Garnacho goal, to a Declan Rice winner followed by a Gabriel Jesus cherry-on-the-cake finisher which we thoroughly deserved. You only need to look at all of the metric on the game to see how we deserved it:
- xG of 2.3 to 0.9
- possession just edged 55% to 45%
- 582 passes to 475 – we had more ball and more control of it
- 17 attempts at goal to their 10
Yes, this was not a battering, but we did edge a delicately poised game and despite the frankly weird protestations of Ten Haag, I think we deserved what we got and there can be little complaints about each of the big incidents. Garnacho WAS offside – just – as Gabriel was very cute in checking his run and although many are calling it an expertly timed bit of playing the offside track, I think he was rather lucky for that to be called offside, as there was millimetres in it. When they scored that I turned to Nick who sit next to me in Block Five and said “knew it” – I had said to him halfway through the second half I feared this would be a classic “United score with their only shot of this half” type thing. United had created a couple of other chances, but it been a rarity and they had very clearly aimed to sit and hit us in transition as we all knew they would.
But after that was ruled out the stadium erupted and then when the board goes up for eight minutes, you know with this Arsenal side there is always a chance. We have all bemoaned the silly concession of early goals that has become a pattern, but in the same vein you have to admit that the never-say-die attitude and belief they can score late in games is also a characteristic of this team.
Step forward Declan Rice, who had another imperious game and was utterly brilliant again yesterday. His goal is the big talking point – not a chance there was a foul on Evans by Gabriel by the way – but his all round performance was excellent yesterday. We’ve just heard the news that Thomas Partey is going to be out for a number of weeks, but having a player like Declan in the number six role means that unlike last season, it doesn’t feel as though Partey’s injury could derail our whole season. Rice was always there as an outlet for the ball from defence, he won tackles, covered ground, then right at the end he pops up at the back stick to drill home a deflected goal that Onana could do nothing about. It was an explosion of joy in the ground and I’m sure in pubs and houses all over the world.
Then deep in to stoppage time, Fabio Vieira gets himself another assist and Gabriel puts a United player – I think it was Dalot – on his arse in the box to make it 3-1. Great stuff. And important because it sends us off on the international break with a win, it gives the players a massive confidence boost and it means three wins and one draw (which should have been a win) instead of two wins and two draws which somehow feels a little more stuttery than three and one.
It’s also a win that dents a potential rival and although many will question that of United, they will end up being up there this season, we all know that, so it was important for us to deal that blow for them because that’s two losses this season so far. Let’s hope they drop a few more.
As for the game itself, it felt like a pretty cagey one to me. United tried to slow everything down at the back, clearly a ploy to try to draw us out and hit us on the counter, but in response we seemed to be doing very similar at the back, with White, Saliba, Ramsdale, Gabriel all receiving the ball and sometimes going at walking pace. Then when the ball turned over and we had the opportunity to we would try to probe and move United’s back line about. But it was tough going because United – annoyingly – didn’t look as open as they had done many times this season already. That meant for a cagey match and in that first half I thought I saw us give away sloppy passes a few times much like the Fulham game. But as seems to be standard fare in this fixture, United scored against the run of play with their only shot up until that point. Havertz – sloppy again in possession – gave the ball away and it allowed United to counter, Erikson to find Rashford and then three Arsenal players just backed off. I thought Ben White could have done a lot better in particular.
But, as sloppy as we were in the goal, you cannot fault the response, because it took us just 35 seconds to get back level. At halftime in the ground I watched the highlights and the club showed the whole passage from kick off, which is a little longer than they would do for footage of build up, but I guess it was to emphasise just how quickly we responded from kick off and it was definitely aesthetically the best goal of the game. The movement, the passing, the finish – all of it was sublime and to get level so quickly arrested any worries of this turning in to one of those frustrating games in which we batter an opponent but can’t find the finish.
And then from that moment on the die was cast; this would be a game in which United try to slow it down as much as possible and then try to catch us cold as the game wore on. And they did create more in the second half than they did in the first half, that’s for sure. But that one moment for the disallowed goal aside, as well as a bit of a scramble when Hojlund was on, I thought we marshalled them pretty well. Then as the game was entering its last stages Arteta started to make some subs and I think all of them did well. Tomiyasu for Zinchenko to try to deal with the physical presence of Hojlund, Gabriel Jesus was menacing to the United back line, Vieira came on, did well and got an assist, then Reiss Nelson also added some urgency to proceedings. And ultimately, although it felt like it was heading towards a draw, the ending and the results drive the final narrative and that narrative was one in which Arteta got the tactics and the subs right, Arsenal got the three points and as the popular phrase goes, history is written by the victor. The narrative is Arsenal’s and the confidence and boost is ours too.
We now go in to an international break and it means we can relax knowing that we’ve started well, focus on going to that bogey ground Goodison Park in a couple of weeks time, whilst praying that no players get done on international duty.
Catch you wonderful humans tomorrow or, if you fancy listening to us all on the Same old Arsenal pod, you can catch us at 7.30pm here tonight.