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United fall to Late Defeat after VAR Woes.

The game we love can be so cruel sometimes and the fans felt the full force of this after Man United succumbed to a double sucker punch to lose to fierce rivals Arsenal. In a game of margins, United battled hard and executed the game plan well but it wasn’t enough to get past the Gunners. Nevertheless, it was a very encouraging performance given the circumstances and one that United will hopefully build on.

First Half

The theme of the first half was essentially United dominating possession but not having enough decisiveness to create goal scoring chances. Arsenal didn’t press super high and this can be attributed to one man: Andre Onana. His superior abilities on the ball meant that Arsenal were wary that if they did press high, he would just clip the ball to the spare man and break the press. Arsenal also created minimal chances, with their best chance falling to Kai Havertz in the box. However, he fluffed his lines and failed to make any proper contact with the ball. Nevertheless, it was United that made the breakthrough. Eriksen jumps on a loose pass from Havertz and drives the ball up the field before playing a lovely through ball to Marcus Rashford. He cuts inside and finishes brilliantly off the post to get off the mark for the season. He is no stranger to performing in big games as that was his sixth career goal against Arsenal. Before United could even catch their breath from celebrating, Arsenal equalised in typical Arsenal fashion. There was some slick interplay between Zinchenko, Nketiah and Martinelli before Martin Odegaard was found on the edge of the box. He curled it delightfully into the bottom corner for the equaliser. Although it was a well crafted team move from the Gunners, questions have to be raised as to why one of Arsenal’s most dangerous players was left so open. Eriksen was especially poor in this sequence as he wasn’t aware of Odegaard and was languid in closing him down for the shot. The rest of the half was pretty much deadlocked as neither team was able to create anything noteworthy. Going into the break, United were definitely the happier of the two teams.

Second Half

The second half started in a similar fashion, with United keeping the majority of possession but failing to have any cutting edge with their play. It was Havertz who had the first biggest moment of the second half, after he was seemingly fouled by Wan Bissaka and Arsenal were subsequently awarded the penalty. Upon VAR review, it was rightfully overturned and deemed a dive. However, the first turning point of the game was when a Lisandro Martinez injury led to him being substituted for the divisive Harry Maguire. Soon afterwards, Rasmus Hojlund came on for Anthony Martial to make his highly anticipated debut as United fans wondered whether he would have a similar impact to the Frenchman on his own memorable debut. And Hojlund instantly made an impact with his hold up play and constant physical battles with Gabriel. His movement was an instant gamechanger for United and he was involved in a dubious penalty call when Gabriel impeded him in the box. Whilst he appeared to have stopped Hojlund with his arm, it was deemed to be “legal” by VAR. But things went bad to worse for United as Lindelof had to be substituted for Jonny Evans to make his second United debut. He was tasked with facing Gabriel Jesus. United had their 5th and 6th choice centre back options on the pitch to hold the fort against one of the most prolific teams in the league. It was going to be a nail biting watch for United fans worldwife. As the game came to an end, United thought they snatched a famous win as an incisive breakaway led to Garnacho being through on goal. He finished with aplomb to steer United to an unlikely victory. But unfortunately, VAR was not United’s saviour this time as the goal was ruled out for offside. Upon replay, it appeared that Garnacho’s shoulder was agonisingly offside and the decision was right in the end. To compound United’s misery, Saka’s extra time corner found Declah Rice, who was unmarked in the box. His deflected shot found its way past Onana to give Arsenal the lead. The stadium erupted with elation and relief as the Gunners went ahead but unfortunately it was poor box defending from United to leave a man unmarked yet again. Despite United’s attempts to find an equaliser in the closing moments, Arsenal weren’t done. Rashford unacceptably pulled out of a 50/50 which led to an Arsenal breakaway. Fabio Viera played Jesus through who jinked past Dalot before slotting in a third for the home team. Upon full time, it was a hard blow for United as they played a great game and were unlucky to not leave the Emirates with points.

Performances of Interest

Diogo Dalot: Arguably the Man of the Match for United, Dalot was impeccable defensively and had locked down Saka throughout the game. He defended the back post really well and considering that he wasn’t playing on his natural side, the performance was even more impressive.

Bruno Fernandes: it was a poor performance from the United captain as he failed to create anything substantial. The game completely bypassed him and he constantly went to ground by trying to win fouls for the team but to no avail.

Rasmus Hojlund: the wait was definitely worthwhile for the Dane to make his debut! It was a fantastic cameo where he managed to show off his immense physical qualities and he held his own against one of the better centre backs in the league. He even showed off his technical qualities through that brilliant flick to find Casemiro for Garnacho’s disallowed goal. Although he wasn’t able to show off his finishing due to a lack of service, it was a very promising introduction to our new Number 9.

The heat is on United after claiming only 6 points from a possible 12 before the International break. However, the performance against Arsenal was encouraging and who knows what the score would’ve been had United not been crippled by injuries? With Brighton and Bayern to come after the break, it is set up perfectly for United to respond in style. United are known for their slow starts, so it isn’t time to push the panic buttons just yet; something is definitely brewing!

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