The Manchester United-Arsenal rivalry has always been one of the high points of the Premier League.
The previous time Manchester United and Arsenal met (in January 2023), it was a humdinger of a match. It took a last-minute goal from Eddie Nketiah to get the Gunners over the line.
As they renewed their rivalry for the new season on Sunday, it was, as always, supposed to be too tight to call.
On a sunny afternoon, with patches of shadows on the field, the two EPL powerhouses kicked off. Arsenal, after a draw against Fulham, were looking to put their campaign back on track, while United, having looked patchy early in the season, needed to put in a full 90 minutes of solid football, which they have been unable to do.
Arsenal have early ascendency
Arsenal began steady, with the action coming more from the left flank, manned by Gabriel Martinelli, than from Bukayo Saka on the right.
Early forays from Martinelli produced a few shots on goal. Kai Havertz, their new signing, missed a sitter even as Arsenal looked the better side, more due to United being lackluster than anything else.
In the 27th minute, against the run of play, an errant Havertz pass sparked a United counterattack. Christian Eriksen pinged in a long ball that Marcus Rashford chased into the box. He sidestepped the defenders and planted the ball into the right corner.
United had the lead despite looking toothless most of the time. It didn’t last long as within a minute of the goal, the Gunners struck back. A crisp cutback from Martinelli was swept into the goal by an unmarked Martin Odegaard as the Arsenal captain looked surefooted and was again their man of the moment.
United pick up but it is a roller-coaster second half
The second half saw United pick their game up as the new man, Rasmus Højlund was handed his first appearance. In addition, an injury to Lisandro Martínez meant Harry Maguire had to come in. He was rather cruelly greeted by jeers from the United fans.
Just as the match looked to be heading for a draw, it exploded into action.
The last half hour was a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Kai Havertz went down in the box and the referee awarded a spot kick. That is, until VAR nudged him to look at the replay. A bit later Arsenal should have taken the lead as a Ben White cross found Saka in front of goal, but André Onana came up with a good save.
The 88th minute saw Alejandro Garnacho burst away from his marker, chasing a Bruno Fernandes forward ball. He kept the pursuing Arsenal defenders away and his shot beat Aaron Ramsdale. Manchester United thought they had the win now. But it was not to be as VAR ruled him offside. It was almost as if a Gabriel Magalhães haircut in the morning saved them as the red line on the VAR ever so slightly touched Garnacho.
Manchester United’s last minute nightmare returns
With 8 minutes added and 6 of them gone, Manchester United’s nightmarish memories from the last meeting returned to haunt them as Declan Rice, Arsenal’s expensive buy of the season, chested down a corner, and with some space available, swiveled and thumped in a volley. It deflected cruelly off Jonny Evans and past Onana who could no nothing.
It was cruel, but then it had happened.
A clearance from the Arsenal box sent Fabio Viera off on a run, and his precise through ball found Gabriel Jesus, who rushed into the box, feinted a sliding defender, sidestepped the sprawling goalkeeper, and slotted home.
The knife had been twisted, and as the final whistle blew, the United players walked off despondent. Arsenal’s new boy Declan Rice, was all smiles as the the song Rice Rice Baby boomed at the Emirates.
Mikel Arteta can be happy at his team’s resilience, while Erik Ten Haag, who is yet to win against a major team on the road, would be wondering what else he needs to do to get this bunch going. Arsenal are fifth in the table now, while United slip into the bottom half with a lot more to do.