Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United: Unai Emery out-thinks Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to deliver deserved victory

Felix Keith
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a penalty to double Arsenal's lead (Source: Getty)

Something had to give. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United had won all nine of their away games; Arsenal were unbeaten in 14 Premier League matches at home and had won eight in a row at Emirates Stadium.

In the event it was the Gunners’ streak which continued as Granit Xhaka’s swerving shot and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty gave them a deserved 2-0 win to strengthen their push for a top-four finish.

Arsenal had won just three of their last 20 Premier League games against United but turned around their poor record in style, outplaying a side still buoyant from their miracle midweek turnaround in Paris.

Emery out-thinks Solskjaer

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the victory was that it was born from the bold tactical approach taken by their manager.

Unai Emery has a reputation as a pragmatist, but his decision to go for a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Mesut Ozil behind Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, was a statement of intent. Arsenal knew United’s devastating potential on the counter, but backed themselves to circumvent it.

While United were far from chanceless – Romelu Lukaku clipped the crossbar and Fred struck the outside of the post in the first half – the ploy worked.

Just over 30 minutes into the game, at 1-0 down, Solskjaer blinked first, changing shape to match his opponents. It was a significant victory for Emery, whose plan was vindicated.

Alexandre Lacazette combined will with Aubameyang throughout (Source: Getty)

Gunners front two shine

Emery has been reticent to field his three biggest attacking stars together but the fact that Arsenal have never lost when Ozil, Aubameyang and Lacazette have started together suggests he should do so more often. The record now reads: 11 games together, seven wins, four draws.

The hosts raced out of the block and the combination between Lacazette and Aubameyang was central to their play. The duo linked up fluently throughout, the Frenchman holding up the ball and penetrating the defence with deft through-passes and the Gabonese using his pace to race in behind.

It was Lacazette who set up both goals, squaring for Xhaka to wobble a shot past David de Gea and sprinting past Fred to earn a soft penalty.

Aubameyang, who overcame his demons from the spot to send De Gea the wrong way, now has 17 goals and six assists in the league; his creative foil Lacazette has 12 goals and 11 assists.

Solskjaer’s magic runs out

Solskjaer has enjoyed a near-perfect few months at the helm, with his positivity inspiring players and the vast majority of his decisions bearing fruit.

For once that wasn’t the case. Lukaku, who had scored two in each of his last three games in all competitions, battled hard but his luck didn’t turn. Marcus Rashford was wayward. Paul Pogba was frustrated.

Ole Gunnar Solkjaer suffered his first away defeat as United boss (Source: Getty)

His decision to play Diogo Dalot in an attacking role looked sound but didn’t pay off. His replacement, Anthony Martial, couldn’t spark another unlikely comeback.

Solskjaer’s glow remains very much intact, but his golden run has finally been halted.

Top four

The latter years of Emery’s predecessor Arsene Wenger were defined by the race to finish inside the Premier League’s top four. Arsenal’s encouraging recent league form means the Spaniard is now well on track to achieve the No1 goal.

With rivals Tottenham losing at Southampton and Chelsea held to a 1-1 draw by Wolves, a match against another contender carried even greater significance.

The win moved Arsenal into fourth and they are now just one point behind Spurs, who have gone four league games without a win.

With his front line firing and his back line more secure, it appears to be clicking at the right time for Emery.