Mikel Arteta's Arsenal played out a testing 0-0 draw against 2nd placed Manchester United in a match that saw both sides come close to winning the game. 

Compared to the reverse fixture on the 1st of November, this was a much more entertaining contest. However, the stats mirrored the result as both teams shared the possession and each mustered 3 shots on target. 

After being under serious scrutiny at Christmas time, Arteta has seemingly mounted a turnaround with the Gunners, seeing them unbeaten in the Premier League this calendar year.

The Arsenal boss spoke about his squad's performance, the direction of the team and the absence of certain players; notably Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. 

  • Moving in the right direction

Arteta seemed pleased with his side's work rate on the evening and attributed it to their growing form in the new year. He then elaborated on the players' contribution stating "We are moving in the right direction. All the boys are willing to contribute to the project." 

The spaniard went on to look further into the future, regarding his ambitions for the season: "I think the team is really good at the moment, I have to push the players inch by inch and make them believe we can finish the season in a strong way." 

On the topic of his players, Arteta didn't provide any update on the new rumours circulating about Ainsley Maitland-Niles leaving on loan in the current window. The young English full-back has been linked with West Brom and Southampton this week. 

  • Emile Smith-Rowe shines again

Emile Smith-Rowe looked bright once again for the Gunners, starting in the hole amongst Arteta's formation of 4-2-3-1. The youngster was praised by his manager: "I think he played a really good game.

The boss suggested not for the first time this season that Smith-Rowe is responsible for a growing desire at the club. "He increases the pace and the rhythm of the team when he's around the ball. Defensively also, he's working so hard." 

After breaking into the starting eleven during the congested run of fixtures at the end of 2020, the England U21 international now looks a vital member of his managers squad. His emergence gives Arsenal fans another aspect of Arteta's project to be excited about.

  • Missing players & Aubameyang absence. 

Revealed days before the game, the club made it known that captain Aubameyang would be unavailable for the Man United fixture.

The Gabonese Striker announced on Friday morning via his social media that his mother had been ill, and he had returned to Gabon to see her. 

In the presser, Arteta touched on the situation: "Pierre is quarantining because he had a family issue he had to attend to and these are the consequences at the moment." 

When asked about how long Aubameyang would be absent for, he said "I don't know, we are working with the Premier League and the government about it. He's been looking after his family." 

As well as their star striker, Arsenal were without Saka and Tierney in their starting eleven this evening. Whilst Saka had reportedly suffered a bruised hip, Tierney was surprisingly rested.

Arteta went on to explain that "The fact that we had three of our best players out probably had an impact... But I'm really happy with the players who played today."