By perfect, I refer not to the quality of our play but to the dramatic elements of it. Conceding against the run of play only to equalise 35 seconds later, letting Garnacho through on goal only to have it disallowed by his being offside at the molecular level, Rice scoring the dramatic winner and Jesus adding some sheen? Hollywood would have a hard time penning a more-perfect script.
Ten Hag had Man U playing a strangely conservative counter-attacking style. We’re not so good at what we hope to do that a side with his resources and his personnel should have been so cautious. For long stretches, it looked likely the Dutchman only wanted to dominate possession whilst setting a record for most backward passes. Every once in a while, Onana or Eriksen or Fernandes would ping a pass up the pitch, hoping to find Rashford. It worked…once. We then showed the kind of ferocious response for which we became famous last season, Ødegaard scoring from Martinelli’s smart and unselfish pass.
Arteta got it all right from the get-go, starting a back four of Zinchenko, Magalhães, Saliba, and White, with Havertz and Rice ahead of them. Based on this match alone, RIce may have proven that he’s worth what we paid. The jury’s still out on Havertz, but there’s not been enough evidence yet either. There’s little point to slating or berating him. He wears the shirt. Support him. Full stop.
Nketiah got both of Man U’s CBs booked and, perhaps, removed. Lindelof probably should have seen red for a reckless, last-man “tackle” that saw him rake his boot across Nketiah’s face. Lisandro came off injured after getting booked for fouling Nketiah, and Lindelof later made way as well. Maguire and Evans came on, and it’s probably no coincidence that we scored both goals with those two in front of Onana rather than Lindelof and Lisandro. I’ll be honest when I admit that I savoured the fact that RIce’s goal squirmed in off of Evans, who insisted he had been fouled moments before. It’s not as if Man U have ever been given the benefit of the doubt, have they? I’ll take it.
This was the kind of magnificient, glorious result that can kick on a campaign. I don’t care if Man U are still getting sorted; it’s still Man U. They came in and took that early lead only to fold faster than Superman on laundry day. After three rather indifferent results against arguably inferior opponents, it was gratifying to go toe-to-toe with an historic rival and come away with such a rousing win.
Spare a thought before you go for Kai Havertz. He whiffed on a gilt-edged chance in the eleventh minute. Scoring there would have erased three seasons of existential angst and ennui. He’s emerged from the seething cauldron of chaos that is Chelsea (if you say it like “kelsea”, the alliteration works…) and is, to put it mildly, damaged goods. He’s been saddled with a transfer fee similar to Nicolas Pépé’s. What’s worse, he has to shoulder under the burden of being the next Willian—as if he’s just another Chelsea reject we were foolish to have signed. He’s just 24. He’s spent those last three years in a wasteland. As long as he wears the shirt, we should support him. He’ll get out of his rut and into a groove soon enough.
On to the bigger picture, we’ve taken ten points from our first four matches. I’d imagine that most of us would have predicted a win over Fulham and a draw with Man U. To have flipped the two splits the difference to no ill effect. We still have a lot of work to do, what with a De Bruyne-less Man City showing no signs of a post-quadruple hangover. It’s early days yet. This result might just be the kind of tonic to sooth our jangling nerves. We have two weeks to enjoy it By all means, drink deep.