Declan Rice is enjoying his first big moment in an Arsenal shirt and the season could begin. His 96th-minute goal that gave Mikel Arteta’s side a late 3-1 win over Manchester United was all the more encouraging for the home crowd and all the better for him given that neither he nor the home side were at their best. It was an irregular game.
None of that will matter now as everything about their performance will feel so much better. Gabriel Jesus’ late breakaway to make it 3-1 made it look even better on paper. It also plays a role in the table, starting on September 3rd. Had United held on to the draw here, Arsenal would already have been four points adrift of Manchester City, which was only the case in May of last season.
It could have been, even now. You could feel that influence playing out on the game as Arsenal cheered loudly and Arteta celebrated so energetically. There was more at stake here than just beating a historic rival, even this late.
Arsenal also had a lot more to offer than United. They’re much further along in development, even if you factor in injuries, although the latter also shaped the game.
Even Rice’s crucial goal came as their massive defense began to fall apart for the first time. While the game was characterized by Arsenal having little room to maneuver in the United box, late fatigue from an injury crisis gave Rice five yards of play and even a chance to break free from a heavy-chested ball.
He did more than that, putting the ball through substitute Jonny Evans who also deflected it past Andre Onana.
It was all the more galling for United as they had gone from enjoying Alejandro Garnacho’s late breakaway goal, which was narrowly denied, to feeling completely different.
In fact, it was ironic that Jesus’ last final touchdown was due to the type of counterattack United had used as their only source of attack throughout the game.
Arsenal had the idea and the ball. United could only sidestep it, a side that still represents a huge compromise to what Ten Hag wants.
Arteta comes much closer to what he expects from his own team, although elements of that performance made it clear they aren’t quite there yet. You still have so many counters and chances.
While it made for an odd match that you couldn’t take your eyes off of, it wasn’t always pretty to watch.
The earlier two goals felt like an aberration for a long time in an otherwise unpredictable game, all the more so because they came so quickly one after the other. It took only a few minutes for the balls to hit either net, but the actual game only took 35 seconds.
That feeling was all the more pronounced with the Rashford goal because it came out of nowhere. Not only was it her first shot of the game, but her first notable attack. The move admittedly came from something that dictated the course of the game. Arsenal totally imposed their game on United but that meant there were often at least 10 players around Onana’s box. That made it very difficult for Arteta’s side to play through, even more so when Kai Havertz completely missed the best chance of the game.
It was almost comical, but it was a contradiction in terms of the German’s game. He can, in a moment from a touch from Dennis Bergkamp, look like he doesn’t know how to control a ball or where to position himself.
The United goal actually came after a misstep by a player who was far more reliable for Arsenal. While his side tried to rebuild the attack, Gabriel Martinelli played the ball straight to Christian Eriksen.
The Dane suddenly had the space of the Arsenal half to put the ball in, a contrast with the other side that was a consequence of that. Eriksen made excellent use of this, of course.
The pass to Rashford was divine, taking advantage of a small misstep by Ben White. Then Rashford excelled at both the aesthetic fluency of the play and his next ball. The forward sliced inward for the cleanest shot high at the post.
The irony is that it was a bit of the spark Arsenal needed. They had been the better team without looking that good themselves. What followed was pure quality. One of the few times in the game Arsenal managed to work their way around tightly packed defenses with an extremely precise passing game, the extra focus no doubt lending them a boost. United didn’t even have time to know where to go.
Odegaard knew exactly where to place the ball based on Martinelli’s pass and cornered the ball.
This was to be the game, Arsenal forced themselves into more elaborate play structures while United tried to break the tempo. The numbers almost helped Arteta’s side again as Havertz was sandwiched between Casemiro and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. He went down but there was no contact and the VAR canceled the penalty.
This gradually developed into an exciting final phase, particularly when Hojlund came on as a substitute in his United debut. They seemed to feel the benefit of having a reference, even if Arsenal’s greater development as a team meant they still had far more possession. Bukayo Saka, not at his best due to the concentration of United’s back line, should have found the ball late. Onana did an excellent job of deflecting a shot right in front of him in another rare moment Arsenal got through.
It was the warning. United were tiring. Ten Hag tried to address the issue with subs. This initially seemed to work for Garnacho. He left a little early.
This allowed Arsenal to clinch the title late and ensure they don’t elude the title race even so early. It might seem hard to focus on at this point in the campaign and with such a conclusion. Arteta himself will emphasize more than anyone that everything is at stake here.
Rice may have risen to them by now.