Despite almost an hour of Arsenal dominance Antonio Valencia’s wayward shot ricochet’d into the net via Kieran Gibbs’ shin after 56 minutes – meaning United took the lead before they’d registered a single shot on target.
Arsenal understandably pushed up in an attempt to draw level but were caught on the break by Angel Di Maria; the Argentine feeding Wayne Rooney who gleefully doubled United’s advantage five minutes from the end.
Olivier Giroud provided some relief for the beleaguered Emirates faithful, smashing in a wonderful late shot from the edge of the area on his return from injury. It wasn’t enough to claw Arsenal back into the game, however, and the Gunners now face their worst start to a Premier League season f0r 32 years.
This was a grim night for Wenger’s men. The French manager, standing forlorn on the sidelines, looked out of ideas. This is perhaps the most talented Arsenal side since 2005 and yet Wenger’s inability to get them to beat ‘big’ teams remains.
Not that Arsenal’s failure was for lack of trying. Wenger’s Arsenal, for 50 minutes, were fantastic – the fluid front three of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez flitted in between United’s defensive lines, terrorising Michael Carrick, Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett with their speed and tenacity.
The latter’s indecisive nature almost cost United dearly a number of times as he often dwindled too long on the ball – at one point, forcing David De Gea to make a rushed clearance that dropped into Arsenal’s midfield. Jack Wilshere broke forward from the culminating move and should have scored, but shot straight at the only object remaining between him and the net – and the Spanish keeper stood tall.
That was the story of the first half. Arsenal were energetic and vibrant and would’ve breached United’s nervous back line if it wasn’t for the heroics of De Gea. That they didn’t capitalise on the numerous chances they crafted for themselves would define the game.
United, on the other hand, bided their time. The oft-maligned figure of Marouane Fellaini was a towering figure in the centre of midfield, and his combative nature angered Jack Wilshere so much that the English midfielder thrust his forehead in the direction of Fellaini’s face midway through the first half. Referee Michael Oliver refused to take decisive action, despite an apparently unrestricted view.
The first half ended with Arsenal having failed to take the lead. It would prove to be their undoing.
Ten minutes into the second and United made a rare foray into Arsenal territory. After an initial scramble that saw keeper Wojciech Szczesny injured, Antonio Valencia rifled a shot low towards Arsenal’s far post – it cannoned off of England defender Kieran Gibbs’ shin and into the roof of the net for an own goal. It was a moment of calamity that perfectly encapsulated Arsenal’s season so far.
Arsenal immediately looked for a response, and progressively got higher and higher up the pitch. Their misery was compounded by two decisive moments.
Teenage defender Paddy McNair clattered the excellent Jack Wilshere as he carried the ball towards the United box, seeing the latter fall in a heap after rolling his ankle. He was replaced by Santi Cazorla.
Then, as Arsenal’s efforts to equalise reached desperate levels, Angel Di Maria latched onto a stray clearance and raced upfield towards lone defender Nacho Monreal. The Argentine fed the onrushing figure of Wayne Rooney, who scored his third goal of the week; clipping the ball over Arsenal’s replacement keeper Emi Martinez.
It was a horrible moment and a nasty silence engulfed the Emirates, broken only by the jubilant cries of the away end and Rooney’s guttural roar as he punched the air.
Arsene Wenger had but one throw of the dice left – on came French forward Olivier Giroud, who had missed the prior two months to an ankle injury. Wenger’s compatriot made an instant impact, his bullish approach immediately worrying United’s inexperienced centre-halves. Giroud always brings an energy and enthusiasm to Arsenal’s attacks and this evening was no different – bringing down a pass on the edge of the area, he rifled a wonderful half-volley past David De Gea from a way out. It was typical of the Spaniard’s evening that he got a hand to it.
Arsenal deserved a goal of that quality – it was just a shame it didn’t come 70 minutes earlier.
Wenger’s men must now pick themselves up. Two fresh injuries to key players Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny compounded a horrible evening for them. It’s difficult to see how Wenger will turn what already seems like a wasted season around.
Louis Van Gaal, on the other hand, now has a springboard from which to launch United’s assault on the top four. As I saw a United fan deftly put it on Twitter – this was United’s worst performance under Van Gaal, but their best result. They can only hope that the Dutchman can capitalise on an excellent evening marred only by an injury to full-back Luke Shaw.