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Three Talking Points from Arsenal 0 – 0 Manchester United

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Hard-running Arsenal completed another clean sheet and yet another organised, often progressive display in Saturday’s 0-0 Premier League draw with nosebleed merchants, Manchester United. Having conceded just a solitary training ground exercise goal throughout their last six Premier League games, the North London side were able to maintain the second best defensive record in the division. North London is Tight.

Team Selection

Mikel Arteta was thrown a sh*t sandwich before the game as marauding short-shorts model Kieran Tierney (muscle) and Bukayo Saka (sore hip) were left out of the match day squad. With captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang already absent, this was a cruel blow as Arsenal looked to build on their impressive run of 16 points from the last 18 and take a valuable scalp in Manchester United. With his three most potent goal threats out of contention, the pressure mounted. 

In came Gabriel Martinelli to take over from Saka, allowing Pepe to play in his stead on the right while Cedric Soures was handed another opportunity to further enhance his growing importance to the squad. Martinelli impressed in patches throughout the first half, appearing in important holes at both ends of the pitch, most notably a brilliantly perceptive defensive header in his own box as United tried to capitalise on a great forward pass. He ran hard and looked to be back to something like his best before being replaced by Willian at half time. A decision that many on social media felt akin to punting the ball in your own net directly from kick off to give the away side an advantage. 

Without delay, he began to be heavily involved in the breakdown of every Arsenal move he was involved in. Surprising everyone (including himself) he received the ball in front of goal after a missed defensive header, only to get it stuck under his foot and kick it into the leg of a desperate defender. To his credit, his contribution and influence slowly grew – Arsenal are always busy down the left channel – and he was involved in most of Arsenal’s threatening positions in the first period of the second half. Better from him, but that’s a bit like saying Ted Bundy had a good day because he forgot to abduct anybody on the way home from the library. 

Again, the defence proved better than the sum of its parts, and managed to lock out an uninspired United to see out the draw. Another game unbeaten.

Pepe

The Ivorian has, it appears, turned something of a corner. Over the last 180 minutes it seems that what is being asked of him has, finally, clicked and again he was dangerous throughout. He increasingly looks as if he belongs in the team and it’s not a coincidence. Team mates are finding him in more space, space that through positional ill-discipline, lack of awareness and confidence evaded him for most of his previous appearances in the league. Alongside it, he’s now showing flashes of skill to compliment his hard running. An early combination with Emile Smith Rowe, who effortlessly danced up the pitch to combine with Arsenal’s number 19, was glorious and an positive sign of a burgeoning chemistry between the two. Encouraging.

The last two league outings have likely been his best this campaign and certainly his best without a goal or assist. Playing this way, appearances on the scoresheet are just around the corner. He should have done better with the effort that just went wide of De Gea’s far post, however.  No doubt the manager will feel that he may be able to start putting more trust in him.

Willian

Purveyor of Michelin star grade sh*t sandwiches, Brazilian veteran Willian was called upon to do what he’s never done before and bring a bit of tactical nous and cute combination play to Arsenal’s build up after half time. His job was to take advantage of what Arteta must have seen as glaring defensive holes during the first period. Whereas Martinelli loves to run into space and directly at defenders/the byline, Arsenal’s manager saw how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had tried to nullify this threat and instead planned on utilising guile instead of bluster down Arsenal’s busy left side to make the breakthrough. 

Protectionism may have been on Arteta’s mind, too. Martinelli needs wrapping in cotton wool if Saka is to have either a small stretch on the sidelines or requires rotation. Arsenal can’t afford to miss the young Brazilian through over exposure when coming back from injury, and whatever the reason, this was one positive step toward full recovery.

As mentioned, Willian worked hard – his Chelsea calling card – and began to grind out an encouragingly brave performance. Always open to receiving the ball, he gave it away more often than not, but was able to link play nicely with the players around him to fashion a few half chances, one of which he’ll be kicking himself – if not being kicked for – for not putting away. 

Honourable mentions

Roy Keane is best served angry, so it was pleasing to see the simmering rage at what he perceived to be United’s profligacy in front of goal. Convinced Arsenal were ‘there for the taking’ his sad little face was a joy to behold as the North London club kept out the plucky title hopefuls (lolz) and held out for a draw. Arsenal haven’t been ‘there for the taking’ since late December, and teams will have to do better than this to get past this surprisingly solid current back line. They did have a couple of chances, but the home side could just as easily have won this game. 

Lacazette. What a nuisance he is for the opposition. I’d have very strong Fernandes style feelings for him if he didn’t play for the Arsenal. Busy either buying fouls, screaming at non-existent head injuries or waving his hands in the air, he finally came a cropper to a Harry Kane special (which now Kane is injured, have become dangerous and likely future yellow card fodder). He’s putting in the miles for his team. 

Finally – Bruno Fernandes is a cheating little see you next Tuesday. Had that calf rake been performed by Xhaka, he’d have had an early bath and we all know it. 

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