Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United
- Goals: Nicolas Pepe (£9.1m), Sokratis (£4.9m)
- Assists: None
- Bonus: Sokratis x3, Bernd Leno (£5.0m) x2, Pepe x1
Earlier this week we wrote about the green shoots of recovery shown by Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal in their defeat to Chelsea.
There was further encouragement on New Year’s Day, with the Gunners deserved winners over the Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit that is Manchester United.
The matches in Gameweeks 20 and 21 followed a similar pattern, with the difference this time being that Arsenal had established a more comfortable two-goal cushion by the time their energy levels were depleted.
The north London side look much hungrier under their new head coach, with their all-action, high-pressing approach clearly borrowed from the Manchester City playbook.
It’ll take a while for Arteta to fully get his methods across to this Arsenal squad, who are, by their own admission, not fit enough to carry out their manager’s demanding gameplan for a full 90 minutes.
The Gunners were gasping for air in the second half, with a flagging Alexandre Lacazette (£9.3m) pleading to be substituted and Lucas Torreira (£4.7m) scoffing an energy bar as his own limbs seized up.
Interviewed after the game, David Luiz (£5.7m) said:
We have to be honest and admit physically we are not ready, but you have to show heart and this team is ready to change a lot of things.
Arteta himself added:
That wasn’t the plan [to sit back in the second half], I have to admit, but at the moment we are suffering a little bit to maintain the intensity we had in the first half. I think it will come, it is part of the process, the way we train, but at the moment we don’t have much time to do so.
It might be that we don’t really see the fruits of Arteta’s labour until 2020/21, then, after the Gunners have had a full, intensive pre-season under their new boss.
The impact has been immediate, though, and Fantasy managers will be watching with interest ahead of some appealing fixtures for the Gunners in Gameweeks 25-32.
We FPL bosses have largely dodged the Arsenal defence for a while now but it is at the back where the Gunners look most improved, with the sight of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.8m) diligently covering his left-back and even Mesut Ozil (£7.2m) tracking back from the number ten role summing up the collective approach to defending.
It was only an error from Bernd Leno (£5.0m) that let Chelsea back into the game last Sunday and, with the Gunners not shooting themselves in the foot this time around, United never seriously looked like getting back into the game.
Names we have all smirked at over the past couple of years – Luiz, Sokratis (£4.9m), Sead Kolasinac (£5.2m) and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£4.6m) – were all superb at the back, with Torreira and Granit Xhaka (£5.1m) covering expertly in front of them.
Carry on like this and we may even have to start considering them for the weeks and months ahead.
Nicolas Pepe (£9.1m) was named in the starting XI for the first time by Arteta, impressing down the right flank and opening the scoring when converting a deflected cross from Kolasinac.
Pepe later struck the upright and created chances for Lacazette, Aubameyang and Torreira in an eye-catching 62-minute showing.
Arsenal’s two premium FPL forwards contributed majorly to the cause without having too many sights of goal, with Lacazette screwing his best chance wide after making a fool out of Harry Maguire (£5.2m) and Aubameyang volleying his only shot of the game off-target.
Mesut Ozil (£7.2m) continues to sparkle in ‘the hole’, meanwhile, but there is a sense that he might not be the most explosive FPL asset in the mid-price midfield bracket, given that he’s had only one shot since Arteta took charge.
After back-to-back wins over Newcastle United and Burnley, the Red Devils treated us to one of their meek away-day specials at the Emirates.
For the money that we pay for the likes of Anthony Martial (£7.9m) and Marcus Rashford (£9.1m) in FPL – not unsubstantial but hardly top-dollar, either – we have become accustomed to swallowing the occasional dismal display in the knowledge that a haul may be just around the corner.
United started the brighter of the two teams, with Rashford forcing Leno into a save early on, but a positive opening ten minutes gave way to a fairly poor performance, with Maguire’s close-range header on the stroke of half-time as close as the Red Devils came to finding a way past Leno.
Martial indeed didn’t have a single shot, while Rashford was wasteful and Daniel James (£6.1m) and Jesse Lingard (£6.3m) were anonymous as the United attack failed to click.
The likes of Maguire and Luke Shaw (£5.4m) were pretty ropey at the back, too, as they have been for much of 2019/20.
Still, bottom-of-the-table Norwich (who the Red Devils play next in the league) offer Rashford and co an immediate chance at redemption, just as Newcastle did after the Gameweek 18 loss to Watford.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s troops will likely be without Paul Pogba (£8.4m) when they next play in the Premier League, with the United boss saying of the Frenchman in his post-match presser:
He’s injured now and he’ll probably need an operation on his foot. And let’s see how long it takes for him to get back.
We’ve had scans and while it’s nothing major, it’s something that has to be sorted and dealt with, within a timeframe. He’s been advised to do it as soon as possible.
It’s a big blow that Paul is out now – he’ll probably be out for three or four weeks – and Scott will be out for a few months. Scott has been magnificent and we hoped Paul could come back. He can’t – he’ll be back within a month or so.
On the injury front at Arsenal, Sokratis, Xhaka and Kolasinac were back in the starting XI after recent absences, although the latter seemed to aggravate his ankle problem before being substituted in the second half.
Dani Ceballos (£5.2m) was on the bench, too, but failed to get on.
Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Leno; Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Luiz, Kolasinac (Saka 69′); Torreira, Xhaka; Pepe (Nelson 63′), Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette (Guendouzi 82′).
Manchester United XI (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Fred, Matic (Mata 81′); James (Greenwood 59′), Lingard (Pereira 59′), Rashford; Martial.
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