Monday 14 October 2019

Aubameyang punishes Solskjaer's stale Reds

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 1

Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang chips the ball past Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea to score the equaliser at Old Trafford. Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images
Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang chips the ball past Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea to score the equaliser at Old Trafford. Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

Jason Burt

This was more a desperate than an epic battle as Manchester United and Arsenal played out a mistake-ridden draw.

It was summed up by both goals with Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka ducking out of the way as Scott McTominay put United ahead, with an excellent strike, and then confusion as to whether officials had given offside before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang shot into the net for the equaliser.

"He's blown the whistle," United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer vainly appealed to fourth official Chris Kavanagh but the goal rightly stood - after consultation with the VAR - with Arsenal deservedly taking a point. Solskjaer later conceded that technology got the decision spot on.

It was a far cry from the contests when these two were challenging at the top in a Premier League duopoly with this result not hugely helping either in their far more limited ambition these days of just trying to finish in the top four - although Arsenal will leave far the happier as they moved up to the Champions League qualifying places.

United are in 10th and, in truth, the pair are a world away from the modern-day rivalry of Manchester City and Liverpool.

After 40 minutes of dire football, in which both teams struggled, it fired into life. Firstly United went close as Paul Pogba out-muscled Matteo Guendouzi to set Marcus Rashford running clear on goal but as he shaped to shoot, the forward slipped and the ball trickled into the arms of goalkeeper Bernd Leno.

Manchester United's Scott McTominay scored the opener. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester United's Scott McTominay scored the opener. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

Then Arsenal countered with Andreas Pereira failing to cut out Nicolas Pepe's pass for the impressive Bukayo Saka to run on. Under pressure from Victor Lindelof, the 18-year-old did well but so did David de Gea to turn away his low shot. De Gea was also quick enough to recover and block Matteo Guendouzi's follow-up with his legs.

It suddenly felt like the shackles were off with Daniel James showing his pace, this time down the right, as he sprinted into space from Andreas Pereira's pass and crossed low.

The ball swept just away from the onrushing Rashford but he did well to recover it and turn it back to the edge of the area where it ran past Paul Pogba and fell to Scott McTominay. The midfielder took a touch and sent an unerring shot, with Bernd Leno unsighted, into the net.

It was not until the 29th minute that there had been an effort on goal - the longest wait in the Premier League this season - even if it was a good effort as Pereira ran in from the right to draw a smart low save from Leno. At the other, Pepe should have done far better when Saka, giving Ashley Young the run-around at right-back, collected the ball after Aubameyang was tackled and teed him up.

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores their equaliser. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores their equaliser. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

With time and space Pepe shot first time and ballooned high over the bar.

For long periods it felt like it was, indeed, 11th hosting eighth rather than what it has been - one of the most evocative fixtures of the Premier League era.

In saying that there was plenty of friction with cards collected by first Calum Chambers, for pulling down James, and then a trio of United players: Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young, Pereira with Jesse Lingard lucky to escape one.

Maybe it had something to do with the slickness of the pitch or, more likely, a frustration and anxiety as to how things were going.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer embraces Arsenal manager Unai Emery at the end of the match. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer embraces Arsenal manager Unai Emery at the end of the match. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

The lack of quality was summed up when, from a free-kick, Granit Xhaka inexplicably chipped the ball out wide when he had the chance to shoot or play it into the penalty area. Chambers chased it down only to hook a cross high into nowhere and it kind of summed up the poverty of the opening half hour.

The Arsenal manager will have winced further when he reviewed McTominay's goal - and saw that his newly-selected captain, Xhaka, had ducked out of the way of the shot. Not exactly Captain Courageous. It was, though, his team that created the first opportunity of the second half with Lucas Torreira making a hash of his shot, miscuing when picked out by Aubameyang. With Xhaka, LucasTorreira and Guendouzi was the Arsenal midfield creative enough? It was no surprise to see Unai Emery quickly turn to Dani Ceballos.

In a game full of errors it took one to deliver the next goal as Axel Tuanzebe, who had played well, erred with a mis-placed pass intended for Victor Lindelof which fell to Bukayo Saka.

His first-time pass picked out Aubamayeng who clipped his shot over De Gea. Initially it was disallowed for offside but that was the wrong decision and it was eventually over-turned by the VAR. It was a poor call by assistant referee Scott Ledger who had raised his flag.

Arsenal then almost went in front only for Saka's goal-bound shot to be deflected over by Lindelof while United felt they should have had a penalty, claiming handball when a cross struck Sead Kolasinac.

It was United who should have struck next with McTominay meeting a Young corner. Unmarked, he headed over from just six yards out. They went close again with Harry Maguire collecting the ball from Pereira and forcing Leno into a smart one-handed save with a first-time shot from 20 yards.

Both teams sensed they could win this - and how much that win would mean - with changes made and a growing air of desperation as shots were snatched at before United won a free-kick in the 90th minute on the area's edge after David Luiz body-checked McTominay. Rashford's curling right-foot shot was goal-bound but Leno did well to push it out. (© Daily Telegraph)

Telegraph.co.uk

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