Granit cracker Xhaka crowns Arsenal’s mad victory over Manchester United | premier league

The game was in the balance, with Manchester United pushing hard and threatening to equalize for 2-2, Arsenal hot on their heels. Then, in an isolated forward raid by the home side, Granit Xhaka slammed his left foot down like a hammer and everything changed.

Bruno Fernandes had just missed a penalty for United. Now he was caught in possession at the edge of his own box by Mohamed Elneny and when the ball was sent to Xhaka from 25 yards out, the Arsenal midfielder had only one thing on his mind. The connection was sweet and the shot screamed past David de Gea.

It had been a difficult afternoon for Arsenal, one that Mikel Arteta described as a “roller coaster”. But United were broken and it would be Arsenal who would bolster their top four prospects. Their opponents, on the other hand, are surely out of the running.

After all the criticism following the 4-0 humiliation at Liverpool last Tuesday, after caretaker manager Ralf Rangnick’s home truths, including one about the squad needing open-heart surgery, it was all about of an improved performance from United, unless at one end of the pitch.

United created plenty of openings, with right-back Diogo Dalot hitting the woodwork twice. The return of Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored his goal – his 100th in the Premier League – had another narrowly ruled out for offside, which Rangnick claimed was VAR’s wrong call. He was deeply unhappy with how the technology was being used – or not.

United’s frustration was total and would overwhelm Fernandes in the 77th minute. He left his cleats late and nastily on Nuno Tavares, who had opened the scoring early on, and he was lucky enough to walk away with a yellow card. It was the only thing that was right for him. Rangnick replaced him for his own good.

Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes sees his penalty hit a post before deflecting wide. Photograph: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images

Arsenal had been heavy favorites to seal their first Champions League qualification since 2016, but it felt as if their young side had been taken by the nerves. And yet, Xhaka would bend the narrative by force of will and it was certainly a sight for sore eyes to watch him blow kisses to the Emirates crowd, with them returning the love.

Previously tossed around as a scapegoat, the relationship between him and them was forever flawed – to paraphrase Xhaka – he had made himself the hero and Arsenal’s full-time celebrations reflected the significance of the result. They had carried mental and physical fatigue into the game since last Wednesday’s victory at Chelsea. They got over it. For United, the misery continues.

Rangnick had been forced into a defensive change after the Harry Maguire home bomb scare, which is not a phrase anyone could have imagined reading, but which somehow reflects the fury and chaos around the club .

Raphaël Varane regained form and he was at fault for the opener even if he was not the only one. He and Alex Telles missed clearing attempts in burlesque fashion after a Xhaka cross and, when Bukayo Saka saw De Gea push his curling effort, Tavares pounced for his first Arsenal goal.

United were a defensive shambles, their back line everywhere. Eddie Nketiah was cleared for a one-on-one chance which De Gea saved but the goalkeeper would be beaten again soon after.

What a strange goal it was, Saka elbowing an Emile Smith Rowe for Nketiah and being checked by Victor Lindelöf after United’s centre-half was taken from the wrong side. Nketiah finished on that occasion but VAR called him back for offside. The tech then got to work on the Lindelöf challenge. Sadness. Saka calmly converted.

It would have been easy for United to feel sorry for themselves as they created plenty of chances to equalize at 1-0. Anthony Elanga crossed twice but he couldn’t finish, with Rangnick complaining that Tavares roughed him up on the second occasion.

Scott McTominay missed a lead chance; Fernandes couldn’t offload a chip after Aaron Ramsdale gave up possession; Ronaldo’s touch dropped him on a high ball; and Dalot shook the crossbar from 25 yards out. There was also the moment when Jadon Sancho ran to Cédric Soares and called loudly for the handball against the defender.

The first half was particularly wild. Arsenal were equally loose at the back, putting their fans in agony as they tried and sometimes failed to play. Ronaldo slipped past Gabriel too easily to convert a Nemanja Matic cross, and there was still time in the first half for De Gea to save Elneny and Martin Ødegaard, and Ramsdale to beat a blast from Telles.

Paul Pogba, missing with a calf injury and out of contract this summer, tweeted during the interval that he hoped to return before the end of the season. “It’s not over, United we would stand,” he wrote, the slightly odd conditional.

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The same could be said of Tavares’ decision to jump for a United corner with his arm outstretched, the ball hitting him for a penalty. The game had turned into a test for the left-back but he was pardoned when Fernandes stuttered, jumped and trailed the kick against the outside of a post.

United kept pushing. McTominay worked Ramsdale, Ronaldo spun and whipped home to be denied by the tightest offside calls, and Dalot rattled a post. The equalizer seemed to arrive. Xhaka had other ideas.

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