Arsenal travelled to Old Trafford as the form team ahead of their encounter with Manchester United, but the Gunners required a last-gasp equaliser, with their only effort on target, from substitute Olivier Giroud to rescue a point against the Red Devils.
United, who lined up with Marcus Rashford as a central striker in place of the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic, dominated the game with fine displays from Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba; José Mourinho will be unhappy to have only come away with a draw — not least because his side were denied a penalty.
United started brightly, with Ander Herrera winning an early free-kick 20 yards from goal which Juan Mata was unable to take advantage of, but the first clear chance fell to Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean, who had been an injury doubt ahead of the game, headed wide from six yards out.
In the 15th minute, Pogba burst past compatriot Francis Coquelin and flashed a low cross in front of goal, but the Arsenal defence stood firm and cleared the danger. A beautifully whipped Marcus Rashford centre from the right almost picked out Anthony Martial at the far post; the French forward was flagged offside, so if he had made contact, it wouldn’t have mattered.
With just over half an hour played, Matteo Darmian was lucky not to be sent off. The Italian international defender, playing at left-back, caught Cark Jenkinson on the ankle with a mis-timed tackle; the former Torino man had already been book but avoided a second yellow card.
In the 35th minute, United thought they had a penalty when, after being played through by Pogba, Antonio Valencia nutmegged Nacho Monreal before apparently being hauled down by the Spaniard; referee Andre Marriner waved away the home side’s appeals — Mourinho’s indignation was evident on the touchline.
Seconds later, the Red Devils were back on the attack. Some fancy footwork from Pogba created enough space for the former Juventus star to release Juan Mata, who drew a superb save from former Chelsea team-mate Petr Cech with a low strike from 20 yards.
Cech was forced into action again after 40 minutes as he tipped Martial’s curling effort over the bar. The rejected penalty claim seemed to have galvanised United by this point as they continually piled forward, but half-time came with the score even.
The home side began the second period with purpose. Martial hit a speculative effort from distance before Shkodran Mustafi blocked a Rashford effort from close range.
In the 63rd minute, Wayne Rooney replaced Martial. The England captain took up the central striker’s role with Rashford moving to the left. Daley Blind took over from Darmian a couple of minutes later.
United made the breakthrough after 67 minutes thanks to a wonderful combination between Pogba, Ander Herrera and Mata.
Pogba picked out Herrera, who’d made a lung-busting run down the right side of the penalty area. The Basque midfielder then expertly picked out Mata on the edge of the box; the former Chelsea player found the bottom corner of Cech’s goal in emphatic fashion, sending Old Trafford into raptures.
With Arsenal struggling to get a foothold in the game, Wenger made an attacking switch by bringing on Olivier Giroud for defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny.
Marcos Rojo almost doubled United’s lead in the 80th minute, but his header from Blind’s cross flew wide. Wenger then looked to reinvigorate his lacklustre midfield by bringing Granit Xhaka on for Coquelin.
In their final throw of the dice, Arsenal brought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin on for right-back Jenkinson — a move which proved to be decisive. Mourinho responded by attempting to sure up his midfield with the introduction of Morgan Schneiderlin for Mata with six minutes to play.
United were happy to sit back and allow Arsenal to monopolise possession in the closing stages, which, ultimately, would prove to be their downfall.
In the 89th minute, Oxlade-Chamberlain breezed past Rashford before floating an inviting ball into the box. Giroud rose above everybody to power home a headed equaliser which, in truth, flattered the Gunners.