LONDON — Manchester United completed a smash and grab win at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, as Louis van Gaal got the better of Arsene Wenger in their first meeting in the Premier League.
[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]
United soaked up copious amounts of Arsenal pressure, as the Gunners wasted several good chances early on that came back to bite them.
A second half own goal from Kieran Gibbs plus Wayne Rooney’s late breakaway has sent United into the top four, as the pressure begins to pile on Wenger and Arsenal.
We learned a lot about both teams in North London on Saturday, but here’s three things.
WILSHERE’S LACK OF GOALS HOLDING HIM BACK
Jack Wilshere could easily have had a hat trick on Saturday. Arsenal’s industrious and scrappy midfielder ferreted away in midfield and started numerous Arsenal attacks by picking up the ball 50-yards out and running towards United’s goal. In the first half he waltzed clear of United’s shaky backline but fired his shot straight at David De Gea as the home fans looked on in disbelief. Time and time again Wilshere does the hard bit but fails to finish. He has one goal in 22 appearances this season and scored five goals in 48 games last season. No wonder England manager Roy Hodgson has switched the pint-sized midfielder to a holding role.
After his glaring miss in the 14th minute on Saturday, Wilshere was running around like a man possessed as he squared up to Marouane Fellaini with his temper getting the best of him. On another day Wilshere could have been shown a red for thrusting his head towards Fellaini, the only issue was Wilshere could only reach the collarbone of the towering Belgian. In the second half Wilshere then suffered a nasty looking ankle injury as he overran another slaloming run and was caught by Paddy McNair. That forced him off as he’s set for another spell on the sidelines. All in all, not a great day for Arsenal’s 22-year-old midfielder.
UNITED REVERT TO 3-5-2; PLENTY OF PROMISE
Injuries have ravaged United’s backline once again this month with van Gaal’s team suffering an incredible 39 injuries at an average of one every three days since he took over. That fact forced the Dutchman’s hand on Saturday as he reverted back to his favored 3-5-2 formation which United failed to adapt to early in the campaign. The Red Devils haven’t lined up with three at the back since their 0-0 draw with Burnley on Aug. 30 but they did so at the Emirates. It didn’t go so well, especially in the first half.
When Arsenal surged forward neither Chris Smalling, Paddy McNair or Tyler Blackett stepped forward. Eventually, one of them had to and Smalling took first knock for the rest of the game while United’s two academy products swept up either side of him. Left wing back Luke Shaw, who was a major doubt for this one, hobbled off in the 16th minute and was replaced by Ashley Young. United’s makeshift back five of Valencia, McNair, Smalling, Blackett and Young dug deep to secure the win and with De Gea behind them, they looked more comfortable as the game wore on. Going forward the 3-5-2 was flexible and allowed United to launch countless counter attacks in the second half after soaking up pressure. Di Maria, Rooney and Fellaini sprung free time and time again as United had plenty of bodies in support and could have scored three or four on the break. The 3-5-2 enabled van Gaal’s men to put in the perfect away day display to put them in the top four.
DE GEA STAKES HIS CLAIM AS PL’s BEST ‘KEEPER
United’s Spanish ‘keeper made the one aforementioned top draw save from Wilshere in the first half, and was forced to make several stops down low from Danny Welbeck. Throughout the match Arsenal peppered United’s goal with 21 shots, with eight on target. De Gea looked cool and calm and despite a few dodgy kicks the lanky 24-year-old Spaniard is staking his claim as the PL’s best ‘keeper. All this after a dislocated finger on international duty. Even though he may not look like it, he’s a tough cookie. In matches against Everton, West Ham and Chelsea he has shown his class and is right up there with Thibaut Courtois, Fraser Forster, Tim Howard and Hugo Lloris as the PL’s best. This season he has been United’s best player and in a backs-to-the-wall performance away from home he was unfortunate to lose his clean sheet thanks to a stunning effort from Olivier Giroud in injury time. United’s new-look team will be built on defensive solidity, and De Gea continues to provide that. With wins against Everton and Arsenal, a draw against Chelsea and a narrow defeat against Man City when they were down to 10-men, United are putting in solid performances against their rivals for the top four.