Eddie Nketiah’s last-minute goal saw Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-2 in a thrilling contest at the Emirates as the league leaders restored their five-point advantage over Manchester City.
Marcus Rashford gave United an early lead with a brilliant run and strike, the forward’s ninth goal in nine games in all competitions since the World Cup finished – the most of any player in Europe’s big five leagues.
However, Arsenal soon leveled through Nketiah, whose powerful close-range header made it 18 goals in his last 26 starts for the club.
Mikel Arteta’s side went ahead for the first time thanks to Bukayo Saka’s fizzing drive from distance eight minutes into the second half.
But United were back on level terms six minutes later as Lisandro Martinez scored his first goal for United, the Argentina World Cup winner taking advantage of Aaron Ramsdale’s mistake to float a header into the net.
But there was late, late drama as Nketiah touched home Martin Odegaard’s mishit shot – further improving his scoring stats – and, after a tense check for offside by the Video Assistant Referee, the roof came off the Emirates.
As a result, Arsenal restore their five-point lead over second-placed City, who had beaten Wolves 3-0 earlier in the day, while United – whose loss was described as a “reality check” by Erik ten Hag – remain fourth in the table and now lie 11 points off the leaders, who also have a game in hand on their title rivals.
arsenal: Ramsdale (6), White (6), Saliba (6), Gabriel (6), Zinchenko (7), Partey (6), Xhaka (8), Odegaard (8), Saka (9), Martinelli (7), Nketiah (8)
Subs: Holding (6), Tomiyasu (6), Trossard (6)
Man Utd: De Gea (8), Wan-Bissaka (8), Varane (7), Martinez (7), Shaw (7), McTominay (7), Eriksen (6), Fernandes (6), Antony (6), Rashford ( 8), Weghorst (6)
Subs: Fred (6), Garnacho (6)
Man of the match: Bukayo Saka
How Nketiah kept Arsenal’s title charge on track
This was a battle of the Premier League’s two most in-form teams and it showed in what was a pulsating contest in the capital that was a throwback to some of the fierce title meetings these arch-rivals used to have on a regular basis in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
United, missing the experience of key Brazil holding midfielder Casemiro through suspension, were put under immense early pressure by the league leaders, only to weather it and then open the scoring after 17 minutes.
The home team carelessly lost the ball, allowing Rashford to pick up possession midway inside the hosts’ half and the England forward nutmegged Thomas Partey before finding the bottom left-hand corner of the net with a bullet of a 25-yard drive.
It was as you were for Mikel Arteta as he named the same starting XI that won at Spurs. The only change came on the bench, where new signing Leandro Trossard was among the substitutes.
Scott McTominay was the man charged with replacing the suspended Casemiro in the Manchester United midfield – that was the only change from the 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace.
But that lead lasted all of seven minutes as Arsenal tore into their opponents, leveling matters with a sublime goal as Granit Xhaka’s gorgeous left-wing center was headed home by another in-form England forward, Nketiah, unmarked at the far post.
The first 45 minutes flew by, with both sides going close to re-taking the lead, but it was the Gunners who struck next to send the Emirates wild as Saka cut in from the right in the 53rd minute before arrowing a low drive into the far corner of the net past David de Gea’s outstretched hand.
Back came the visitors, though, in this thrilling end-to-end contest, with the normally reliable Ramsdale at fault as the goalkeeper palmed a corner straight to Martinez and the defender somehow managed to loop a header over Gabriel on the line and into the net.
The home team, who handed Leandro Trossard a second-half debut, pushed hard for a winner in the final quarter, but a combination of the outside of the post, which denied Saka a second, and the brilliance of De Gea initially kept them at bay, until Nketiah’s late intervention in one of the games of the season.
What the managers said…
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta:
“Emotional. A lot of passion. A lot of quality. It doesn’t get much better than that. After the derby away to come here against that team and play the way we played, the performance that we had all over the game, and especially in the second half, it was incredible.To win it in that way just makes it even better.
“I think mentally and emotionally we were really composed. But really determined at the same time. We managed those moments in the game really well, we never panicked, we kept believing, we kept doing the right same things even better than before and we believed that in the end we could win.
“We showed the right composure in the box on many occasions but the ball didn’t go in – but fortunately enough, in the last action, we managed to win the game.
“This is a team, especially when they go in front, they are extremely difficult to play. Don’t need much to create chances, love to have spaces to attack, and the moment you start to be giving longer distances, give the ball away, don’t finish your actions in the final third they really punish you, but I think we handled that well.
“You can talk about maturity and belief but then you have to show the quality as well and the perseverance to keep going and emotionally relax and [be] confident we can do it. We’re taking the game where we wanted and I’m really delighted, the boys deserved it. And thank you to the crowd because it was an incredible evening to live with them.
“I think we deserve where we are because the way we are playing. But don’t get confused. It’s about what we do tonight and tomorrow and there are a lot of things we can do much better.
“Every week… we’ve been talking about pressure for the last 12 or 13 games but in the Premier League it’s so difficult to win, the margins are so small, every team is really well equipped, they’re going to make life very difficult for you We know that and we have to prepare every single day for that.
“It’s a joy to work with this group of players, whether they’re young or old it doesn’t really matter.
“We’ve never won it, we’re halfway through the season, there are other teams with much bigger squads who have already won a lot. Let’s go day by day.
“Just in terms of numbers, at the moment we have 15,16 outfield players and obviously it wasn’t enough and they’re going to help us. Leo [Trossard] already helped us a lot today, he showed how composed, how calm and how confident he was when he came on the pitch and helped us to win the game.”
Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag:
“Two games head-to-head, really close. It’s hard to accept in the end, when you lose in the final stage of the game. It can’t happen.
“We have to face that and learn the lessons. We’ve made mistakes. All the three goals, we could avoid them. Normally we are better in such situations.
“It’s tough, that’s quite clear. You could smell it. There were moments on the break but we have to defend much better. We are making the wrong decisions – not one player but many players. You concede the third goal same as the first two goals.
“We started the game very well, we score the goal, we’re leading and then we make mistakes that are unacceptable. Today we have to accept, learn the lessons and move on.
“The two first goals we’re making so many mistakes. It can’t happen. That is a lesson we have to take. We will face the players with this because it can’t happen. Good teams don’t make such mistakes Again, not one player.We make many mistakes.
“It can be [a reality check]. Today we have to accept. We are unsatisfied on this defending performance. We can do better. Last week we kept the opponent more away from our box, but if they were in the box we defend much better. Normally we don’t concede goals from corners – today, two.
“The last goal so short before the end of the game. That is not acceptable.
“I’ve said the same words in the dressing room – if you want to win you can’t make the mistakes I’ve just mentioned.”
Arsenal’s long unbeaten run – Opta stats
- Arsenal are now unbeaten in their last 13 Premier League games (W11 D2), their longest unbeaten streak in the competition since December 2018 (14 games).
- Man Utd have failed to win any of their last five away games in all competitions against Arsenal, losing four times and conceding at least twice in each defeat (D1) – it’s their longest winless run at the Gunners since October 2000 to March 2004 (5 games).
- This was just the third time Arsenal hosted Manchester United in a Premier League match while top of the table, with the Gunners going unbeaten in all three matches: winning 3-2 today and drawing the other two games (1-1 in March 2004 and 2-2 in November 2007).
FPL Stats: Arsenal 3-2 Man Utd
|Goals||Nketiah (2), Saka, Rashford, Martinez|
|Assists||Xhaka, Odegaard, Tomiyasu, Fernandes|
|Bonus points||Nketiah (3), Saka (2), Martinez (1)|
Man of the Match – Bukayo Saka
Next up for Premier League leaders arsenal is a FA Cup fourth-round trip to title rivals Manchester City on Friday, kick-off 8pm.
The Gunners return to Premier League action away to Everton on February 4, kick-off 12.30pm. Mikel Arteta’s side then have two home games, against Brentford and Manchester Citybefore two away trips to Aston Villa and You are welcomeend their February schedule.
United will need to put their league thoughts on pause, as they have three cup games within the next 10 days.
United go to Nottingham Forest for their Carabao Cup semi-final tie first leg on Wednesday night, live on Sky Sports.
Erik ten Hag’s side then turn their attention to their FA Cup fourth-round tie, as they host Championship side reading on Saturday, kick-off 8pm. United then play Forest in the return leg of their cup semi-final on the following Wednesday.
United’s next league game is a home match against Crystal Palace on February 4, kick-off 3pm.