Arsenal hosted Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday in the hope of climbing in the top four of the Premier League.
The Gunners were successful on the day, running out 2-0 winners thanks to a long-range effort from Granit Xhaka and a penalty by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, although the visitors could consider themselves unlucky not to get anything from the game.
Here are five things we learned from the game:
There is now a four way race for the last two Champions League places
Not too long ago it seemed as if only two teams were vying for one spot in the top four: Manchester City, Liverpool and, to a lesser extent, Spurs were running well ahead of the chasing pack at the top of the table, while Manchester United were lagging way behind in sixth with seemingly no hope of catching up.
That left just Chelsea and Arsenal to duke it out between themselves for the last two spots, but circumstances have changed a lot and now anyone could make into the top four. Tottenham’s terrible form has dragged them back into a race, while United’s upturn under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has put them right in the mix.
Sunday’s result puts the Gunners back in a great position to qualify once again, while at the same time bringing United’s momentum to a screeching halt. There are also just four points separating Chelsea, who have a game in hand, and third-placed Spurs, meaning any one of them could sneak into the Champions League places with just eight games to go in the season.
Relax, United fans.
It’s tempting to conclude that today’s loss to Arsenal was the symptom of a regression to the mean for Man United, that the excellent results that coincided with the arrival of their Norwegian saviour at Old Trafford is now evening out somewhat.
xG map for Arsenal – Manchester United
the way statistics work is, if you have very good luck, you will then later have very bad luck to even it out. this is known as regression to the mean pic.twitter.com/LlzXkeA0DK
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) March 10, 2019
There’s a good case for that argument. The first goal was a ridiculously swervy strike that bamboozled the goalkeeper, while the second was the result of a soft penalty. Not exactly the signs of a poor performance.
Although United did start slowly, they were also the better team for much of the game, and created several good chances in the second half. It was arguably one of their better performances under Solskjaer, but the break didn’t come their way for once. On another day Romelu Lukaku, who hit the post, would score one of the three good chances he had.
Fatigue from their mid-week excursion to Paris could be an excuse for their lethargy, but Arsenal also had to travel to France and had a day less to recover. Still, there are not as many reasons for United supporters to worry as the result suggests.
Xhaka and Ramsey bossed the midfield
Granit Xhaka will definitely receive the plaudits for his outstanding goal in the first half, but he put in one of his best overall performances for Arsenal today. Defensively he was excellent, he distributed the ball well, and made one crucial block to keep the score at 1-0.
6 – Six of Granit Xhaka's seven Premier League goals for Arsenal have come from outside the box, including both against Man Utd. Swerve. #ARSMUN
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 10, 2019
Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey also put a huge shift in during the opening 45 minutes, making six tackles. To put that in perspective, there was only one other tackle made by a teammate in that same time. The Welshman truly had Paul Pogba in his pocket, nullifying United’s creative outlet.
They didn’t dominate quite as much after the interval, but Arsenal were always going to be under pressure once Solskjaer had to adjust when his team had to chase a lead. They had done enough.
De Gea is still a good goalkeeper, actually.
There was a lot of attention on the first goal, with several onlookers criticising David De Gea for not being in the right position to stop it. Gary Neville, who was on commentary for the game on Sky Sports, was at the forefront of those criticisms, calling it a “mistake” by the goalkeeper. I saw one person say it was Jordan Pickford-esque, which is a bit over the top in this writer’s opinion.
Looking back at the goal, the ball takes a huge swerve half through its trajectory towards the net; De Gea thinks it’s going one way, but it goes the other, leaving him flat-footed. The shot does come from a long way out, but the speed on the ball makes it extremely difficult to adjust in time. It’s very easy for us to say he should have made the save when we look back at it in slow motion.
Just a quick reminder; David De Gea is a world class goalkeeper, not a superhero from a Marvel film.
— David Preece (@davidpreece12) March 10, 2019
Sky Sports’ new ‘Brain Cam’ sure is… something
After Manchester City’s 6-0 rout of Chelsea in February, Sky Sports revealed their brilliant new virtual reality technology to show how the league champions tore apart their opponents.
Today Sky revealed another new gimmick, but it wasn’t nearly as impressive.
NBC Sports: Introducing the new De Gea Eyeball Cam. This has been in development for at least … four days. Hope you enjoy it. pic.twitter.com/XSfeXWinbE
— Miriti Murungi (@NutmegRadio) March 10, 2019
In their attempt to show De Gea’s perspective for the Xhaka goal, they essentially put a camera in his eyeball. Gross.