Lingard earns point for Manchester United after De Gea hands Arsenal lead

Daniel Taylor at Old Trafford on 5 December 2018

By the time it was all done the supporters of these famous old clubs could be forgiven for pining for the days when this was the most eagerly anticipated fixture in the Premier League. It was an error-strewn match, high on incident but low on quality, and Arsenal in particular will realise it could have been a more profitable night if they had removed some of the carelessness. Twice they led but on each occasion they were swiftly pegged back by a Manchester United side that have huffed and puffed to only three points from their last four games.

If nothing else, United’s powers of recovery at least indicate that the league’s eighth-placed team cannot be accused of lacking fight – not on this occasion anyway. Ultimately, though, the goals from Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard will not disperse the feeling that something is obviously wrong with the 20-times champions. Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku could not even make the starting line-up and United were fortunate, perhaps, that Arsenal were unable to defend with more substance on the two occasions the visitors had put themselves in a position of strength.

The final goal of a dishevelled, rain-soaked evening was a case in point. It came within 13 seconds of the restart, Arsenal having gone 2-1 ahead courtesy of the substitute Alexandre Lacazette, and was fashioned via nothing more refined than a long punt from Marcos Rojo, a heavy touch from Sead Kolasinac inside his own penalty area and Lingard nipping in to poke a scruffy yet important goal past Bernd Leno, Arsenal’s slow-to-react goalkeeper.

Then again Lacazette’s goal was hardly a masterpiece. This time Rojo lost the ball inside his own half. Lacazette exchanged passes with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, another substitute, and Rojo’s attempts to save himself resulted in a sliding tackle that succeeded only in nudging the ball past David de Gea. It was credited as an own goal, though replays showed the final touch came off Lacazette’s instep, completely by fluke.

As United-Arsenal games go, it was certainly difficult to remember another contest featuring so many of what Tony Adams, in his television role, described as “schoolboy errors”. This was the first time in 32 years, encompassing 83 meetings, that this fixture has taken place without Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger in one of the dugouts. It was eighth against fourth at the start of play (Arsenal have now dropped back to fifth) and in United’s case it probably sums up their malaise that a club that once fielded, from right to left, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs as their midfield quartet started with a wing-back system featuring Diogo Dalot, Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Matteo Darmian across the middle. Fred, the £52m forgotten man, was not even among the substitutes and Arsenal were denied only by De Gea’s goalkeeping in the final 20 minutes, when he saved from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, twice, and Lucas Torreira. Incredibly it was the first time any goalkeeper has kept out a shot from Aubameyang in a league match since Lukasz Fabianski managed it for West Ham in August.

The ball crosses the goal line for Arsenal’s first goal before Ander Herrera can clear it after David de Gea’s blunder.
The ball crosses the goal line for Arsenal’s first goal before Ander Herrera can clear it after David de Gea’s blunder. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Equally Mourinho must also be concerned that De Gea, usually such a brilliantly consistent goalkeeper, is having an erratic season. United’s goalkeeper will certainly not wish to see the replays of the opening goal, 26 minutes in, when Torreira swung over a corner from the left and Shkodran Mustafi powered in with a downward header. Bouncing off the turf, the ball flicked off De Gea’s gloves and dropped behind him rather than, as he intended, going over the crossbar. Herrera might still have saved United by trying to head the ball away, rather than waiting for it to drop and kicking clear, but it was poor goalkeeping. Mourinho later remarked that his team “drew 2-2 but we scored four goals”.

Arsenal held the lead for only four minutes, continuing their run of having not led a league game at half-time this season, but they can be aggrieved about the free-kick that led to the goal and, secondly, that the linesman did not see that Herrera was marginally offside when Rojo took aim. Leno saved the shot but Herrera was fast to the rebound. His cutback went behind Lingard but rolled invitingly to Martial and, with nobody in an Arsenal shirt reacting quickly enough, he turned in his eighth goal of the season.

Arsenal, now 20 games unbeaten in all competitions, lost Rob Holding to a first-half injury and Aaron Ramsey, with a twisted ankle, was unable to come back out for the second half. That meant Mkhitaryan entering the game on a night when Mesut Özil was absent again from Unai Emery’s team, and the former United player was unfortunate that a linesman’s flag denied him a late winner. It was the correct decision but the angled, left-foot volley from Mkhitaryan was exquisite, one of the few moments of high quality from a game that felt a long way removed from United versus Arsenal in the good old days.

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