Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United: Gunners take initiative in top four race
(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United: Gunners take initiative in top four race

Arsenal moved up to fourth place in the Premier League as a goal from Granit Xhaka and a penalty from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang condemned Manchester United to their first league defeat since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge.

Andy Preston

Granit Xhaka gave the Gunners the lead with a long-ranged effort which left David De Gea rooted to his line and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang doubled Arsenal’s lead in the 70th minute from the penalty spot to give them a big three points in the race for Champions League places.

Story of the match

The game started with an intense pace with both sides fielding attacking sides as Mesut Ozil returned to the Arsenal line-up alongside the dynamic duo of Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang ahead of him whilst an in-form Manchester United team on the back of their midweek heroics fielded a dangerous pairing of Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku.

It was United who created the first big opening of the match as Luke Shaw whipped in an inviting ball which Lukaku attacked but his header bounced off the crossbar before Paul Pogba’s follow up was blocked.

Arsenal broke the deadlock after 12 minutes as an optimistic effort from distance from Xhaka wrongfooted De Gea to give the Gunners the lead. Despite striking the ball sweetly with an element of swerve, De Gea will have been disappointed not to have saved Xhaka’s effort with a clear view of the ball.

The open nature of the game continued to create openings for both sides and Fred came inches away from equalising for United as his low curling effort from just outside the box clipped the outside of the post.

The visitors continued to put the pressure on as they strived to find an equaliser and they came close to finding it early in the second half as Rashford slipped a neat ball into Lukaku, but Bernd Leno rushed off his line and made a terrific save to deflect his effort over the bar.

Leno rescued his side again when Pogba tried to find Rashford through on goal, but the German goalkeeper was quick to react to rush out of his box and claim the ball with great composure.

However, the Gunners continued to seek joy on the counter-attack, and they were awarded a penalty when Lacazette drove into the box and the slightest contact from Fred was enough to bring the Frenchman down.

Aubameyang stepped up to the spot with commendable nerve having missed a stoppage-time penalty last week in the north London Derby, but there was no mistake from the prolific striker this time as he converted the ball down the middle to double their advantage.

Arsenal held their nerve to claim a huge three points in the race for a place in the top four and claimed a rare clean sheet on their way to moving up to fourth place.

Arsenal’s Champions League hopes increase

On a weekend which saw Tottenham Hotspur lose 2-1 to Southampton and Chelsea drop points with a 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Unai Emery’s side took a big step towards achieving Champions League football next season, and subsequently, have overtaken United to go two points above them.

The Gunners have a big midweek fixture in the Europa League with a two-goal deficit to overturn against Stade Rennais, with victory giving Arsenal another potential route into next seasons Champions League.

With a slightly more favourable run-in than their top four rivals, Arsenal will fancy their chances of finishing in the top four having cut the gap to third place Spurs to just one point with eight league games left to play.

Despite now having played all of the top six teams twice this season, the Gunners still have tricky fixtures to come away from home at Leicester City and Wolves which has been the weakness of the north London side the last couple of seasons in spite of their impressive form at the Emirates Stadium.