There are few words capable of properly describing the 90 minutes of football played Saturday evening at the Emirates. There are few breaths available to utter them. And there are few teams that can leave viewers speechless while being so thoroughly outplayed like Manchester United can.
There is no one storyline to encapsulate United’s 3-1 victory over Arsenal. No one protagonist, no simple assessment that can be applied. In a way, the scoreline was predictable. So were United’s counters, and Arsenal’s mistakes. But the 90 minutes were anything but.
They began in calamitous fashion for the hosts, who have made a habit of high-profile flops. Two early blunders were punished by United. The second had home fans howling, and the rest of the world reveling in the Red Devils’ brilliance:
They were swift, clever and clinical. Everything Shkodran Mustafi wasn’t.
But the goal gave way to some quite remarkable football. Most of it was played by Arsenal. And by David De Gea. The United keeper, who has developed into the world’s best, made a Premier League record-tying 14 saves. Some of them were just absurd.
De Gea is super human. What a double save pic.twitter.com/A5zWadTASR
— Jozo Simunovic CSC (@BenTheTim) December 2, 2017
Arsenal finished the match with 33 shots and 15 on target. In the first half, it couldn’t stop producing goal-mouth scrambles and penalty-box incidents. In the 32nd minute, Alexandre Lacazette squirmed in behind the United defense, and his shot was deflected by De Gea onto the crossbar. Granit Xhaka’s follow-up whizzed wide, skimming the outside of the post on its way.
Only De Gea’s quick-twitch reactions prevented a Romelu Lukaku own goal in first-half stoppage time.
There were stretches of the game during which Arsenal made its rivals from up north look like training dummies. Jose Mourinho’s side pressed incoherently, seemingly stuck between their early aggressiveness and a dialed-back, defend-what-we-have approach.
Lacazette pulled a goal back shortly after halftime, and the visitors were suddenly trying to find their feet in quicksand.
But then they broke in the other direction. Paul Pogba danced past Laurent Koscielny, who had also been at fault on Antonio Valencia’s opener. Pogba fed Jesse Lingard for the youngster’s second goal of the day, and United was comfortable once again.
But it wasn’t any better. Or rather Arsenal wasn’t any worse, despite its openness. Lingard’s tap-in was United’s only shot after the 52nd minute. In that time period of time. Arsenal recorded 17.
Pogba would later foolishly fly into a challenge, his studs sinking into the back of Hector Bellerin’s leg. He was given his marching orders, and sarcastically clapped the referee’s decision on his way off the pitch. He’ll miss the Manchester Derby next Sunday.
But it is difficult to look ahead after such an irresistible match. Recency bias aside, it is surely a contender for game of the season.
And for Manchester United, it’s difficult to be worried after such a massive win. The Red Devils were lethal in the three moments that mattered, and somewhat lucky in countless others. Arsenal was excellent, but mistake-prone.
Thus, the Red Devils will be the only ones who remember the fantastic 90 minutes fondly. They’ll remember them as their first away win against a top-six foe under Mourinho. They’ll remember them as the night that halted Arsenal’s resurgence. They brought United to within five points of Manchester City, even if only for 24 hours.
Should the Red Devils lose next weekend to City and fall 11 points back, they’ll look back on Pogba’s recklessness and rue it. Neutrals might, too. But first, we’ll all have to stop salivating over what we witnessed Saturday night. And that won’t be easy.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.