Had you said to any Arsenal fan a couple of months back that Arsenal would go to Old Trafford and totally outplay Manchester United and gain a vital Premier League win with a midfield duo of Thomas Partey and Mo Elneny they may well have scoffed.
Firstly, a deal to lure the powerful Partey from Spanish giants Atletico Madrid was nothing other than fevered transfer speculation. it was said at the time that the Gunners were trying to snatch the Ghana workhorse for a bargain fee of around £30million. The parent club weren’t interested but crucially they had a release clause of £45million.
Meanwhile, Elneny was very much the forgotten man at the Emirates Stadium, having gone out on a season-long loan to Turkish side Besiktas. And in between all of that, manager Mikel Arteta had secured the services of Dani Ceballos for one more season on loan from Real Madrid and was also getting a tune out of Granit Xhaka. As a duo they had performed well and were very much seen as the chosen ones to patrol the Gunners midfield.
Fast forward to 4.30pm yesterday (Sunday), though, and there they were. Arsenal had paid the buyout fee and Elneny had returned to North London from Turkey. An unlikely midfield partnership to some people’s minds, but, boy, what a partnership and what a display. The Arsenal pairing absolutely bossed the middle of the park and helped Arteta’s men to a huge victory and a massive three points as they bounced back from their previous top-flight outing, a disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to Leicester City.
In the end, it was a well-placed 69th-minute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penalty kick that gave the Gunners the goal they so richly deserved. It came after United midfield ace Paul Pogba fouled marauding right-back Hector Bellerin in the box. It gave the Gunners their first triumph in the league at Old Trafford for 14 years.
Ebullient Arteta said the Gunners deserved the victory and merited the three points. He said:
“I’m really happy that after 14 years without a win, we were able to come and do what we’ve done. I asked the players, ‘Please, let’s be who we are and play with our identity and our style’. I think we did it from the first minute against a really difficult opponent. Obviously, they have a lot of quality and we deserved to win the game.”
Arteta added that he was proud of the maturity shown by his team and also praised the patience he observed in waiting for the chance to score given that the week before against the Foxes part of the problem was the frustration of not making the breakthrough with a goal. He added:
“It came back through my mind with what happened against Leicester, a game that we really dominated where we were the better team in the first half. In the second half then, we couldn’t find a way to win the game.
“Here we’ve done it and we looked very mature. The way we managed the last few minutes is getting better and better. We have people coming off the bench really helping, and individually the players who were required at that stage had a great game.”