Manchester United’s elusive search for a first away win in 2014/15 came to what had initially seemed like an unlikely end with a 2-1 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. A Kieran Gibbs own goal in the second half, Wayne Rooney’s galloping breakaway effort in the 85th minute and, not for the first time, the heroics of David De Gea at the other end of the field earned the three points.
Antonio Valencia’s low shot after 56 minutes was inadvertently deflected by Gibbs into his own net to give the Reds the lead, then Rooney finished off an incisive counter-attack to make it 2-0. Angel Di Maria could have made it 3-0 late on but missed a good chance and Olivier Giroud pulled a goal back to make it a nervy finish. But this was a commendable performance of persistence from United in testing circumstances.
With a host of ailments debilitating United’s squad, Louis van Gaal was again forced into personnel and formation changes – this time 3-4-1-2 – with Paddy McNair, Chris Smalling and Tyler Blackett forming a back three, with Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia occupying wide midfield positions. Even that lasted just 15 minutes as Shaw picked up a knock from a challenge by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Ashley Young replaced him as a left-back and United switched to 4-4-2.
Danny Welbeck, facing United for the first time since leaving Old Trafford in the summer, had a shot blocked in the fourth minute, before Per Mertesacker headed wide. Welbeck then missed the target with a header of his own and, with Arsenal cranking up the pressure, the former Reds forward teed up Jack Wilshere, who forced a brilliant point-blank range save from United’s outstanding no.1 De Gea.
United’s first opening came from a set-piece on 21 minutes as Rooney fired over the bar. It was rare relief from previous one-way traffic and United had De Gea to thank again when he forced Oxlade-Chamberlain wide in a one-on-one and saved the Arsenal man’s shot with an outstretched leg.
Wilshere was lucky to escape punishment after half-an-hour in an altercation with Marouane Fellaini, but referee Mike Dean chose instead to calm tempers by talking to both players. Although unconnected, that break in play signalled a change of pace for United. Di Maria produced the Reds’ best chance of the half when he cut inside from the right and steered a left-foot shot just wide of the post, while Rooney had a shot blocked and a series of United corners came and went to no avail.
Five minutes into the second half and De Gea once again denied the Gunners as he closed the angle on Welbeck’s shot and United were looking increasingly thankful to the Spaniard’s heroics between the posts, but little more than five minutes later the Reds were in front. Szczesny clashed with Gibbs when the Arsenal goalkeeper came to collect a cross and the loose ball fell to Valencia and his low shot deflected off Gibbs, who was lying prone on the floor, and diverted into the net. It was by no means pretty but United’s persistence in adversity paid off. The collision with Gibbs forced Szczesny off, to be replaced by Emiliano Martinez on his Barclays Premier League debut, but still Arsenal were intent on finding an equaliser.
The last half an hour was tense until Rooney seemed to put the game out of sight, sprinting away to dink the ball over Martinez. Di Maria’s missed chance for an almost identical finish to Rooney could have proved costly when Giroud beat De Gea to give the Gunners a fighting chance of a draw. But the Reds held on for a morale-boosting first triumph on the road.
Watch us go now!