Arsenal ended a run of 29 games without a win at a big-six side as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s second-half penalty gave them a 1-0 victory at Manchester United.
In Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s 100th game in charge, Manchester United’s much talked about diamond midfield struggled to deal with Arsenal’s energy, and the visitors had the better of the chances as Willian hit the bar and Bukayo Saka headed over unmarked.
Aubameyang curled an effort just wide after the break, but he got another chance from 12 yards after Paul Pogba had fouled Hector Bellerin in the box, and the Gabon striker duly converted to end the Gunners’ hoodoo, which had lasted since 2015.
Arsenal’s deserved win moves them into the top half, but Manchester United, who hit the post via a double Mohamed Elneny and Bernd Leno deflection late on, have just seven points from six games.
This fixture has so often showcased first versus second in the Premier League, but with both sides starting the game in the bottom half, the aim was more to kick-start indifferent starts to the season.
Arsenal’s press was led by summer signing Thomas Partey, “the best player on the pitch” according to Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp, but it failed to yield a goal in the opening hour.
Willian hit the bar from the edge of the box following a nice one-two with Aubameyang, but the best chance fell to Saka, who headed over unmarked from Bellerin’s cross after Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka simply failed to challenge.
United was flat, and mustered up just one shot in the first half, their fewest in a Premier League home game since October 2015, and had just three touches in the Arsenal box, their fewest since December 2017.
Arsenal was edging what was at times a low-quality game of chess, and after Aubameyang curled just wide from an Arsenal break, the striker had a clearer sight of goal from the penalty spot after Pogba’s clumsy clip-on Bellerin just inside the box.
Bellerin got goal-side of Pogba to draw the foul, one of referee Mike Dean’s easier decisions, and Aubameyang made no mistake, sending David de Gea the wrong way.
United’s inevitable spell of pressure came, but sub-Donny van de Beek’s double-deflected cross, off Elneny, then Leno, then the near post, was the closest they came in the entire game.
Arsenal’s win was thoroughly deserved as Mikel Arteta “set them up perfectly”, according to Sky Sports’ Gary Neville, an apt example of the Gunners’ more conservative and considered approach under the Spaniard.
Paul Pogba started for Manchester United as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made two changes; Mason Greenwood also came in as Juan Mata and Dan James dropped out.
Rob Holding’s inclusion was a surprise given his muscle injury suffered in the warm-up at Man City a fortnight ago, but he came in alongside Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey. Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka dropped to the bench, with David Luiz out injured.
But for Solskjaer on his century of games, questions remain over consistency, and in particular how best to use United’s midfield personnel on another sub-par showing from Pogba.