Manchester United were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal on Monday in a Premier League game which was a poor imitation of some of the past classic clashes between the rival clubs.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 58th minute goal for the visitors, given after a VAR review, cancelled out Scott McTominay’s well-struck opener on the stroke of halftime but it was a game which highlighted the weaknesses of the teams. The result leaves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United in 10th with nine points, their worst start after seven games for 30 years, and they have won just one of their last six league games. Arsenal are in fourth spot on 12 points but the nine-point gap to leaders Liverpool illustrates how far away the London side are from being real title contenders. “This is a steep learning curve for us and we’ll keep working hard and with more experience, we’ll make the right decisions,” he said.
Emery was left with a similar feeling.
“I want more — more in the result and in the performance but we are progressing. We were competitive but we can do better. We can control moments with the ball better and take more chances in the box,” said the Spaniard. This fixture is part of the folklore of the Premier League era, producing some epic battles between Alex Ferguson’s and Arsene Wenger’s title-winning sides, physical clashes between midfielders Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira with the highlights reel of past encounters also full of skill and flair.
While there is certainly a retro feel to Old Trafford under the lights and in the rain, the only throwback on the field were some of the heavy and late challenges. There are multiple weaknesses in both teams but what stood out when they met was the lack of class and quality in midfield. Arsenal look lightweight and lacking any real spine while United, despite having France international Paul Pogba back from injury, were short of attacking options and creativity. None of that was really a surprise. Both managers view their teams as being in transition and while United still lack obvious elements needed to compete at the top end, Arsenal’s investments had raised hopes of something better.
There had been little excitement in the first half but United keeper David De Gea did have to pull off a fine double-save in the 44th minute, pushing out a low shot from Bukayo Saka and then doing well to keep out Matteo Guendouzi’s follow-up. Moments later, United had the lead when Marcus Rashford found McTominay on the edge of the box and his slightly deflected shot towards the top corner beat motionless Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno. Arsenal got back on level terms in controversial circumstances before the hour with a goal from Aubameyang. United left-back Axel Tuanzebe gave the ball away to Saka who threaded it through to Aubameyang but the linesman raised his flag well before the striker put the ball past De Gea.
The VAR review correctly showed United defender Harry Maguire had played Aubameyang onside and the goal was given. However, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appeared furious that the linesman had flagged when recent practice has been for the flag not to be shown until the end of a move. McTominay then missed a glorious chance to secure the points and add to his growing reputation when, from an Ashley Young corner, he headed over from close range, having lost his marker. Leno then made two good saves to keep Unai Emery’s Arsenal side on level terms, diving to deny Maguire’s effort from the edge of the box and then reacting well to keep out Marcus Rashford’s stoppage-time free kick.