The Warmdown: Gunners fall short at Old Trafford
Nuno Tavares of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on December 02, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

In what was an enthralling game from start to finish, Mikel Arteta's Arsenal side failed to capitalise on their opportunity to move in the Champions League positions, as they were narrowly beaten by hosts Manchester United. 

The Gunners head into this game knowing that a win would take them into fourth place in the Premier League, due to West Ham dropping points late-on against Brighton on Wednesday evening.

As for the hosts, the Red Devils were searching for their first PL win at Old Trafford since their 4-1 victory against Newcastle United back in September - the game that saw the return of the great Cristiano Ronaldo, who bagged a brace on the day. 

  • A topsy-turvy affair

The game began in somewhat confusing fashion, as in the 13th minute, Arsenal had the ball in the back of the net through an Emile Smith-Rowe volley. 

The goal was an enormous point of contention, as in the lead up to the strike, United midfielder Fred backed into his own goalkeeper, David De Gea, leaving him momentarily out of action in the host's goalmouth. 

Smith-Rowe volleyed the ball into what was essentially an empty goalmouth, only for referee Martin Atkinson to blow his whistle, bringing attention to the indisposed De Gea, temporarily ruling the goal out.

After what was a lengthy VAR review, the goal was eventually given under the premise that Atkinson did not blow his whistle until the ball had crossed the line - though a bewildering few minutes, a positive start for the visitors nonetheless. 

The Gunners began the game impressively, as they have done many times this term, forcing the United back line way into their own half through a mixture of high pressure and positive attacking play. 

Though Arteta's side couldn't find the all-important goal to double their advantage, leaving them consistently vulnerable to the host's infrequent counter attacks in the first half. 

With only a few minutes of the first period remaining, Michael Carrick's side clawed their way back into the tie, as a swift attacking manoeuvre saw Fred square the ball to an advancing Bruno Fernandes, who slotted the ball neatly past Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale. 

  • The Ronaldo effect

With the game perfectly poised at 1-1 heading into the second half, it was United who came out the stronger of the two sides following the break. 

Just seven minutes into the second period, the inevitable Ronaldo pulled United into the lead, latching onto a Marcus Rashford pull-back to slide the ball into the far corner.

Seemingly as soon as United had found their lead, the Gunners drew level through what was an almost identical goal at the other end, as mercurial youngster Gabriel Martinelli found Martin Odegaard with an incisive cross, for the Norweigan to place the ball into the bottom left corner.

No sooner was Odegaard the hero for Arsenal, he had turned into the villain, as he brought down Fred in the box in what was a moment of complete misjudgement from the creative midfielder - and who else to step up for the resulting spot-kick than United's number 7. 

Ronaldo launched the penalty into the centre of the goal, illustrating complete composure in what was the game's most decisive moment, putting United 3-2 up with 20 minutes of the game remaining. 

Though Arsenal put their best efforts in to equalise, with Arteta calling on attacking options Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah from the bench - but to no avail. 

Try as they did, the visitors couldn't muster the killer instinct to pull level in the closing stages, bringing an end to Arteta's dominance when facing the northwest outfit. 

(Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
  • The 'big picture'

There were a number of notable lacklustre performances for the Gunners, none more glaringly obvious than captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who once again failed to provide the form that he displayed in his first few seasons playing for The Arsenal. 

There are questions beginning to rise around the Gabonese forward, as the Arsenal faithful are starting to become frustrated with his near-absent performances, especially in the most crucial moments.

Despite his position as Arsenal captain, many Gunners fans are starting to believe that there are more potent options currently warming the bench for the north London side. 

Although Arsenal registered their fifth loss of the PL season, there were a few positives to take from the defeat. Martinelli once again looked a threat, constantly bearing down on the hosts' back line, creating three chances across the 90 minutes. 

Portuguese fullback Nuno Tavares retained his place in the starting lineup, and though this may not have been his strongest defensive display, he certainly provides something different as an attacking outlet from a deeper position. 

Again there was another solid performance on the other side of defence from Japanese right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu, who is looking more and more settled in the Premier League as each game passes. 

In what was a difficult game for Arsenal, the frustration now seems to be borne from the knowledge that they are capable of much stronger performances, rather than the feeling of complete hopelessness that has been prevalent in recent years.

With a game against a struggling Everton outfit on Monday evening, Arsenal supporters will be hoping for a much more aggressive and clinical display to bounce back from this disappointing result.

But the Merseyside squad will smell blood, with Arteta's men looking much more vulnerable than they have done at any point in the last few months. Rafa Benitez's side will see this game as an opportunity to begin the turnaround of their season, so the Gunners will have to approach this fixture with caution. 

In the end, it was an individual error that was the downfall of the Gunners. In my opinion, they weren't outplayed, but the inexperience of the youngest side in the league was clear to see. There will be more mistakes and nights like this in the future, but it is important not to lose sight of the big picture. 

In spite of the defeat last night, The Arsenal still find themselves wedged in fifth place, thanks to their imperious PL form leading up to the 4-0 thrashing at Anfield.

The currently under-performing senior players in Arteta's squad will be called upon in the Gunners' next fixtures, as they look to solidify their charge for Champions League football next season.