Arsenal moves into fourth with 12 points, while United moves into 10th with nine.
Three things we learned
1. McTominay flashes power: When you think of Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay, it’s about intelligent movement, tidy passing, and willingness to get into a tackle (and also, maybe, his surprise emergence under Jose Mourinho). But the 22-year-old showed us something a bit different with his powerful 45th minute lash from outside the 18. What a hit, even with a slight deflection, and the moment this sleepy game required on Monday. The Scot would miss an open header later in the game, but the damage was done.
2. Pepe fails to build on performances: With a goal and 2 assists in his last four matches prior to Monday at Old Trafford, big money Arsenal signing Nicolas Pepe had a chance to cement his star status on Monday Night Football. He did not, missing the goal with one first half effort before hitting a tame ball directly to David De Gea before halftime.
3. The kid and the megastar team up again: Bukayo Saka is living the dream. Starting in Arsenal’s trident at age 18, Saka assisted prolific striker Aubameyang with a delightful through ball. As for Aubameyang, the Gabonese mega finisher has scored in every match but one this season. His seventh goal of the season was his 49th in 73 matches for the Gunners, a wonderful return for the longtime Borussia Dortmund man.
Man of the Match: Saka — The teen completed 90-plus percent of his passes on the day and won four of five attempted tackles in addition to his assist and two shots. Saka now has two goals and two assists in his first 270 minutes with the Gunners.
A rather lengthy feeling out period finally opened up for a chance when Andreas Pereira took it into his hands with along dribble to the precipice and a shot saved by Bernd Leno.
At the other end, Nicolas Pepe clunked an open shot from 16 yards well over the bar. He’d later cut a low shot that De Gea collected inside the six.
McTominay delivered an unfitting end to a sloppy first half with a beautiful strike for 1-0. A cut back to the top of the 18 allowed McTominay to rip a shot that relegated Leno to onlooker status.
David Luiz‘s long free kick led to an Arsenal corner, but De Gea sprung an effective corner that required a Matteo Guendouzi intervention.
Aubameyang beat De Gea moments later, but the linesman’s flag was inexplicably raised. VAR took a look and allowed the goal.
Young striker Bukayo Saka just missed in a bid to make it 2-1 within a minute of Aubameyang’s marker.
McTominay ran onto a free header outside the six, but popped his effort over the frame with a little over 20 minutes to play.
United kept pushing, and Maguire stepped well ahead of his center half position to force Leno into a save, which drew a corner. Alas, Maguire made a silly foul as Leno attempted to collect the corner, and the chance died at the doorstep.
Marcus Rashford presided over a stoppage time free kick, but was denied by the ever-impressive Leno. Overall, it was an improved defensive effort from the Gunners, who still needed their star goalkeeper to get the win.
1. Healthy Yarmolenko a big asset: Injuries short-circuited Andriy Yarmolenko’s first year at West Ham after they did the same to his only campaign at Borussia Dortmund, so it’s been easy to forget that the Ukraine playmaker is pacey, creative, and lethal. His lunging finish to beat De Gea in the first half was simply one moment of a match full of good ones, as he fooled Harry Maguire in the process. Three shots, a key pass, and a goal from the right-sided wide man. Good stuff.
2. Pogba import underscored as Rashford adds to injury woes: With Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba already out, the non-contact injury that sent Marcus Rashford to the tunnel is a scary thought for a United team incapable of creative work through the middle. Andreas Pereira was a danger out wide, and Daniel James has proven himself a handful, but a long-term injury to Rashford would heap pressure on young Mason Greenwood. Without Pogba pulling the strings inside — forget Martial’s early season wizardry — this team is in big, big trouble.
Not great, Ed.
3. Technique on return: Aaron Cresswell had a free kick from the right of the 18, with the wall lined up to stop any ideas of a near post effort. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. The West Ham left back swept a piece of technical beauty over the wall, spinning it into the upper 90 despite the best efforts of David De Gea. Sensational.
Ashley Young has been through a few iterations of Manchester United, and the long-time club offered up lofty words to credit Maguire’s contributions to the team.
“Again he showed today what a man he is,” Young said. “You know, I think the manager’s said about him, he talks non-stop, he’s a real leader and he can play as well.”
Maguire won five aerial battles and two tackles while completing 83 percent of his passes and managing two shots against his former side (WhoScored). On the season, only Anthony Martial has consistently been more important to the team.
“I don’t think it bothers (Maguire) whatsoever,” said Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “You’ve got to be that way and when you play, when you coach, when you manage, we don’t get carried away when we win a game that we maybe didn’t deserve to win, but we don’t get in the dumps when we don’t win.”
“I’ve got loads of admiration for Vardy,” Solskjaer said. “I think he’s my type of centre forward, runs in in behind, harasses and you’ve got to be spot on with the decision-making, when to stay up, when to drop off, and both of them proved their worth today. There were a couple of races and Harry did well.”
Maguire didn’t love being on the other side of Vardy, either.
“It was tough playing against Jamie,” he said. “I’ve played with him for two years and he is a top player who can terrorize defenses when he is on his game. … We knew it was important to get the win, especially after the international break. We have to build on a solid base and we want to keep clean sheets, especially at Old Trafford. We are always going to score goals with the attacking talent we have.”
United hosts Kazakhstan’s Astana on Thursday in the Europa League before visiting West Ham United on Sept. 22.
There’s a debate to be had there, and it’s been had plenty, but it has us thinking: Which player is the most indispensable for each of the “Big Six” in their quest for a successful PL season?
It’s going to be a defender heavy list.
Tough one, here, and we may be just a few months of consistent performances from changing the answer to Tanguy Ndombele (Yes, he looks that good).
But this one’s down to two players. It’s not a defender, as Spurs have three dynamite center backs and the drop-offs between full backs don’t hold wide-enough margins.
It’s between the Harrys (Harries? Anyway, “Between the Harries” sounds like we just started a new reality show).
Don’t be misled by Spurs’ remarkable job making up for the loss of Harry Kane to injury late last season; the big striker is still on history-making pace for his young-enough career. Since becoming a full-time starter, Kane has 162 goals in 241 matches. Would you believe he’s not 27 until next summer?
Harry Winks is the ball-possessing, clean-passing motor that so many teams crave for their midfield. He’s been a 90-plus percentage passer in every season, and has completed 94 percent this early season. Again, small sample size, but his 75 passes per game trails Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte, Granit Xhaka, Paul Pogba, and teammate Toby Alderweireld.
It’s almost a coin flip here. We’re taking Kane, but we’re basing it on a tiebreaker of advanced statistics. Anyone making an argument for the 23-year-old Winks deserves to be heard.
This is perhaps the trickiest call of the bunch.
Anthony Martial has been far and away the most important player to the Red Devils’ early season, sputtering as it may be, but it’s far too soon to say he’s irreplaceable.
The fact of the matter, and this belies United’s plight, is that United is too thin to have a single player who would hurt the most to lose; Forced to choose one, we’ll say Maguire as he’s the most proven consistent entity of the bunch.
Another tough one, though it seems like it should be an easy one: N’Golo Kante. But he’s still finding his footing under Frank Lampard and last season wasn’t a great one as Maurizio Sarri messed with a great recipe by moving Kante from his role of pure opposition destruction.
The Gunners are very thin at center back, but the problem is that the starters aren’t stars.
So we’ll proffer one that’s a bit out of the box: Bernd Leno. The goalkeeper has been pretty darn good considering his team has offered very little resistance to attacks. His back-ups are Emiliano Martinez and Matt Macey. There’s no rule stating one of those two wouldn’t be a good starter, but they have six PL appearances between them (all Martinez).
Mohamed Salah is the straw that stirs the drink, but the Reds have a very good attackers behind him (both young and experienced) and made a run to the Champions League and a record league point total while he was not exactly thriving in form (Salah had a lone goal in an eight-match league run over February and March, and missed the incredible Barcelona comeback with a concussion).
The idea of it being Alisson Becker is interesting, but for Liverpool supporters that is probably fueled more by watching substandard keepers derail their dreams for a couple of years. For a neutral and especially for stat hounds, it’s not as big of a drop to Adrian as it seems (but it’s big).
We may want to revisit this discussion in January regarding Fabinho, but Liverpool is very deep in the midfield, too. It’s Van Dijk, and it’s not close.
It was a combination of a few things, the first obviously being the players’ quality. The PFA Team of the Year winner helped City lower its goals conceded total in his first full season at the Etihad, as City won almost every competition it entered in 2018-19.
An argument could be made for Ederson simply based on the keeper’s quality in possession and shot-stopping alone but no other position, really; City may have had to work harder for the title last season with Kevin De Bruyne injured, but it found an answer largely through Bernardo Silva. Leroy Sane looked like City’s MVP two seasons ago, but Raheem Sterling emerged as the club’s best wide man and there’s some guy named Mahrez behind him.
Laporte, it is (And if you want to really get into the nexus of this article, and why the stats say there is a big drop-off from Laporte to even John Stones, let alone a third wheel, check here. Also, I’ve learned that City fans vastly under-appreciate Otamendi).
It won’t be a popular notion in a competitive world which demands people make their own luck, but Manchester United fans should not push the panic button yet when it comes to the club’s early season performances.
Despite all these things, United should very much be unbeaten right now.
The Red Devils weren’t as good as their 4-0 score line versus Chelsea to open the season, but it appears their opponents aren’t anywhere near the traditional standard bearers to wear the Stamford Bridge set’s blue colors following a draw with Leicester City and scrappy 3-2 defeat of Norwich City.
Consider: Opta reports that United is only the second team to win a penalty in each of their first three matches to a Premier League season, after Chelsea in 2012-13.
Also consider: Chelsea made all of theirs (Also an odd one, all of those penalties came before the 23rd minute. Low stress. The scorers were Frank Lampard (2) and Eden Hazard).
United probably deserved to have gotten all three points from their draw with Wolves a week ago, and no club deserves to be enraged as the seemingly case-by-case rulebook being applied to in-game penalty reviews by the VAR (although Spurs supporters are likely feeling a change in the wind between Aymeric Laporte‘s handball and Jamaal Lascelles‘ face plant, we imagine).
The nature of the last two finishes has also been a shock to the system. United, like most big clubs, simply doesn’t lose at home and not late. According to Opta, Patrick Van Aanholt joined Thierry Henry as the only visitors players to have scored a 90th minute winner at Old Trafford (At some point we should have a discussion about Van Aanholt being criminally underrated, but not on account of David De Gea‘s “Where’d my hands go?” routine).
But this is very much a case of luck, Fortune, or whatever word you deem adequate to describe the defiance of statistics. On Saturday alone, Gary Cahill tried a rodeo mount of Martial and VAR somehow didn’t deem it a penalty; Rashford smashed a penalty off the post; And one of the finest goal keepers in the world forgot how to keep goal.
Small sample size alert, but look at United’s standing in these statistical categories (via WhoScored.com). The Red Devils have had all of the ball, are winning their 50/50s, passing well, and are arriving in an ornery mood. Obviously, they should shoot more. Also, they should score their penalties.
The other good news comes in this way: United’s best performers have come from the players they’ve identified as a big part of their future.
United faces a tricky trip to in-form Southampton this week. Saints deserved a point against Liverpool before beating Brighton, but will be playing its third match in a week following midweek League Cup action versus Fulham.
Should they falter, especially via a missed penalty, well… first and foremost, send us your popcorn gifs. But truly, consider the performance. Given the club’s lack of addressing the midfield and willingness to let Lukaku walk, perhaps you’d say the Red Devils displays away from the penalty spot this early season have been in a decent place.
This isn’t to say the team is great. I picked them to finish outside the Top Four and have yet to be swayed that the Red Devils can come together quick enough to outlast Man City, Liverpool, Spurs, and Arsenal over 38 matches. Solskjaer is likely to prove a lesser Zidane over time (a terrific man manager, but not as advanced when it comes to matching wits with the best tactical minds or even super experienced ones like Roy Hodgson).
Panic, however, should be reserved not for a 1-1-1 start. If you want to direct your frustration somewhere, I’d choose the lot using missed penalties to fire racism at players.