Arsenal’s meeting with Manchester United tonight saw the Gunners’ two starting wide-men endure an altogether-contrasting 90 minutes.
Arsenal recover to bag a point
United welcomed Unai Emery’s men to Old Trafford a short time ago, for a high-profile Premier League clash.
Visitors Arsenal came into proceedings in the better form of the two sides, having picked up three straight victories across all competitions.
Their latest Premier League outing saw the Gunners stage a remarkable comeback at home to Aston Villa last weekend, to eventually put Dean Smith’s men to the sword by 3 goals to 2.
Manchester United, on the other hand, fell to a 2-0 defeat at West Ham last weekend, before struggling to a penalty shootout victory over League One outfit Rochdale in the League Cup during the week.
When all was said and done in Manchester tonight, though, both sides were forced to make do with a point.
A dismal opening 45 minutes at Old Trafford was eventually lit up by one moment of quality, on the stroke of the interval.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 30, 2019
A breakaway on the part of the hosts saw Marcus Rashford pull back for Scott McTominay on the edge of the box, with the Scottish midfielder having gone on to find the roof of the net in style.
Arsenal, though, came out for the second-half with renewed vigour, resulting in man-of-the-moment Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang levelling things up just shy of the hour mark, following a mix-up at the back for United.
The torrid conditions, coupled with a striking lack of quality over the remaining half hour, eventually resulted in both sides being forced to settle for a point, in what was, on the balance of play, a fair result.
Arsenal’s wide-men catch the headlines
Though they disappointed throughout large spells over the course of the 90 minutes tonight, Arsenal will likely feel the more satisfied of the two sides on the back of the clash, having showcased the character to come from behind in their 2nd-straight league outing.
There were highs and lows in terms of individual performances on the part of the north Londoners, with the likes of Granit Xhaka having struggled once again.
However, no two players more aptly-showcased the hit-and-miss nature of Unai Emery’s squad as a whole at present than Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka.
Pepe and Saka were handed starts along the flanks for Arsenal, to provide support to lone front-man Aubameyang.
The former of course stands as the capital giants’ most expensive-ever signing, having made the move to the Emirates from Lille this past summer for a fee of almost €80 million.
18-year-old Saka, on the other hand, has just recently-established himself as a first-team contributor at Arsenal, having come up through the club’s youth ranks.
Watching the performances of both players tonight, though, one could have been forgiven for questioning which player was one of Europe’s most highly-sought after attackers over the last couple of months, and which was an altogether-inexperienced rookie at the top-level.
Pepe, as he has for much of his stint in north London so far, looked completely off the pace at Old Trafford.
The Ivorian’s touch looked heavy, his link-up play proved sub-par, and his lack of composure in front of goal was at times borderline-embarrassing.
Based on current form, Alexandre Lacazette’s return to full fitness could very well see Pepe lose his spot in Unai Emery’s starting XI in the near future.
Nicolas Pepe’s game by numbers vs. Man Utd:
0 chances created
1 shot on target
1 foul committed
1 successful take-on
77% pass accuracy
Not his greatest performance. 😬 pic.twitter.com/2MP3MLr0qr
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) September 30, 2019
Then comes Bukayo Saka.
On the back of a Man of the Match showing in his season bow versus Eintracht Frankfurt two weeks ago, teenage sensation Saka was handed his 2nd-straight Premier League start tonight.
While his first, through no fault of his own, proved short-lived following the first-half dismissal of Ainsley Maitland-Niles versus Aston Villa last weekend, though, the English youth international’s latest performance proved one to remember.
On the balance of play in Manchester, Saka was probably Arsenal’s best player.
The gifted wide-man proved a thorn in the side of Ashley Young throughout proceedings, despite the Manchester United stopper being nearly twice Saka’s age.
The 18-year-old is simply a pure talent. Along with possessing a deft touch, turn of pace, the ability to beat his man and confidence befitting of a player far his senior, Saka has a football brain.
Unlike Pepe on the opposite flank tonight, the teen didn’t once looked flustered over the course of his 80 minutes on the pitch, with a superb all-round display (which included an impressive 5 tackles won) having eventually been capped by the assist for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s equaliser.
Bukayo Saka vs Manchester United
87% pass accuracy
2 key passes
2 dribbles won
5 tackles won
So, so good. Mix of pure quality & hard work. The future of Arsenal & English football. 🔴⚪️ pic.twitter.com/hj5yhd7h3a
— FootballTalentScout (@FTalentScout) September 30, 2019
Arsenal, without doubt, have a star in the making on their hands in the form of Saka.
However, though it is early doors in terms of his Arsenal career, the performances of Nicolas Pepe must, at this point, be starting to represent a genuine concern for Unai Emery and co.