Well, it wasn’t a classic, but it was a very silly game of football. Manchester United managed drag Arsenal down to their level, and two wobbly defences conceded two goals apiece. The visitors might be more frustrated with the point, having made the clearer chances, but in truth neither side played well enough to deserve three.
A chopped-up line-up and a changed formation might have led to a slow start, but United actually came out with a little early zest. Had Marcus Rashford placed his early shot either side of Bernd Leno, Arsenal’s keeper might have been stretched; as it was, he was able to gather without moving.
But Arsenal soon remembered that they, for once, were the grown-ups, and soon took control of the ball. Saed Kolasinac began to rumble forward down United’s right, attempting to get in behind Diogo Dalot, and one such raid led to the corner that gave Arsenal the lead.
Well, the corner and Shkodran Mustafi’s header will get the credit, but this was all on David de Gea. As the ball bounced up towards him United’s keeper seemed, inexplicably, to get caught in two minds, between tipping the ball over and palming it down. As a result he did nothing but scrape the ball backwards over his shoulder, and over the line by a couple of inches.
It seems New Arsenal are still a little Old Arsenal at heart, however. Five minutes later, Mattéo Guendouzi stuck his knee into Antony Martial’s, and Marcos Rojo sent a firm free-kick goalwards. Leno was able to tip it wide, but Ander Herrera — offside by an inch or two — got to the rebound first. He squeezed the ball back into the box, and it trundled past a couple of alarmed-looking defenders before Martial poked it home.
With both sides reassured in their incompetence, it was time for some violence. First Mustafi clattered Rashford close by the touchline, then Rojo, having fluffed a shot from the resulting free-kick, hurled himself into the penalty-area and straight through the unfortunate, and probably quite surprised, Guendouzi.
Both were booked, and three more yellows followed in quick succession: Nemanja Matić, Jesse Lingard, and Héctor Bellerin all drawing censure for various acts of needling cynicism. A scrappy half ended with a contested drop ball that neither team could win properly, which felt about right.
United started the second half with a little more intent and a lot more possession. A neat combination down the left sent Rashford running free into the box, but he couldn’t find Lingard with the pass; moments later Martial looked to have space in the box, only to find himself bundled off the ball.
Eric Bailly roused the crowd by matching Aubameyang for pace, and Rashford demonstrated that there is a proper striker in there somewhere by holding off Sokratis with his back to goal, then sending Dalot free with cute reverse pass. Sadly, the young right-back couldn’t muster a cross. All in all, Old Trafford was treated to 20 minutes of enterprising, back and forth football, which hasn’t been all that common this season.
Just after the hour mark, Martial limped from the field, and moments later Arsenal were back in the lead. Rojo, after dallying on the ball at the back, tapped the ball straight to Alexander Lacazette. He exchanged passes with a colleague, but just as he shaped to shoot, Rojo clattered into him from behind, poking the ball into the net into the process.
It took United five minutes to respond to Arsenal’s first goal; it took barely five seconds to match the second. A long ball forward scrambled Kolasinac’s mind, and poked the ball backwards into this own area. Leno couldn’t get to it, but Lingard could, and United were level again. Marouane Fellaini hadn’t even finished his warm-up.
On came the big Belgian, quickly followed by Paul Pogba, as the spaces around Old Trafford began to crack wide open. De Gea threw a perfect long barrier in front of Lacazette, and then Henrikh Mkhitaryan fired a chance — and the narrative — over from close range.
With 15 minutes to, the game looked poised to descend into absolute chaos; then, sadly and strangely, it just ... didn’t? Arsenal settled back into their shape, and United couldn’t quite pry them open. In the end, we had to make do with a quick flurry of late farce: Lacazette and De Gea paid tribute to Gary Crosby and Andy Dibble, except it was disallowed this time, and Mkhitaryan slapped his finest ever Old Trafford finish into the net.
But he was offside.
A draw might not be enough in terms of points. But the avoidance of the loss, and the energetic if often imprecise performance, mean that United have kicked their crisis a little further down the road. Glory, glory?