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Arsenal won Sunday’s marquee Premier League matchup, beating Manchester United 2-0 in a key contest in the race for the top four. The loss was interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first in the Premier League.
Granit Xhaka opened the scoring early with a wicked swerving strike that caught out David De Gea, and the United stopper couldn’t save a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penalty after the break.
The win moves Arsenal up to fourth place, just one point behind rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Aggressive Approach the Right Way Forward for Emery
Unai Emery surprised many with his decision to go for an ultra-aggressive starting XI against United that included Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey.
It was a lineup fans had been waiting to see for a long time:
Frankie Hobbs @Frankie_Hobbs
Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette and Ramsey ALL start for Arsenal today. https://t.co/Mj2YPCF9C2
The fact Emery picked all four against an in-form United team coming off a 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain was what made it surprising. In a crucial contest for the top four, the often conservative-minded coach finally opened up, and it worked wonders in the first half.
The Gunners caused all kinds of problems in midfield and mustered several great chances, before Xhaka opened the scoring. Per sportswriter James Benge, Emery’s tactics worked so well that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer changed his approach before the half-time break:
James Benge @jamesbenge
Can’t remember many games in final years of Wenger reign where opposing head coach had been so comprehensively ‘out-tacticed’ that he had to rip up his plans in first-half.
Emery has forced that on Solskjaer, who has gone to a back three. United were being bullied in midfield.
The Gunners will have to make up a two-goal deficit against Rennes on Thursday, and there’s no reason they should abandon their aggressive approach for that match. Ozil, Ramsey, Aubameyang and Lacazette are four of the team’s best players, and any formation that uses all four at the same time is worth exploring deeper.
The race for the top four remains a tight one, and now is the time for Emery to push ahead and be as aggressive as he can be.
Solskjaer Still the Man for United Despite Loss
Solskjaer may have lost his first Premier League fixture in charge of the Red Devils, but the interim boss still made a positive impression in the contest and strengthened his case to win the job on a permanent basis.
His side were outplayed early, but the opening goal came after an individual mistake from arguably the side’s best player when goalkeeper De Gea was badly caught-out by a swerving strike.
Solskjaer noted the issues that plagued his side and changed things up in a timely fashion, per sportswriter James Olley:
James Olley @JamesOlley
It is a credit to Emery that #mufc have changed their system here. They’ve gone to a three-man defence. #afc have been winning the midfield battle so far.
The changes worked, as United mustered several chances and hit the woodwork multiple times. If things had gone their way, the result could have been very different.
Arsenal were always likely to come out strong after their disappointing loss to Rennes in midweek, while United seemed to feel the effects from the Champions League hangover after their comeback win over PSG. And despite so many things going in Arsenal’s favour, the Red Devils still lost due to an individual error and a penalty.
One loss against a top team with a point to prove won’t damage Solskjaer’s reputation too much, and if anything, the United interim boss once again made a fine impression on Sunday.
Arsenal host Rennes in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League tie on Thursday. United face Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday in the FA Cup.