Arsenal defeated Manchester United, demonstrating the traits of a Premier League team poised for victory.

For the first time in a decade, Arsenal and Manchester United produced the kind of titanic meeting that is etched into the Premier League’s founding stones, a match that may be compared to the Pizzagate scandal, the Marc Overmars game in 1998, and the exhilarating 2-2 draw five years later. You may have been persuaded at any point in the game that one team would win out significantly.

But you could never have convinced Arsenal. Even if the game appeared tight to a faraway spectator, Mikel Arteta’s Premier League leaders clearly had the upper hand. Reading the figures is almost comical. Bukayo Saka, who intimidated Luke Shaw, had more touches in the box at the end of the game than Manchester United had overall (12 touches). No opponent outdid backup right back Takehiro Tomiyasu’s 45-minute total of three touches in the opposing penalty area. Eddie Nketiah and Martin Odegaard each fired six shots. Likewise, United.

Looking at those stats, it is hard to believe that United wasn’t eliminated until Nketiah’s right boot flick in the 90th minute. However, they do not fully tell the tale. Even though United finished in second place, they were still a very good club that carried out a strategy that Erik ten Hag had clearly decided was the best approach to deal with the league’s top teams. When the chance to attack presented itself, they made numerous threats based on the exact deaths of Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes.

momentum-vis-5.png

Then there was Marcus Rashford, who moved with the confidence of a player who is aware he is the best on the field. After a strong start, he was briefly devastating Arsenal with a decisive goal. He had been fizzing the ball into the bottom corners during the warm-up for the game, and when Thomas Partey turned over the ball with a hard touch, he continued where he had left off. With the aid of Wout Weghorst’s deft decoy move, space was created for a long-range shot, and Rashford’s deft dipping effort gave Aaron Ramsdale no chance.

Arsenal were unfazed by the incident, not even briefly. They debunked the absurd theory that recently circulated that Arteta’s fury on the touchline would rub off on them. They kept playing the way they had been playing, earning 47 points from their first 18 games, even while the United Press shattered the foundations of their preparation. This wasn’t always the case, as evidenced by their previous loss at Old Trafford earlier in the year when a frazzled Arteta sent in the cavalry and allowed acres for United to advance into.

Arsenal moved more slowly through the gears this time. As a result of their pressure, Nketiah’s opening goal was made possible, Gabriel Martinelli forced an equalizing corner from Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and by the time play resumed after the half, they were unstoppable. Shaw had plenty of one-on-one experience with Saka while playing for England, but he was unable to counter one of the best young forwards in the world. Saka curled a beautiful strike in at the far post, but Eriksen was unable to stop him either.

Shaw spoke after the game with the appearance of someone who had just finished a lengthy “Saw” watch-along.

He admitted, “In the second half, maybe we deserved that. “We were a little too passive and let them run the show in the second half. It hurts to give in in the end.

For what they’ve accomplished this season, you must give them credit. From the way they play, they merit being at the top.

Arsenal had tormented United, driving them deeper as they increased pressure just when it was needed. At the Emirates Stadium, it’s starting to feel like this club just shrugs off challenges. The players would have been nervously hoofing the ball forward as quickly as they could in years past while the ground would have complained about Ramsdale’s clumsy handling of a corner.

Instead, Arsenal put an end to United’s slim chances of winning the title by probing every inch of their low defense and changing their pace and angles of attack like a team that knows exactly what is needed to produce a champion’s victory. Setting their pace was a serial trophy winner in this nation, which undoubtedly helped. Oleksandr Zinchenko was constantly open for a pass and was frequently found in areas that United wanted him to avoid. The left-second-half back’s touch map is shown below.

 

touch-map-8.png

How can you stop that athlete, especially because he is the most technically adept player on the field? He set the tone for a team that was confident they would win this game.

Arteta remarked, “Mentally and emotionally, we were incredibly composed but driven. “We handled those situations really nicely. We never felt fear. The belief persisted. We continued to operate even more effectively than before. We’ve always thought we can prevail.

“On numerous instances, we displayed the proper poise in the box, but the goal was not scored. We’re fortunate that we were able to win the game in the final play.”

But in actuality, luck has little to do with this. Arsenal won this game on strategy, not luck. It was a combination of territorial authority, technical prowess, and calm calmness. That sounds remarkably like the make-up of England’s future champions.