Jose Mourinho called David De Gea the world’s best goalkeeper after the Spaniard produced a superhuman performance to repel Arsenal at The Emirates on Saturday. De Gea made 14 saves in Man Utd’s 3-1 win, equalling the all-time record in the Premier League, and several of them were jaw dropping. Keeping hold of De Gea has proved to be the Red Devils’ best piece of transfer business in recent years and, with Man City looking less invincible with every passing week, he could propel them to the title. Top sportsbooks still have Pep Guardiola’s men as the favourites, but they are scraping wins by narrow margins and look like they will soon slip up.
Utd were utterly clinical on Saturday evening, brutally punishing weak defending from the Gunners to open up a two-goal lead in a frantic opening period. But for the vast majority of the game, they were under siege. Arsenal had 74% of the possession, Utd were camped in their own half, and the Gunners pinged 33 shots at De Gea’s goal. They found him to be a colossus in their way. There was nothing he could have done to stop Alexandre Lacazette’s close range drive, but he stopped everything else that came at him. There were gasps around the stadium as he deflected a Lacazette strike onto the crossbar, and fans watched on in disbelief at his acrobatics when he prevented Romelu Lukaku from scoring an own goal from a set piece.
But De Gea saved the best for the second half when he pulled off a stunning double save to repel Lacazette and Alexis Sanchez. When the Frenchman received the ball eight yards from goal and struck it hard, low and towards the bottom corner, he must have already been celebrating. De Gea’s feline leap was magnificent and he stopped the strike, but he tipped the ball right onto Sanchez’s boot. De Gea’s reactions defied logic as he bounced back to his feet in a flash and flicked out a boot to deny the Chilean a tap in. At that moment, Arsenal must have known it was not going to be their night.
“Sometimes, you just start a game with a really good save, with a good feeling, you feel unstoppable, but we started the game really well, we scored two important goals and it’s true that we lost a bit of a control of the game after, but it was a good performance,” he said. The manager’s heart must have been in his mouth at times as it is unlike a Mourinho team to cede so much possession and allow so many shots to rain down on their goal. But Arsene Wenger was bold in sending on Alex Iwobi to replace the injured Shkodran Mustafi early on, and his team attacked with flair, incision and panache throughout.
Utd were extremely thankful for the presence of De Gea between the sticks. It is hard to imagine his opposite number on the night, Petr Cech, producing such heroics. Had it been any other goalkeeper, Utd probably would have lost the game, such was Arsenal’s momentum. Thibaut Courtois recently claimed to be the best in the world, but on this showing the Belgian is nowhere close to De Gea. Nobody is. Real Madrid have come knocking several times for the Spaniard, a former Atletico Madrid player, but he is still a Utd player and with him in goal they will feel like they can beat anyone. Keeping hold of him will get harder with every passing year, and throwing money at him will only go so far. A player of De Gea’s distinction needs silverware and Utd can now seriously compete in the Premiership and the Champions League. Arsenal had not lost a home game since January, but Utd dismantled them early on and held on for a famous win. If they maintain that level of intensity, they can catch City and give De Gea the trophies he craves.