De Gea produces masterclass to frustrate Arsenal
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 3
This was the first great 21st-century fixture of English football, a top-of-the-table millennial rivalry that delivered great games, warring personalities and the occasional red card. So, for all the lustre it might have lost, it was splendid to see those memories honoured with a true classic.
Somehow Arsenal lost this with 74 per cent of the possession and 100 per cent of the defensive mistakes, but for all their failings they made it a great game just as soon as they had gifted Antonio Valencia and Jesse Lingard a goal apiece in the first 11 minutes. By the end Lingard, in one of the performances of his life, had scored another and Paul Pogba had been dismissed for an atrocious foul on Hector Bellerin.
Yes, this was a game to evoke the days when these two teams divided the league title between them in the most bad-tempered fashion possible.
Alexandre Lacazette scored Arsenal's goal to get them back into it at 2-1, but unfortunately for the home side they ran into David De Gea in the kind of form where his shot-stopping is so exceptional the United goalkeeper almost feels like an unfair advantage. "I told him after the match, what I saw today was the best goalkeeper in the world," said Jose Mourinho.
By the end, referee Andre Marriner seemed to lose the plot a little. He might have sent off Laurent Koscielny for a foul on Romelu Lukaku when the Frenchman was the last defender, and outside the penalty area, but decided not to do so. Mourinho was so incensed that Marriner may have had that in his mind when he overlooked fouls by Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling on substitute Danny Welbeck and Lacazette respectively, both of which were penalties.
It would be wrong to say that United were gifted their two goals, but they were certainly obliged with two openings from Arsenal early in the game, both of which they exploited ruthlessly.
The first time it was a lateral pass in his own half by the centre-back Koscielny that, in years past, would have had Alan Hansen shaking his head in disbelief for upwards of five seconds of dead air on Match of the Day of yore. Valencia exchanged passes with Pogba, got his head over the ball on the right side and drove his shot low and hard through the legs of first Nacho Monreal and then Petr Cech for the game's first goal.
Second time round, it was Shkodran Mustafi malingering with the ball in full knowledge that Lingard was snapping around his heels as he tried the out-pass to his midfield. Everyone in the stadium could tell that the German had waited too long and that Lingard would get a foot to the ball, possession breaking to Lukaku, whose direct pass found Anthony Martial.
Now for the real magic, a ball played with the outside of Martial's right foot as he turned, picking out the run into the box of Lingard who finished with his usual confidence.
Arsenal attacked United at every opportunity and it became ever more improbable that none of the chances they created were forced in. De Gea, as you might expect, was equal to so many of them, somehow managing to get something on a Lacazatte shot from close range that cannoned up and off the bar.
There were the proverbial scrambles, the kind of which you see more often in a lower quality of football but occasionally play out in these top-grade matches when space is closed down and opponents entangled with each other.
Nemanja Matic made some important interventions during this time, and he also committed some strategic fouls. When the whistle went for half-time, Arsenal seemed to have tried every route to goal without success. Wenger's team eventually found a way four minutes into the new half and on this occasion not even De Gea could stop them. Sanchez's ball chipped sharply back across the United defensive line caught Mourinho's team out completely. Both Aaron Ramsey and Lacazette were onside and the former guided it back into the path of the Frenchman to take his chance.
United seemed there for the taking, and that there was not an equaliser then was chiefly because of one man alone. De Gea saved his first shot of that period from Iwobi, a volley lashed in at chest height. The goalkeeper's truly superhuman moment came a couple of minutes later, when somehow he got something on two consecutive shots from Lacazette and Mesut Ozil, and there was a beat of disbelief all around the stadium.
United were on the back foot but they had survived and their third goal was a counter-attacking masterpiece that cut right to the heart of Arsenal's insecurities.
The move started from the edge of the area and Matic's out-ball to Lukaku with his back to goal. He guided it into the run of Lingard, who spread it wide to Pogba. The defender who was supposed to stop Pogba was the hapless Koscielny but the United man just seemed to lower his head and force his way past, squaring the ball to Lingard, unmarked in the six-yard area.
After that, Mourinho sent on Ander Herrera. United were inviting pressure and so it came. Perhaps there was some of that behind the recklessness of Pogba's red-card foul on Bellerin, a set of studs slammed down on the wing-back's thigh.
In the closing stages, referee Marriner seemed to have decided the threshold for an Arsenal penalty was very high once he had failed to send off Koscielny for the foul on Lukaku, and both Welbeck and Lacazette were turned down.
Sunday Indo Sport