Arsenal keep top-four hopes alive with victory over Manchester United
Egypt international Mohamed Elneny was left out of the squad as Arsenal beat their rivals Manchester United 2-0 to boost their chances of securing a Champions League position.
Arsenal came into this fixture knowing that a top-four finish was out of their hands, as they sit sixth with 60 points – nine points behind Manchester City in fourth, albeit with two games in hand. The Gunners have qualified for every Champions League for the past 20 years, and if they were to continue that trend then victory was a must.
Manchester United were seeking the same goal as the hosts, however, were assured of Champions League qualification should they win their remaining four games of the season. The situation presented was unusual, as the last time Arsenal and Manchester United both finished outside the top four was in 1978-79, when they ended seventh and ninth, respectively.
The Red Devils began brighter of the two sides, with Wayne Rooney seeing an early headed chance loop over the bar.
Arsenal then began to pressure the visitors and Rooney was forced into giving away possession. Arsenal countered quickly through Alexis Sanchez, who found Aaron Ramsey behind the United defence with a fantastic pass – but the Welshman was thwarted by a brilliant save by David De Gea.
Ramsey soon turned provider, finding ex-Manchester United player Danny Welbeck in a good position but he was unable to take advantage, being quickly drowned out by the visiting team. The pattern of Arsenal retaining possession and Manchester United sitting deep began to take shape, setting a slower tempo for the first half.
Arsenal began to increase the pressure, twice going close through Danny Welbeck who was only unable to convert due to last-ditch blocks from Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain then forced De Gea into another good save with a long ranged effort that took a deflection on its way through.
The home side almost gifted United a crucial goal, as Rob Holding played a poor pass to his own goal which Rooney intercepted but was unable to capitalise on. This represented one of the Manchester club’s few openings, and it spurred them on, opening the game up to a faster pace.
Arsenal continued to have the better chances for the remainder of the first half. Welbeck was offside for an acrobatic effort, and a great cross into the box by Ramsey was cleared out by Jones. Oxlade-Chamberlain threatened briefly but was forced to run the ball out of play.
The North London side began the second half stronger and found their reward on 54 minutes when a speculative effort from Granit Xhaka deflected off Ander Herrera and looped over De Gea into the goal.
Manchester United were unable to recover from conceding an unlucky goal, and Arsenal took full advantage. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played in a fantastic cross and Danny Welbeck directed a strong header into the back of the net via the cross bar on 57 minutes. It was Welbeck’s second goal of the season.
The Red Devils responded by making two changes – Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford coming on for Manchester United, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ander Herrera off respectively. Rooney then went close with a curling free-kick, but Čech was able to get down low to turn it around for a corner.
Mesut Ozil then very nearly provided Welbeck with a second goal as he drilled in a low cross, however, the striker was unable to connect with it. Rooney then went close with a long ranged curling effort that only just missed the top corner.
Arsene Wenger then made three substitutions, with Francis Coquelin, Olivier Giroud and Hector Bellerin replacing Granit Xhaka, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arsenal then set out to contain Manchester United and protect their lead.
Arsenal’s win represented Arsene Wenger’s first ever Premier League win over Jose Mourinho, coming in at the 13th attempt. Their chances of qualifying for the Champions League has improved, but it is still out of their hands. Arsenal’s next fixture is away to Southampton on Wednesday.
Manchester United’s own chances of reaching fourth place have taken a serious dent, however, they still have the opportunity to qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League. Their next match is the second leg of the semi-final of the competition against Celta Vigo on Thursday.
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