In the first half, Arsenal was winning the match up battle. On the right side, Nicolas Pépé relished the opportunity to square up Luke Shaw whenever he could. In the eighth minute, Pépé found himself free to find the breakthrough goal. Sead Kolašinac made a run towards the backline, and the fullback played a ball towards Alexandre Lacazette who was charging towards the near post. The ball flew by Lacazette and his defenders to find Pépé who was by himself in the center of the box. Arsenal’s record-breaking signing quickly curled the ball past David de Gea and into the back of the net. Pépé grew in confidence as the match continued and seemed to be channeling all the Twitter slander á la Jamie Vardy as he freelanced across the pitch and almost bagged a brace in the 38th minute as another curling shot clanged off the post.
More troubling, as the whirlwind of Paul Pogba rumors continue to swirl, United, again, looked lost at sea in the midfield. Arsenal did not employ a trio of world-beating midfielders, yet, United’s combo of Fred and Nemanja Matić we’re not up to the task of controlling the match and United clearly struggled to get the ball deep in the attacking half — let alone create anything that appeared even mildly dangerous. The best attacks created by the Reds all fizzled out by the time the ball would reach the feet of Anthony Martial as he was consistently dispossessed by the sub-par Arsenal defenders.
Already looking toothless, United’s ineptitude at defending set pieces showed up again in the 43rd minute. Pépé delivered a curling ball from the corner that glanced off Lacazette’s head and rebounded off De Gea’s hands. Undeterred, Sokratis Papastathopoulos was first to the deflected ball and volleyed it back into the net to double the home side’s lead.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær made a double substitution in the 58th minute to change up his side’s fortunes as he sent out Andreas Pereira and Mason Greenwood to replace Dan James and a woeful Jesse Lingard. Instantly, the Reds looked more dangerous, with Pereira even having a half-chance on Bernd Leno’s goal. However, looking dangerous doesn’t always mean goals, and United failed to put any true pressure on Arsenal’s lead. The match would mercifully end after an additional four minutes of added time without United finding the back of the net.
The result provides fuel to Solskjær’s doubters as the Norwegian has hung his hat on earning important results against the club’s direct rivals. The argument isn’t necessarily that United lost, but how they lost. United failed to ask any questions of Arsenal’s incredibly lackluster defense and allowed the Gunners to effectively cruise to a comfortable multi-goal win. Furthermore, Arsenal marked the first match of an incredibly difficult run of fixtures for United who will now face Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City in cup competitions and Liverpool in the league later in the month.
United have another quick turnaround as they face the aforementioned Wolves in the FA Cup third round on Saturday, Jan. 4 at the Molineux — a place that United has not played well in recent years. The match in the Midlands will provide an opportunity to Solskjær quiet his doubters again as he will need deep cup runs to stave off the likes of Mauricio Pochettino.