Arsenal (2) 2 Manchester United (0) 0
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Wednesday, 1st January 2020. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-3-1-2) Bernd Leno; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, Sead Kolašinac; Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka, Nicolas Pépé; Mesut Özil; Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Dani Ceballos, Rob Holding, Reiss Nelson, Emiliano Martínez, Joe Willock, Mattéo Guendouzi, Bukayo Saka.
Scorers: Nicolas Pépé (8 mins), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (42 mins)
Yellow Cards: Sead Kolašinac, Bukayo Saka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 49%
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
It is with a great sense of relief (and certainly not regret) that Black December is now firmly behind us; surely we all hope that 2020 will be far kinder to us than the previous year was. Well, it all starts again in earnest with this evening’s match against our old adversaries Manchester United, a game in which we must come away from with maximum points; as no more, no less will do.
The match could not have started better for us, when after just eight minutes, a Sead Kolašinac cross found Nicolas Pépé (via the back heel of Daniel James), who made no mistake from just ten yards near the United goal. Just what the doctor ordered, and so early in the game too; we now oozed confidence as we found our men well, and thus quickly seized the ball back when the opposition had it. We looked both clever and compact (particularly in the midfield area), and on the left side of the pitch, Sead Kolašinac was having the game of his life, getting in behind the Manchester United defence time and time again in order to get crosses in for the strikers. The visitors vented their spleen several times on both Mesut Özil and Alexandre Lacazette, but it mattered not as we continued to apply considerable pressure on the United goal. Alexandre Lacazette and Lucas Torreira were desperately unlucky not to score just after the half hour, and a few minutes later, Nicolas Pépé hit the post with a superb twenty yard shot that left David De Gea grasping for fresh air. Quite deservedly, just minutes before the break, Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored our second goal of the night from point-blank range after being the grateful recipient of a Nicolas Pépé corner (which was completely missed by the comatose Manchester United defence) that was flicked on by Alexandre Lacazette.
The visitors, as expected, came out of the blocks fighting at the beginning of the second half, but we successfully managed to slow the United attack down, whilst the defence held firm under pressure. After sixty-two minutes, Reiss Nelson replaced Nicolas Pépé, who to be fair, was having a poor second half, to try and regain control of the match before United clawed something back. It was becoming evident that Sead Kolašinac could not continue much longer with his damaged ankle, so young Bukayo Saka replaced him after sixty-eight minutes; a short while later, Manchester United had a penalty appeal turned down, which only served to make them more determined to score. But still we held firm, as David Luiz was doing a sterling job in marshalling his fellow defenders in the latter stages of the match. Alexandre Lacazette went down with possible cramp, and although Lucas Torreira was also in difficulty, Mikel Arteta decided (rightly so, it has to be said) that our striker was the man to be replaced by our final substitution of the night, Mattéo Guendouzi. As the minutes ticked away, Arsenal consolidated, and made various attempts to add to the score, but it was not to be. Thankfully, and deservedly, we took maximum points against an old rival tonight, and more importantly than all this, Mikel Arteta got his first win as Arsenal manager.
Tonight, the team were strong and confident in the first half, in fact they looked more than comfortable in their own skin, something that we have not seen from a group of Arsenal players for a very long time. David Luiz played like a man possessed, and his spirit and leadership went through the team tonight. It was also good to see Nicolas Pépé start a game, and although he was substituted in the second half, his impact was undeniable. They looked strong, but, as in the Chelsea match, went off the boil in the second half, unfortunately. But in the end we got the three points we desperately needed, and we appear to be on return to better things. Fingers crossed! Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Leeds United at The Emirates on Monday, 6th January at 7.56pm (FA Cup). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.