John Walton/EMPICS Sport

As it happened: Arsenal v Manchester United, Premier League

Though both teams seem out of the title race already, they were still desperate for three points.

ONE POINT SEPARATES these teams but they’re both well off the pace in the title race. Many will feel that Arsenal and United are battling for fourth place but both Arsene Wenger and Louis van Gaal will look at the rest of the field and fancy their chances of pushing higher up the table than that.

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Good evening everyone. This promises to be good. Let’s get straight to it. The teams are in and they make for intriguing reading.

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Sanchez, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck.

Subs: Rosicky, Podolski, Giroud, Cazorla, Flamini, Martinez, Bellerin.

Manchester United: De Gea, Smalling, McNair, Blackett, Shaw, Carrick, Valencia, Fellaini, Rooney, Di Maria, van Persie.

Subs: Mata, Januzaj, Lindegaard, Young, Ander Herrera, Fletcher, Wilson.

So, Giroud, as predicted, is back after injury (well ahead of schedule) and starts from the bench. Welbeck starts against his former club while Arteta comes into the midfield for Mathieu Flamini.

For United, it looks like three at the back. They’ve got three centre-backs in that XI plus Valencia and Shaw. Carrick and Fellaini would sit deep, Di Maria further forward and Rooney/RVP up front.

But, it could be a flat back-four too. Though surely a central defensive pairing of McNair and Blackett is incredibly risky? Feel free to offer up your thoughts and opinions below.

Comments section seems a bit mixed regarding how this will go. The two league games between these sides last season offered little – one goal in 180 minutes of action. But every couple of years, we get a barnstormer. Here’s hoping this one will deliver.

Others commenting on LVG’s selection and possible formation switch. Let’s see how it develops.

When United have visited North London in the past, there have been some incredible moments. Lee Sharpe, David Platt and, eh…John O’Shea?

A little pre-game reading here for you.

The last time these sides met when both were outside the top-four was September 1998. Arsenal won 3-0 and Freddie Ljungberg came on as a substitute to score on his debut.

Here’s 30 minutes of highlights, if you’re that way inclined.

Aleksandre Siradze / YouTube

Manchester United’s away form has been quite woeful this season, hasn’t it? Victory today would go against their story so far.

Teams are in the tunnel! Kick-off just a few minutes away. Final predictions? Can Rooney continue his recent good form? Can Danny Welbeck score against his former club? Can Van Persie do likewise? How will that United defence hold up?

Sky have United setting up with a back-four with McNair at right-back. That’s very strange considering Valencia could drop back and Januzaj or Young could play further forward if selected.

And we’re off! 

1 min – So, as we said beforehand, United are playing with three centre-backs. The Sky graphic was incorrect. Sanchez up on his own for Arsenal with Welbeck drifting wide left in these opening exchanges.

3 mins – United look to burst through with Shaw doing well but Van Persie (sporting a nice beard) strays offside.

Early let-off for United as Valencia almost gets caught out by a ball into the area and Sanchez almost pounces. In the end, De Gea is there to deal with it. But, Valencia totally switched off there and it could’ve been costly.

6 mins - Mertesacker rises to reach an Arsenal corner from the right side but United offer up some decent pressure under the high ball and the header is well wide.

7 mins - Well, this doesn’t look good. Shaw tries to clear up the line and seems to twist his ankle either on the turf or because of a challenge from Oxlade-Chamberlain. He’s gingerly back on but we’ll keep an eye on it.

9 mins – CLOSE! Welbeck is left in acres of space and gets on the end of a cross from the right side but almost catches the header too well and powers it over the bar. Good chance if he kept it down. Arsenal much the brighter here with United unable to get going.

12 mins - Rooney seems to be keeping very tight to Arteta, which he’s done in the past. United really struggling. Very sluggish start from them.

13 mins – CLOSE! Jack Wilshere is allowed the space to attack the edge of the area from deep and finally cracks a shot towards goal. But it’s pretty comfortable for David de Gea who gets down and smothers.

14 mins – VERY CLOSE! Goodness me! What a chance for Arsenal here. De Gea’s poor clearance is poor and Wilshere is played through one v one. With only de Gea to beat, the keeper does brilliantly and blocks. When Arsenal recycle possession, Wilshere goes down in the area under a challenge from Shaw but referee Mike Dean waves away the protests.

16 mins – SUBSTITUTION! Ashley Young (on) – Luke Shaw (off)

Shaw can’t continue and another player heads for the treatment room. It means that with Sanchez probing along that right channel mainly, he’s got Blackett and a makeshift wing-back trying to cover him. He’ll relish that.

Di Maria does well, shows good composure and Ramsey concedes a free-kick in a good position here.

22 mins – VERY CLOSE! So the free-kick came to nothing but Arsenal went right up the other end and Oxlade-Chamberlain latched onto a through-ball, tried to skip around De Gea but the keeper does brilliantly to stand his ground and deal with it. Excellent stuff. Without him, United could be 2-nil down.

What a strange first-half performance from United. I genuinely don’t think they’ve managed three consecutive passes. Turgid stuff.

29 mins – BIG CALL! Arsenal are getting frustrated at not having taken the lead. United have stemmed the tide a little and Wilshere is dispossessed by Fellaini, fouls the Belgian and then lashes out. He butts his head into Fellaini’s chest and he’s immensely lucky to stay on the field. There’s not even a yellow card from Mike Dean. That’s awful refereeing.

Here’s that Wilshere moment of madness. Really fortunate to still be on the pitch.

6 second savage / Vine

34 mins – CLOSE! From the left channel, Sanchez cuts inside and fires a low right-footed shot towards goal. De Gea, once again, gets down to it and makes the save.

35 mins – VERY CLOSE! The longer Arsenal go through this without scoring, the more United will fancy their chances. And Di Maria has just sent a left-footed curler about an inch past the far post.

38 mins – CLOSE! Di Maria has no right to break away down the touchline because he’s wrapped up by two Arsenal players. Somehow, he squirms free and rampages forward. He charges towards goal, Rooney wants it inside but Chambers does well to get to the captain as he pulls the trigger and it’s deflected out for a corner.

United have forced a few corners here as the home fans begin to voice their displeasure. Arsenal have faded fast and United will feel like they can get something soon.

41 mins – CLOSE! Well, just as a I wrote that last update, the ball dropped to Chris Smalling at the near post following a set-piece and when he looked destined to thump a volley at goal from about four yards, he completely missed his kick. That was a decent chance.

43 mins – CLOSE! De Gea can’t quite  deal with a corner and only claws the ball to an Arsenal player who sends it across goal. Welbeck has his back to goal but tries to back-heel it towards the net but United manage the situation and it’s deflected wide.

And that’s half-time!

Arsenal will be kicking themselves. They should be in front, having bossed possession for the opening 25 minutes. But they fell away as the half wore on, frustrated by United’s (well, De Gea’s) ability to keep them at bay. They also should’ve had Jack Wilshere sent-off after he launched his forehead into Marouane Fellaini’s chest.

United were awful for the opening half hour and lost Luke Shaw to injury. But they managed to finally find a foothold and Di Maria popped up twice to put Arsenal’s defence under pressure. They won’t be as poor after the break and Arsenal won’t want to regret those missed opportunities.

It’s quite remarkable, really, that we’re almost in December and Manchester United currently have a back five of Valencia, McNair, Smalling, Blackett and Ashley Young. It’s deserving of a major inquest. How the side are expected to get going and gain any momentum with constant defensive changes is beyond me.

If they qualify for the Champions League it would be a terrific achievement. Yes, they have expensive players up front but take Cahill, Terry, Ivanovic, Azpilicueta and Luis out of the Chelsea squad for a few months and they’d suffer. As would any other major side.

And the second half is underway! 

48 mins – Oxlade-Chamberlain shows great skill to get turned and heads for the by-line. He cuts a great ball back but there’s no Arsenal shirt there and United get it clear.

49 mins – VERY CLOSE! Oxlade-Chamberlain pops up again and pings a superb pass into the inside left channel where Welbeck burns McNair and drives towards goal. Credit to the youngster though because he stretches out his boot as Welbeck is about to shoot and maybe the ex-United player rushes it slightly. De Gea stands tall at his near post and blocks brilliantly.

52 mins – OUCH! United give away the ball again in a dangerous area and as Wilshere breaks towards goal and the ball gets away from him, he’s caught (accidentally) by McNair and looks in a lot of pain. He’s received treatment, hobbled off but has rejoined the action. Looks like an ankle injury so we’ll monitor that.

55 mins – SUBSTITUTION! Cazorla (on) – Wilshere (off)

Well, like Shaw in the opening period, he tried to run off the knock but Wilshere has to come off. By my calculations, it’s his fifth injury/ailment of the season and that’s a big blow.

56 mins – GOAL! Gibbs OG

Cat and pigeons spring to mind. United break on the left. Ashley Young cuts inside and whips in a cross and Szczesny clashes with Gibbs with Fellaini also going for it. It breaks for the unmarked Valencia who drives it across goal, Gibbs sticks out a leg and it ends up in the far corner.

Here’s the goal. United in front and they haven’t had a shot on target.

StudioFutbol / Vine

59 mins – SUBSTITUTION! Martinez (on) - Szczesny (off)

The Arsenal keeper can’t continue after clashing with Gibbs and Martinez comes on in his place. Wilshere and Szczesny both replaced within minutes and they lose a goal. Can it get any worse for Arsenal right now?

In the last few moments, there’s also been a very dodgy offside call when United looked to break down the left with Rooney. He’s well onside and Van Persie is in the middle unmarked. Yet, for some reason, the linesman’s flag goes up and it’s a major let-off for the hosts.

65 mins - This is dangerous from Arsenal. They’re gambling now and pushing more bodies forward. That’s leaving gaps and United can exploit things on the counter. Expect to see more of Di Maria in the next few minutes.

And just as I type that, Cazorla has just been booked as Young drove forward from midfield.

68 mins – CLOSE! Arsenal have peppered United’s goal with shots but they haven’t been angled towards the corners, really. Again, Sanchez pops up and smacks one straight down the middle after a nice touch from Welbeck. It bounces in front of the keeper but he’s very comfortable and gets behind it.

20 minutes to go and will Arsene Wenger be looking at a change? Too early for Giroud? Podolski and Rosicky his other options…

74 mins – Welbeck is racing through the middle after another ball dissects the centre of United defence but Smalling gets across and makes a terrific challenge.

75 mins – SUBSTITUTION! Wilson (on) – Van Persie (off)

Another pretty lifeless display from the Dutchman and he’s continuing to struggle this season. The youngster comes on and United will hope his pace can stretch Arsenal on the counter attack.

77 mins – SUBSTITUTION! Giroud (on) – Ramsey (off)

The French striker is fit enough to come in for the final 15 minutes. A front three for Arsenal now and within a minute of coming in, Giroud sends a header narrowly over the top from a corner.

Di Maria continues to be an outlet on the counter and he races clear again with Rooney in support. But the latter needs to check back wide on the left and Arsenal get bodies back.

83 mins – CLOSE! Arsenal push again and Gibbs continues to be a menace on the left side. Blackett does well to get a block in as another shot hurtles towards the United goal before the young defender gets his head to a dangerous cross and United clear once more. They’re keeping their shape well, United.

85 mins – GOAL! Rooney!

It’s been coming. Arsenal done on the counter. Fellaini to Di Maria and Rooney supports. It’s all about the timing of the pass and it’s perfect. Rooney takes it on, and finishes well. A great week for him. Game over. United, somehow, have claimed all three points here.

And here is Rooney’s goal. Worrying for Arsenal that this game has gone according to script. So much of the ball, couldn’t score, go behind, chase the equaliser and lose another on the counter.

@ActualFutbol / Vine

89 mins – SUBSTITUTION! Fletcher (on) – Young (off)

Young came on for Shaw early in the opening period but he makes way for Fletcher now and United re-jig. Carrick goes to centre-back and Blackett pushes wide and steps into the wing-back position.

On the touchline, the board has just gone up and there’s going to be 8 minutes of added time. But despite the crowd offering up an initial rousing reception, there seems little intent from the Arsenal players.

94 mins – VERY CLOSE! How Di Maria hasn’t scored a third is beyond me. Arsenal’s corner breaks for Rooney on the edge of the United area and when he looks up, he spots the Argentine all on his own. But the attacker makes an absolute mess of the finish and stabs it wide of the far post.

95 mins – GOAL! Giroud! 

There’s one back for Arsenal. The replacement sends a rocket whizzing inside De Gea’s near post and that’s wonderful. Squeaky-bum time now for United…

And that’s full-time!

United hold on and really shouldn’t have been that nervy at the end. Giroud’s late, late, late goal gave Arsenal hope but they should’ve been out of sight in the first half.

Giroud’s strike did offer some hope but too little, too late for Arsenal. A depressingly-familiar story of an inability to take chances and subsequently punished despite dominating the opposition for long periods.

For United, a first away win since April. Perhaps a big step but you never really know. Van Gaal gambled with his selection and his formation and it should’ve backfired inside the opening 25 minutes. The side held out, found their way back into it and the opening goal was crucial. But, Luke Shaw has been added to the casualty list after his first-half ankle injury though with the team up to fourth, hard to see Van Gaal caring too much right now.

Thanks for staying with us. Plenty of more reaction and analysis on the site throughout the evening.

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