Arsenal (2) 3 Manchester United (1) 1
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Saturday, 23rd April 2022. Kick-off time: 12.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Cédric Soares, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Nuno Tavares; Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe; Eddie Nketiah.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Alexandre Lacazette, Rob Holding, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Nicolas Pépé, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Gabriel Martinelli, Miguel Azeez, Zak Swanson.
Scorers: Nuno Tavares (3 mins), Bukayo Saka (32 mins), Granit Xhaka (70 mins)
Yellow Cards: Granit Xhaka, Nuno Tavares, Mohamed Elneny
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 56%
Referee: Craig Pawson
Assistant Referees: Eddie Smart, Dan Robathan
Fourth Official: David Coote
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Jarred Gillet; AVAR Sian Massey-Ellis
After our glorious victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening, today’s match against Manchester United is one that we really need to win. Good to see Takehiro Tomiyasu back on the substitute’s bench, alongside Alexandre Lacazette as well. After all the good work that was done by the team three days ago, we really do not need to fall back into the bad habits that we showed prior to that match, so this afternoon’s clash is a crucial one for us.
We started on the front foot against the visitors, so much so, in fact within three minutes we scored the opening goal of the match when Raphael Varane and Alex Telles both swung and missed at a cross, allowing it to fall to Bukayo Saka, whose curling shot was tipped away by David de Gea, but only for the ball to fall to Nuno Tavares to tap in his first Arsenal goal. A fabulous start, the supporters are going frantic and pushing the boys on to score more goals today. However, in tandem with Liverpool fans before them, the whole stadium applauded during the seventh minute of the game as a mark of respect for Cristiano Ronaldo’s loss, which was truly respectful and most fitting. A couple of minutes later, Aaron Ramsdale kicked a clearance straight to Bruno Fernandes, who was able to take a touch and then send in a shot that was deflected wide. The resulting corner came to nothing and Aaron Ramsdale breathed a huge sigh of relief, as well he should. We were playing with confidence, as it was becoming obvious that the Manchester United defence are at sixes and sevens now. A long ball forward was aimed for Eddie Nketiah, but despite a yard on our striker, Raphael Varane kicked the ball against Alex Telles and nearly gave up a chance for us to score again. The visitors claimed a penalty when Anthony Elanga clashed with Nuno Tavares, but fortunately enough referee Craig Pawson cancelled the claim after good advice from the VAR team (for a change) at Stockley Park. After a free-kick in which Martin Ødegaard kicked it high and over the bar, the visitors counter-attacked and a Diogo Dalot shot beat Aaron Ramsdale from twenty yards, but fortunately his strike hit the bar and rebounded back into play. After twenty-seven minutes, there was drama in the stadium when Bukayo Saka cut inside from the right and found Martin Ødegaard, who flicked the ball back to Bukayo Saka to push it on for Eddie Nketiah to finish. However, although Craig Pawson (after consultation with the VAR team, and a viewing at the pitchside monitor), he gave a penalty as Alex Telles fouled Bukayo Saka deep in the Manchester United penalty area. Bukayo Saka had no problem in scoring from the penalty spot. However, our joy was short-lived, as three minutes later, Nemanja Matic swung a cross into our penalty area and Cristiano Ronaldo used his strength and experience to get ahead of his two markers and get a goal back for the visitors. Seven minutes before the break, Mohamed Elneny latched on to a ball, some twenty yards or so from goal and whipped in a shot that looked like it was heading for the far corner until David de Gea stuck out a hand to push the ball wide for an Arsenal corner. However, the corner was only half-cleared and fell to Bukayo Saka for two attempts at goal, both of which were blocked. During the five minutes injury time, the only thing of note to happen was when Eddie Nketiah went down in the penalty area following a challenge from a United defender, but Craig Pawson waved our protests away. The attack was kept alive, though, and Martin Ødegaard hit a fierce shot that goalkeeper David De Gea pushed away.
And so we kicked off a second half, full of anticipation and hope; and again, we looked to make as fast a start to the second half as the first but Nuno Tavares’ cross floated over everyone in the visitors’ penalty area and went out of play. Five minutes after the restart, Nuno Tavares again cut in beautifully from the left hand side, but his strong shot went way over David deGea’s bar. A couple of minutes later, Bukayo Saka slipped initially after controlling the ball twenty yards from goal but was able to get up to hit a shot that flew over the United bar. More drama! Nuno Tavares stuck his arm out way above his head making it clear for Nemanja Matic’s header from the corner to hit. A penalty was awarded to the visitors, and thankfully Bruno Fernandes hit the outside of the post to keep the scores as they were, which was a real let-off for us. And again, a couple of minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo placed the ball past Aaron Ramsdale from close range, but the VAR team confirmed that he was offside, thankfully; then a Diogo Dalo shot saw Aaron Ramsdale push the ball onto his left-hand post and out of play We are pushing our luck here this afternoon at times in this half. Gabriel Martinelli replaced a fairly anonymous Emile Smith-Rowe, who has had a poor match today. Granit Xhaka received a yellow card from the referee after a ridiculous petualant act, and then Nuno Tavares also received the same award from Craig Pawson after pulling on an opponents’ shirt. However, with twenty minutes of the match remaining, Granit Xhaka cracked a superb left-footed shot from twenty yards that had David deGea beaten all the way to score our third goal of the afternoon. Shortly afterwards, Bukayo Saka went down to the floor with an injury, which is a massive concern of course; he was replaced by defender Rob Holding. Eddie Nketiah was going to be the man to be substituted, but because Bukayo Saka was injured, the switch became obvious. By rights, Bruno Fernandes should have received a red card for an extremely late and cynical tackle on Nuno Tavares, but somehow he got away with it. Mohamed Elneny was booked for an accidental challenge on Scott McTominay, which was ridiculous, really. The match is starting to get rather scrappy at times now, with Craig Pawson dishing out yellow cards like sweets in a high street confectioners. At this stage in the match, game management is surely the order of the day for us here. We are in control now, and our supporters’ chants and shouts surely reflect this situation. A warm round of applause in the first minute of injury time when Cédric Soares was replaced by Takehiro Tomiyasu, whose return from injury was heartening to see; almost immediately he was fouled by Cristiano Ronaldo, who received a yellow card for his trouble. It mattered not, as Craig Pawson blew the whistle to signal the end of the match shortly afterwards to confirm our victory this afternoon
A superb win, no doubt about that, and one that puts us in a good position for claiming fourth place in the Premiership at the end of the year. Okay, we looked a wee bit fragile defensively, but we took our chances when they were presented to us, which is crucial. Arsenal were magnificent at times, and we appear to have clicked at the right time of the season. One game at a time, chaps, one game at a time.
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: West Ham United at the London Stadium on Sunday, 1st May at 4.30pm(Premier League). 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