In what could prove to be a decisive winner on its last legs in May, Arsenal set another title marker with an epic 3-2 victory over Manchester United on Sunday afternoon.
Watching Manchester City break into a regular 3-0 home win against Wolverhampton earlier in the day, the Gunners knew everyone was looking at the Emirates.
However, despite lagging behind an early strike by speculators Marcus Rashford, Mikel Arteta’s youth showed their psychological resolve after they made a stellar comeback in north London.
While World Cup winner Lisandro Martinez may have lowered United’s level after Eddie Nketiya and Bukayo Saka scored on both sides of the break, Arsenal had time to set another important marker.
When a red-hot Nketiah charged from close range in the 90th minute and sent the Emirates fans into a frenzy, the Gunners also dealt a critical blow to their historic rivals.
In what was yet another thriller between the two English heavyweights on Sunday afternoon, we covered five main themes for discussion.
It’s an Arsenal title to lose
Although Manchester City could have been briefly two points clear of the Gunners after their 3-0 win over Wolves earlier in the day, Arteta’s youth did not appear to be affected by the result.
While many may have wondered if Arsenal could maintain the same momentum after returning from the World Cup break, the Sunday hosts only continued what could have been a historic campaign in north London.
Despite failing to make it back to the Champions League last season, Arteta’s fledgling side have lost only one Premier League match so far and received a string of accolades from across Europe.
Once again showing true psychological determination by wresting the winner from their historical rivals with their last breath, Arsenal also made a couple of clinical announcements last week.
Claiming the right to show off North London with a well-deserved 2-0 victory over Spurs on January 15 and with the heat in their camp, Arteat’s team will know it’s their title they have to lose.
Nketia does her best
Last month, many Arsenal fans were extremely worried after new attacking talisman Gabriel Jesus suffered a knee injury while away from Brazil in the World Cup, and Nketiah knew there were a lot of expectations placed on his young shoulders.
However, while some may have been worried about who will take over at Arsenal in Jesus’ absence, Nketiah has certainly proven himself to be more than a stand-in for the former Manchester City striker.
After capturing the last winner for the Gunners on Sunday night and ultimately leaving the Emirates with another double to his name, the England under-21 record holder is in the middle of a stellar purple patch.
Clearly enjoying life as Arsenal’s frontrunner, Nketiah scored seven goals in as many appearances on either side of the World Cup break.
Highlighting why Arteta was so desperate to keep him in north London last summer, it will be interesting to see how Nketiah performs when Jesus returns from his knee injury.
United suffer more from grief on their last legs
While some at Old Trafford may have dreamed of a surprise title win in the second half of the season, there is no doubt that Manchester United collapsed again last week.
However, despite ultimately having to settle for even more disappointment when they drew 1-1 against Crystal Palace in the middle of the week, Erik ten Hag’s side have undoubtedly made a number of improvements since returning from the break at world championship.
Despite their first home loss since returning from the holiday break on Sunday afternoon, United have found themselves in a winning position to claim a much-needed return to the Champions League in 2023.
Although the mood on their return to Manchester will be grim after they missed their own chance to secure the title, ten Hag was full of praise for his team’s performance here.
With the former Premier League champions making it clear at the start of the season that a return to the top 4 is their number one priority, United still have a solid five-point margin in the event of a Champions League exit.
Rashford in the shape of his life
While ten Hag may think his team deserves to leave north London to show something for their troubles, the ex-Ajax boss will be thrilled by Rashford’s remarkable scoring streak.
While there could have been a lot of speculation last year that the homegrown United superstar might be leaving Old Trafford, the England international has returned with a roar after returning from the World Cup break.
Having scored three goals as Gareth Southgate’s men reached the quarter-finals last month, Rashford certainly didn’t deserve to be on the losing side here.
Opening the scoring with a 25-yard thunderous strike that left Aaron Ramsdale helpless, the 25-year-old certainly leads United’s Champions League attack.
Now with nine home goals in as many matches since returning from the World Cup break, Rashford is undeniably on the best hitting streak of his career.
With him playing a key role in ten Hag’s plans, it’s no wonder why United are so desperate to link the player to 51 internationals with a new long-term deal.
Saka is on Arsenal’s elite list
While perhaps Nketiah’s brace ultimately led Arsenal to maximum points on Sunday afternoon, Saka also continued to lead the Gunners’ title challenge on both sides of the break.
With an amazing performance eight minutes after the break and scoring three goals in his last five Premier League matches, the England international has also made history.
In fact, now scoring goals in each of his last three consecutive matches against Manchester United in the Premier League, Saka joins Arsenal’s illustrious roster of legends.
In yet another major role as Arteta’s team once again extended their buffer at the top of the table to five points, Saka joined Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg in one of only three Arsenal players to score against United in three consecutive matches.
Arsenal: Ramsdale, White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Odegaard, Partey, Xhaka, Saka, Nketiah, Martinelli
Subscriptions: Holding, Tomiyasu, Trossard
Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw, McTominay, Eriksen, Rashford, Fernandes, Anthony, Weghorst
Subscriptions: Fred, Garnacho
Goals: Arsenal: Nketiah (24′, 90′), Saka (53′) – Manchester United: Rashford (17′), Martinez (59′)
Yellow cards: Arsenal: White – Manchester United: Anthony, Shaw
Red cards: N/A
Judge: Anthony Taylor