Arsenal earned a share of the spoils thanks to yet another goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as chances from both sides went amiss.
Unai Emery went with a 4-3-3 formation for this trip to Old Trafford, aiming to win the midfield with our numbers and therefore, claiming ascendancy in United’s third.
There was also a deserved start, another one after Eintracht Frankfurt and Aston Villa, for winger Bukayo Saka.
The first twenty minutes were an exercise in caution and tactical rigidity. We held firm and didn’t allow the home side the space to stretch us. Our closing was effective and we drove United back at times. There was a few scary moments when Daniel James ran at Calum Chambers on the flank, but it was a case of us holding steady.
Then the game started to open up a little. The pace of Saka was giving Ashley Young problems, prompting the United man to put in a few niggly fouls to remind the youngster where he was.
There was a few fouls on Guendouzi too, as the Frenchman is so often the catalyst for our breaks. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had obviously briefed his men to snap on Guendouzi when he was on the ball and that was the case as some crunching tackles were going in.
We had to be careful though. We were starting to come into the game on the half hour mark, and there were half chances for Pepe and Saka, but nothing to truly trouble De Gea.
With the rain pouring down, it looked like the half was going to end goalless, but the game started to truly quicken in the last five minutes.
Firstly a chance for Rashford, but Sokratis did well to stifle the England striker when through. The Greek defender showed his pace to more than keep up with the United striker.
A minute later, Luiz spotted the run of Saka through the middle and our winger went through with United’s last man. A few stepovers then earned a yard to squeeze a low shot in, which De Gea did well to get down low to. The ball spilled out wide to Guendouzi, the only other able to keep up with Saka’s break, and De Gea got up quickly to push round the post.
Then, just before half time, United got the breakthrough.
The ball was kept in play after a misplaced cross. It was passed toward Pogba who couldn’t get on the end of it, but behind him was McTominay, who took one touch before rifling a shot into the roof of the net, leaving Leno no chance. This goal had come straight from an Arsenal corner.
What a late blow, and we trudged in a goal down, and all the work ahead of us to claw it back.
United actually started the second half the stronger side, and Kolasinac was very lucky not to give away a penalty when a deflected cross bobbled up and hit his upper arm.
We were enjoying a bit more possession, but we weren’t really troubling De Gea, moves breaking down too easily and De Gea too easily plucking our crosses out of the air.
Then, a huge moment of contention.
Axel Tuanzebe gave the ball away to Bukayo Saka who slips a perfect first time pass to Aubameyang, who placed a perfect dink over the onrushing De Gea. The goal was initially ruled out but VAR reinstated the goal after it was shown to be clearly onside.
A minute later, we should have taken the lead as Saka was found centrally in the box but a last second deflection took his goalbound effort over the bar.
United were rocking.
Was it the introduction of Dani Ceballos at half time? Torreira was the man taken off and it looked like were a little less stodgy in the middle of the park, a bit more forward impetus, but it did mean sacrificing a bit of defensive solidity.
We couldn’t quite land the killing blow but we were looking like the most likely to take the lead. We were probing but United were also searching for an opening – Pogba the next player to go close as his curler went inches wide.
McTominay was next up to go close, his bullet header screamed over from a corner that never should have been given.
United were now in the ascendancy once more and we looked like we had taken our foot off the gas. The home team were penning us in, and it was all hands on deck. Maguire tested Leno with a long ranger which the German was equal to, but it stemmed from a poor pass from Pepe who could have sparked a dangerous counter.
Pepe didn’t last much longer as he was replaced by Reiss Nelson. Would it change anything for us?
Fifteen minutes to go, and the game was very much in the air.
Jo Willock came on for the impressive Saka, but we weren’t really stretching United, it was starting to look like we were happy with the point?
The game went up in tempo, but in terms of clear cut chances, they were at a premium. The game ended with the scores level and it was perhaps the fair result given the impetus shown from both teams.
What can we take away from this solid point?
Pepe Isn’t Acclimatised
Misplaced passes, no bursts of pace or trickery, it is clear the Ivorian needs time to deal with this type of game, which was physical and frenetic. Trouble is, being our record buy, it means he gets less time before the pressure kicks in. Needs a goal badly.
Saka At The Right Level
So often, the winger was our bright spot. A constant outlet with a formidable engine, Saka looks like he could be a mainstay, much like Willock this season
Tactics Were Right
We’re away at a ground where we have a terrible record. Where penalties are given to the home side regularly. So we kept things tight, we remained patient and perhaps a little bit more urgency might have won it but Emery called this right. It was important not to lose here, against a very average United side.