In his post-match interview, Erik ten Hag warned his side’s supporters that the team still had a long way to go. And yet, most Manchester United fans could be forgiven for dreaming big after a clinical victory over league leaders Arsenal. This fourth consecutive victory for the Red Devils came after a pulsating, riveting Old Trafford encounter between these old foes.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 4, 2022
Antony replaced Anthony Elanga in ten Hag’s only change from Thursday’s win over Leicester. The £85million man from Ajax opened the scoring on his debut for his new employers. But Arsenal, who replaced Kieran Tierney with Oleksandr Zinchenko, sparkled throughout and equalised through Bukayo Saka in the second half. Two well-taken goals from Marcus Rashford, however, swept the Red Devils over the line.
The pre-match talk had centered around Arsenal’s perfect start to the campaign – five wins in five games – and United’s resurgent form after a dreadful start. So it was no surprise that both teams went at it from kickoff. A couple of neat touches from Antony, Diogo Dalot’s mazy dribble down the left, and a lightning Arsenal counter that saw Gabriel Jesus fouled by Lisandro Martinez, all featured in the opening exchanges.
The first clear chance fell to United, Antony’s backheel on the right wing finding Dalot, whose inviting cross was shinned wide on the volley by Christian Eriksen. Mikel Arteta’s side responded instantly, Granit Xhaka’s cross bouncing off a defender and rolling towards William Saliba. But from the edge of the area, the defender sidefooted over the bar.
Minutes later, the Gunners had the ball in the back of the net. Martin Odegaard dispossessed Eriksen near the centre-circle and Saka took the loose ball. His beautiful, defence-bisecting pass was latched onto by Gabriel Martinelli, who held off Dalot and finished emphatically past an outrushing David de Gea. But VAR called referee Paul Tierney over to the pitchside monitor and, after endless replays, Tierney ruled that Odegaard had fouled Eriksen in the buildup. It was a tight decision, and whether it fulfilled VAR’s requirement of a “clear and obvious error” was up for debate.
The next chance again fell to the menacing Martinelli on the half-hour mark. A deep cross from Odegaard on the right found the Brazilian’s head, but the ball was kept out by a stunning save from de Gea. Then, with Arsenal looking dominant, United broke.
Eriksen’s fine pass from well inside his own half found Bruno Fernandes in the middle. He transferred the ball to Jadon Sancho on the left and was cleaned out by Gabriel. But the referee waved play on and Sancho found Rashford, who shifted the ball to an unmarked Antony on the right edge of the Arsenal box. The Brazil international opened up his body and curled past Aaron Ramsdale into the bottom left corner. A debut goal to remember, with the subsequent celebration, featuring plenty of badge-thumping and a flash of cat claws, equally eye-catching.
At 22 years and 192 days, Antony became the youngest Brazilian to score on his #PL debut, as well as becoming the 100th Brazilian to play in the competition 🇧🇷#MUNARS | @ManUtd pic.twitter.com/CFakDCJ6u1
— Premier League (@premierleague) September 4, 2022
Arsenal, who had been the better team, were stung by the scoreline but could not respond as an intense first half came to an end. The second half again saw Arsenal come flying out of the blocks. Odegaard hit a fairly simple chance wide after Gabriel Jesus’s low cutback. Saka’s floated cross pinged off the crossbar. An equaliser looked possible, but so did a United counter-attack for a second goal. Soon both happened.
United had just withdrawn Antony for Cristiano Ronaldo when Rapahel Varane’s poor pass was intercepted in midfield. Odegaard measured a through-ball for Jesus, whose shot was desperately blocked by Dalot. The loose ball ran out to Saka who slotted home from 12 yards on the hour mark.
But within six minutes, United had retaken the lead. Arsenal were torn apart on the break. Eriksen found Fernandes in the middle and the Portuguese produced a gorgeous stabbed pass around Saliba that sent Rashford clear on goal. The England forward’s shot took a slight deflection off the sliding Ben White before nestling in the bottom corner.
Ramsdale nearly gifted United another goal soon after, sending a pass straight to the substitute Fred who passed to Fernandes. But the Arsenal keeper made up for the error by rushing at Fernandes and brilliantly saving his attempted chip.
Arteta conducted a triple substitution in the 74th minute to make his side attack more. Instead it was United and Rashford who immediately put the game to bed. Another lovely Fernandes pass put the defence out of the equation and was taken by Eriksen, who had timed his run against the high line to perfection. The Dane advanced on goal and drew out Ramsdale, before passing sideways to Rashford, who had kept pace with his teammate. The No.10 stroked the ball calmly into the empty net.
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) September 4, 2022
There was still time for a couple of passes towards Ronaldo that were just about blocked by Arsenal defenders, with the Portuguese superstar hungry for a goal of his own. Saka and Harry Maguire, on as a substitute for the typically excellent Lisandro Martinez, also picked up a yellow card each.
Arsenal had controlled the possession and tempo for large parts of the game. But United’s transitions were too good for the Gunners. They remain top of the table after Manchester City dropped points against Aston Villa, but their perfect start has ended. They will face three more of the “Big Six” teams in their next five games, and a clearer idea of their title-race credentials will emerge after that sequence.
United rose to fifth place with this victory, just three points behind their beaten opponents. They now have four wins on the trot, their new signings are gelling well, and the team spirit looks excellent. As ten Hag said, they are some way off being title challengers yet. But the fiasco of their first two games is slowly being forgotten and the future appears ever brighter.