There’s no two ways round it, Arsenal were pretty dreadful on Saturday at Old Trafford. The midfield struggled to exert much control over the game and Arsenal could barely muster a chance going forward. It was horribly similar to most Arsenal performances in the league at Old Trafford for the last few years.
But somehow Arsenal didn’t lose. I’m not sure if the 1-1 draw is a damning indication of the state Manchester United are currently in, or a positive sign that Arsenal are still picking up points when playing badly. It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but even poor Louis van Gaal United teams beat Arsenal when they played that badly at Old Trafford, but Mourinho’s team couldn’t see the game out.
As much as the performance from the Gunners was absolutely infuriating because Manchester United do look like an incredibly average team this season and if Arsenal had shown anything near peak form, they’d have walked away with all three points, it is definitely worth taking the positive side of the result. I’m sure the performance will be fully dissected behind-the-scenes and we should see a reaction against PSG on Wednesday, but it is a lot easier to conduct that analysis with the unbeaten run intact and a positive vibe remaining around the team. Olivier Giroud’s late equaliser ensures that that is the case.
While it was clear during the game that Arsenal are badly missing Santi Cazorla in central midfield, the value of Arsenal’s stronger squad this season was evident in Arsene Wenger’s game-changing substitutions. They probably could have been made earlier to try and spark a labouring team into life, but the introductions of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud gave Arsenal a different dimension.
After Arsenal hadn’t had a shot in the second half, in the 89th Oxlade-Chamberlain burst into space on the right and clipped a fantastic cross along the six-yard box. With Arsenal finally getting bodies in the box, Giroud timed his leap superbly and thundered the ball past De Gea with a thumping header. With Alexis Sanchez looking fatigued and taped together with his hamstring injury, it was a reminder that Giroud is a great option to give the Chilean a break.
The impact from Oxlade-Chamberlain was also pleasing after he stunk the place out in a woeful showing off the bench last time out against Tottenham. His assist and goal count has improved a lot this season, and that cross for Giroud was an example of that.
While going forward Arsenal struggled for the majority of the game, defensively they weren’t regularly opened up by United. Petr Cech made a couple of excellent saves, but bar the goal from Juan Mata, Arsenal weren’t too bad defensively. Mustafi was excellent in the air while Laurent Koscielny didn’t allow Marcus Rashford space after he punished Arsenal with two goals in the corresponding game last season. Francis Coquelin also made some telling interventions defensively.
But it was just frustrating that Arsenal couldn’t impose themselves going forward as United were there for the taking. As soon as the Gunners finally put pressure on the hosts’ back four, United wilted and conceded a goal.
There’s plenty for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal to ponder, but at least the post-mortem isn’t coming after a defeat. Also on the plus side, Jose Mourinho was incredibly angry after the game, which always warms the heart.