Mikel Arteta earned his first win as Arsenal boss as the Gunners produced a powerful first-half performance to beat a lacklustre Manchester United.
The visitors, who were without the injured Paul Pogba, actually began brightly, but the game took a different turn on eight minutes when Nicolas Pepe steered in his fifth goal of the season after Sead Kolasinac’s cross was deflected to him.
That led to a first half in which the hosts were in control and Pepe hit the post before they doubled their lead when his corner was smashed in from close range by Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Ole Gunnar Solskajer’s side came into the game with one loss in their previous nine games, and although they improved after the break, they rarely tested Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
It was characteristic of a stop-start season in which they are yet to win three Premier League games in a row.
The defeat leaves them fifth in the table, five points behind Chelsea, who drew with Brighton earlier in the day.
Victory for Arsenal lifts them to 10th place, four points behind United, but they remain closer to the relegation zone than the top four.
Pepe peps up Arsenal
There had been little evidence of a lift in Arsenal’s three performances since Arteta was appointed, and questions were already being asked as to whether he was the right man to take over from former boss Unai Emery, given his lack of experience as a manager.
Arteta was just an onlooker in the stands for the lifeless draw at Everton, but that was followed by a 1-1 draw with Bournemouth on Boxing Day and a crushing late defeat by Chelsea at home last Sunday.
This was a different game altogether, though. With Granit Xhaka, who has been linked with a move to Hertha Berlin, restored to the midfield, the Swiss and Lucas Torreira were quicker to the tackle than their opponents.
Pepe was also at the heart of their attacking endeavour.
After scoring early on, he sent United left-back Luke Shaw halfway down the Holloway Road with a sharp turn before setting up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who sliced a volley over.
The Ivorian then fed Alexandre Lacazette, who somehow hit his shot out for a throw-in from about six yards out, before Torreira went close from another Pepe pass.
The hosts had to withstand greater pressure from Solskjaer’s side in the second period but in contrast to the Chelsea defeat, when they conceded twice in the last seven minutes, Arteta’s side managed the game well.
Their only concerns were injuries to Kolasinac and Lacazette, who were both taken off in the second half.
Pogba-less United show further cause for concern
Manchester United improved after the break, but it would have been hard not to do so after a poor first half.
Marcus Rashford had tested Bernd Leno in the first minute, but once they went behind to Pepe’s opener, they struggled to match Arsenal’s superior energy in midfield.
Jesse Lingard, who returned to the starting line-up, was hardly involved while Nemanja Matic could not get to grips with Mesut Ozil, Torreira or Xhaka, who were often one step ahead.
It was another game where Solskjaer’s team missed the influence of Pogba, who has not started a game in three months, and the mystery over his omission continued as the United boss said he had picked up an ankle injury which could keep him out for a few weeks.
Prior to the game, it had been hinted that Pogba would be fit to play.
United did lift their game once Lingard was substituted, with his replacement Andreas Pereira almost making an instant impact as he hit the side netting.
There were also chances for Fred and substitute Mason Greenwood, but without the injured Scott McTominay, and the ongoing problems with Pogba, United looked short on creativity in midfield and need to find solutions quickly should they want to maintain a top-four challenge.
You might also like – West Ham 4 – 0 Bournemouth
David Moyes’ West Ham return got off to the best possible start as two Mark Noble goals helped his side to an emphatic victory over Bournemouth that lifted them out of the relegation zone.
Captain Noble opened the scoring inside 20 minutes with the help of a deflection before Sebastien Haller’s bicycle kick doubled the Hammers’ lead.
Noble scored his second 10 minutes later from the penalty spot after being brought down by Harry Wilson before Felipe Anderson completed the rout. read more
Source – BBC