Anthony Martial on the ball against Arsenal

Arsenal 2 Manchester United 0

The first night of 2020 proved to be a disappointing one for Manchester United as the Reds suffered a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.

First-half strikes from Nicolas Pepe and Sokratis Papastathopoulos sealed a first victory for new Gunners boss Mikel Arteta, on a day when the rival teams in and around United also dropped points.

Solskjaer made three changes to the team that beat Burnley at the weekend, with Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Jesse Lingard all returning to the starting XI, replacing Brandon Williams, Ashley Young and Andreas Pereira respectively.

Lingard, who had scored three goals in his last two starts at the Emirates, joined a vibrant and in-form attack of Daniel James, Anthony Martial and December’s Player of the Month, Marcus Rashford, and it was the latter who had United’s first effort on goal after just 30 seconds. Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno was on hand to claim it but the shot boded well for the Reds who started the match in promising fashion.

Daniel James drives forward with the ball
Dan James battles for the ball at the Emirates Stadium.

Despite some good early attacks from United, it was the hosts who took the lead on eight minutes, through Pepe. A left-wing cross from Sead Kolasinac flicked off the heel of Victor Lindelof and dropped into the path of the unmarked Pepe who duly curled the ball home.

Two minutes later, Pepe wormed his way into the box under pressure from Shaw, before crossing to Aubameyang who went for the spectacular but the ball flew over the bar.

The goal had clearly lifted the hosts as United struggled to rediscover the early dominance. And the Reds breathed a sigh of relief twice in quick succession just after the half-hour mark when Pepe found Alexandre Lacazette in the box.

The Arsenal striker turned Harry Maguire but thankfully his flicked shot went out for a throw-in rather than anywhere near De Gea’s goal. Seconds later, Lucas Torreira turned well in the area as he received the ball in his stride but he fired a low effort just wide.

Seven minutes before the break, Lacazette, a constant threat during the first 45, deflected a De Gea clearance into the ball of Pepe and he curled a shot onto the foot of the post.

Pepe was continuing to have an impact on proceedings and on 42 minutes it was his corner which led to the Gunners’ second goal. Lacazette’s near-post flick-on from the set-piece was parried by De Gea but the ball bounced off the back of Lindelof, allowing Sokratis to smash the ball into the roof of the net from five yards out.

Maguire had a sight of goal on the stroke of half-time but he could only direct his header straight at Leno from Fred’s free-kick delivery to the far post.

United began the second half on the front foot and after a couple of early sighters from James and Fred, Solskjaer made a double change just before the hour-mark with Andreas Pereira and Mason Greenwood replacing James and Lingard.

Pepe gave Arsenal the breakthrough on eight minutes.

Birthday boy Andreas almost made an instant impact when he was found well by Nemanja Matic inside the penalty area but he could only hit the side-netting.

After Rashford fired over following neat play from Martial, and Wan-Bissaka had a penalty appeal turned down, Martial and Greenwood linked up well, with the latter forcing a low save from Leno.

The Gunners had the odd effort on the break as United continued to put the pressure on, but Solskjaer’s men were unable to find a way through as the Arsenal backline stood firm.

United’s focus now moves to the cups for the next seven days with Wolves away in the Emirates FA Cup third round on Saturday evening and Manchester City at home in the Carabao Cup semi-finals next Tuesday night.

Marcus Rashford holds off a challenge from Granit Xhaka
Marcus Rashford holds off a challenge from Granit Xhaka.

MATCH DETAILS

Arsenal: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, David Luiz, Kolasinac (Saka 69), Torreira, Xhaka, Ozil, Pepe (Nelson 62), Lacazette (Guendouzi 81), Aubameyang (captain).

Subs not used: Martinez, Holding, Ceballos, Guendouzi, Saka.

Booked: Kolasinac, Saka

Goals: Pepe 8, Sokratis 42.

United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire (captain), Shaw, Fred, Matic (Mata 80), James (Greenwood 58), Lingard (Andreas 58), Rashford, Martial.

Subs not used: Romero, Jones, Young, Williams.

Attendance: 60,328

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