May 12, 2024

In having done the bare minimum here, Arsenal have so far done all they can in the title race. It was not pretty, but it will now mean potential drama on the last day. That’s at least what Mikel Arteta’s side have taken the title race to, with this grind of a 1-0 victory over Manchester United now meaning Manchester City have to win at Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday. That game and the final week is now abound with complicated storylines, which is why Arteta had to keep it as simple as possible.


The relief could be felt when David Raya caught a late cross by Alejandro Garnacho. Arsenal had not exactly been firing, and it said much the only goal came through Casemiro’s laxness rather than any lightning play. That doesn’t matter at this point. Leandro Trossard was there again, and Arsenal are there on the final day. It was just about getting through. If Arsenal didn’t look at their best, mind, the reality was United never looked like scoring. They just didn’t have it in them, despite a broader improvement in performance.


You could draw all sorts of metaphors from the way a diluvian rainstorm started the second the game finished, as United trudged off.


Leandro Trossard’s goal was the difference between to the two sides. (EPA)

Erik Ten Hag had been so conscious of the criticism that inevitably came after Crystal Palace, that some at the club felt there was a greater focus to the preparation. It is probably not coincidence that United conceded their lowest number of shots in months. Arsenal didn’t even get close to 20. United again looked much closer to the team that Ten Hag wants – if with a few glaring gaps. One was in that chasm of space left by Casemiro to play Arsenal’s entire attack onside for Trossard’s goal.


It is genuinely impossible to work out what a player of such experience was doing, or even thinking. The Brazilian was ambling around the United area as if looking for a tennis ball he’d lost when walking the dog last week. It was remarkable.


Manchester United v Arsenal player ratings: Gabriel Saliba and Leandro Trossard to keep title race alive.


While it was difficult for the eye not to be drawn to Casemiro, looking at Jonny Evans was almost as amazing. That isn’t to say the central defender was any way at fault. Quite the opposite. Evans had been dutifully getting the team to push up while making sure Sofyan Amrabat was picking someone up. He wouldn’t have expected to also corral his centre-half partner into doing the very basics of the position but then he didn’t have an actual centre-half beside him. Literally or figuratively. Evans looked across to empty space. From that, Arsenal claimed a hold of Andre Onana’s ball up, Kai Havertz squared and Trossard finished easily.


It was Arsenal’s best chance for almost 80 minutes of the match.


They hadn’t actually been that convincing, which was one reason United didn’t concede as many shots. One reading of that is that Arteta purposely played conservatively in order to just get the job done here at a stadium with a lot of emotional baggage with the club. That still might have influenced the fact Arsenal were unusually error-prone. They weren’t really shutting this down. In moments where they tried to alleviate pressure and work the ball up the pitch, even Bukayo Saka was playing the ball straight to United players. In one attack, Martin Odegaard had to do a complete 360 because no option presented itself.


There was probably a goal there for United, if they could just focus. They weren’t exactly clinical, though. Too many counters or shots were just off. A tone had seemed to be set when Rasmus Hojlund fell backwards and skied the ball with their first proper attack of the game. Garnacho was a constant danger but that usually involved being led into corners.


William Saliba and Gabriel, for their part, were again superb. There were so many moments when United looked like they might force an opening in the box, only for one of the centre-halves to get a vital touch.



A sign of the game’s psychology was in Arsenal regularly just opting to boot the ball clear. No playing it out there.


That wasn’t down to United’s threat, of course, but more the consequences of what might happen with any bad bounce.


It was getting that tense. That was only compounded when Onana made two fine saves after the 80th minute, both from headers from set-pieces. That has been Arsenal’s great strength this season, and it looked like something United were at least alert to.


They couldn’t raise it any more. Arsenal did enough – at least until next Sunday. They had to fight until the last moment here, and it means they fight until the last day.

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