In pictures: Man Utd v Arsenal
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It was a match that had promised so much for Arsenal, a match that at several points, appeared to provide clarity on their top-four credentials. They led, they equalised but fell short. But despite the disappointment, one thing is clear. Mikel Arteta does know what he is doing and this Arsenal side are on the right track.
He looked to be just one game away from the sack back in August, when his side were cemented to the foot of the Premier League table with three defeats from three.
But he was confident that with time – and a number of his key players back fit – the Gunners would climb the table.
That is how it’s played out and Arsenal have shown they can win both handsomely and ugly.
However, when push comes to shove, they will have to show steel to get over the line in the race for the Champions League and tonight at Old Trafford, they were unable to grind it out.
The performance was far from underwhelming, it was bright and full of potential but it was further clarification that Arsenal are still perhaps three players short of a top team.
That kind of status would still see them considerably adrift of the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool but with Tottenham and Manchester United all expected to be in the race for fourth, it would do their chances of outmuscling their rivals no harm.
Arsenal, to their credit, look strong defensively despite shipping three goals against United.
Nuno Tavares has impressed but he could be replaced by Kieran Tierney in the coming weeks but generally speaking, Aaron Ramsdale, Ben While, Gabriel Magalhaes and Takehiro Tomiyasu cannot be faulted.
But in midfield, Arsenal are seriously lacking quality and that is where they lack control, particularly in the big matches.
Thomas Partey needs a partner in crime that can do it all. Albert Sambi Lokonga is technically bright but physically weak while Mohamed Elneny lacks quality on the ball.
Granit Xhaka’s presence has been sorely missed but his temperament is always a question mark.
Arsenal are still lacking that top bracket midfield player who can dictate matches. And it’s not the only player they’re missing.
Martin Odegaard may have scored but he flatters to deceive and cannot be relied on regularly.
He gave away a cheap penalty but appears to only have one good game every three of four, which may offer some explanation as to why Real Madrid were happy to sell.
Odegaard is not a winger, more a No 10 but that role now belongs to Emile Smith Rowe.
Arsenal are in need of some extra quality in the wide areas and arguably, even some fiercer competition for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
He does not look like his old self and quite frankly, hasn’t done since he put pen to paper on his new bumper contract.
With Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah out of contract next summer, you get the feeling Aubameyang knows his value to Arteta. He needs to feel the heat in order to get back to his best.
Arsenal are heading in the right direction but there is still someway to go before they re-establish themselves as a top-four side.
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