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Arsenal marry progress and history with another 1-0 win at Old Trafford

Written by on May 13, 2024

Over growls of thunder and rain thrashing down on the roof, the sites of Arsenal’s past title glories — Anfield, White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge and yes, Old Trafford — were bellowed.

“No one else can say the same,” proclaimed a sea of silhouettes in a corner of Manchester United’s home.

If the high notes strained a little more this time, it is likely that the prospect of the Emirates being added to that list next Sunday had finally dawned on them.

Historically, an Arsenal victory at Old Trafford is usually momentous, with three points at this stadium often a harbinger of spring-time glory.

Arsenal traced that heritage carefully on Sunday, preying on Casemiro’s laziness to sneak a goal and declare, meaning their last seven league wins at this ground, spanning 39 years, have all been 1-0.

(Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The victory in November 2020 was important for pride and a sense of progress in Arteta’s first year as it ended a long winless run stretching back to Emmanuel Adebayor’s winner in 2006, but in previous eras the fixture has been significant in skewing the momentum of title races towards north London.

There was 2002 when Sylvain Wiltord’s rebound clinched the title over Sir Alex Ferguson’s team in the penultimate game of the season. 1998 when they were playing catch-up on United but left emboldened by Marc Overmars’ late strike and went on to win their first title in seven years by a single point; and there was 1990 when Anders Limpar gave Lee Sealey the eyes from a short corner to edge a notoriously bad-blooded game and set Arsenal on their way.

Wiltord seals the Premiership title in 2002 (Mark Leech/Offside via Getty Images)

In 2024, chasing Pep Guardiola’s footballing conveyor belt, Leandro Trossard’s goal occupies an elusive place on the emotional spectrum.

Mammoth but measured, Martin Odegaard herded his team over to the noise at full-time in what was more of a formational trudge than than the wild bounding surge we have become accustomed to after big away wins.

As embodied by Kai Havertz folding himself in half upon the final whistle, there was simply not the energy left in reserve, nor the emotional capacity for such exuberance.

This was job done but, although the sense of merely resisting futility for one final week pervades, Arsenal’s fans chose to live the moment and toast ‘Trossard again, ole ole’.

Another William Saliba masterclass on top of his man of the match displays at Anfield and the Etihad, his gladiatorial piece of one-v-one defending against Ajelandro Garnacho helped Arenal to an eleventh clean sheet on the road — only one behind Jose Mourinho’s record breaking 2004-05 Chelsea team.

“That’s not progress, that’s history,” said Mikel Arteta after the game, his emphatically clinical way of flipping a question about the psychological drain of Manchester City’s flawlessness into an acclamation of his Arsenal team’s club record 27th victory Premier League victory this season.

This was not a valedictory speech to assuage the pain of a second title slipping away.

Arsenal’s hopes are still very much alive but it was Arteta reframing the conversation, extracting his Arsenal side from the shadow of Manchester City and, for once, showcasing their achievements in isolation, free from the overbearing weight of comparison.

By beating Manchester United for a third consecutive game — the first time since 1998 — they usurped last season’s points tally of 84, returned to the summit and ensured that they enter next Sunday’s final fixture against Everton with the chance of a first league title in twenty years still alive.

“We opened that box of dreams to live the last day of the season in front of our people with the opportunity to win the Premier League,” Arteta said.

“That’s something we’re going to live together and I’m so pleased we’re gonna do it with these players and staff.”

Arsenal will have the D-day they have chased for two decades, since the triumph of the ‘Invincibles’ in 2004, and it will be their first final day shootout since 1999 when Manchester United came from behind against Newcastle to win 2-1 and pip them to the title.

It may still end in heartache for Arteta’s team but by digging out a result at Old Trafford they have kept the dream alive and eliminated the sense that they could have done more.

(David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

If last season was the one that got away, this is the one they have refused to relent on. Arsenal have bounced back from consecutive defeats in the festive period to win 15 of their last 17 games, taking 46 points from 51, and have won 22 points from a possible 30 against the so-called big six.

Victory over Everton will take them to 89 points — their second best ever total — bettering 14 previous winning totals and equalling another four since the league switched to a 38-game format in 1995-96.

It is testament to the culture that Arteta has created that his players have managed to keep reeling off wins for months when many other teams would have had the belief sucked from them.

A run of away games against Manchester City, Brighton, Wolves, Tottenham and Manchester United looked like a graveyard but Arsenal won every single one apart from a 0-0 draw against their title rivals.

Had you suggested that points haul two months ago, Arteta would likely have signed the paper, just as he admitted he would have done had he been offered the chance to win it on the final day.

It is out of Arsenal’s hands but they proven they can live in the heat now and produce the sort of sequences that City have made habitual at this time of year.

They still require snookers — with City needing to at least draw one of their final two games for it to be decided on goal difference — but Arsenal’s relentlessness in recent weeks has even laced that previously favourable scenario with intrigue.

City are unbeaten in their last 21 Premier League games and, since March’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal at the Etihad, they have added 23 to the goal difference column, cutting the gap by eight goals to a margin of just three. 

While blind faith dictates that there will be an intervention, logic suggests it’s increasingly unlikely with just two games remaining. But, as a group of Arsenal fans chanted ‘Come on you Spurs’ on their way out of Old Trafford, it was a reminder that hope is still alive and Arsenal have the final day denouement they craved.

Whether the weight of narrative around the twenty year anniversary, David Moyes, Everton, or Arteta’s final-day heroics at Rangers prove irresistible, or City win once again, Arteta made a pertinent point that this Arsenal, his Arsenal, should be able to stand tall regardless of whether they end up top or second-best.



Arteta at Rangers and his title-clinching penalty: ‘He pulled rank on everybody’

(Header photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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