Ole Gunnar Solskjær oversaw his 100th match in charge of Manchester United on Sunday, but he’ll be in no mood to celebrate. United went down 1-0 at home to Arsenal after another dire Premier League performance. They’re now winless in six league games at Old Trafford, a run that stretches back to early July.
It was a poor first half from United, who struggled with the intensity of Arsenal’s pressing and barely seemed capable of stringing more than a couple of passes together at a time. With Anthony Martial serving the final match of his three-game suspension, Solskjær’s side lacked a physical presence up top, and invariably lost the ball almost as quickly as they had won it back.
Arsenal created a sequence of good chances to break the deadlock, but somehow United struck lucky and stayed level. Héctor Bellerín’s low cross to the far post on the quarter-hour was inches too far ahead of the onrushing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and flashed across the face of goal. Later in the half, Willian and Aubameyang linked up in a nice one-two on the edge of the area, but the Brazilian was denied a wonderful, curling strike by the crossbar. On the stroke of halftime, Bukayo Saka peeled free of Victor Lindelöf to head a floaty Bellerín cross goalwards, but it narrowly cleared the bar.
At the other end, United offered almost nothing. Only once in the first half was Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno given a scare, when Marcus Rashford bisected Arsenal’s defence with a fine low pass for strike partner Mason Greenwood. He, however, had peeled too far left of goal, and was easily denied from a tight angle by the German keeper.
Solskjær correctly responded to a poor first-half showing by changing United’s shape at the interval. The diamond he’d started with was dropped for a more standard 4-2-3-1, with Greenwood out on the right; Paul Pogba on the left; and Scott McTominay and Fred playing in a midfield pivot behind Bruno Fernandes.
However, Arsenal created the first good chance of the second half, when a loose header by Rashford was swept up in midfield by Alexandre Lacazette. He shimmied past a half-hearted Fred challenge, and laid the ball off to Aubameyang, who curled just wide of De Gea’s left-hand post from the edge of the penalty area.
In the end, Arsenal had a reward, presented to them gift-wrapped by Pogba with 20 minutes left on the clock. The Frenchman clumsily fouled Bellerín in the United box; the referee pointed to the spot; and Aubameyang walloped an assured penalty past De Gea and into the net. It was a just punishment for a disappointing United performance.
Solskjær immediately rung the changes, introducing Edinson Cavani and Donny van der Beek in place of Greenwood and Fernandes. Van der Beek went closer than anyone to netting an equaliser, when his low cross was deflected against the post off the head of goalkeeper Leno. United’s lack of width meant their build-up play was slow and predictable, and Arsenal held on for a deserved — and ultimately comfortable — win.