Gunners knew a win would see them leapfrog West Ham into fourth and took the lead in bizarre circumstances. David de Gea dropped to the turf after Fred stood on his right heel, allowing Emile Smith Rowe to put the ball into virtually an empty net before referee Martin Atkinson blew to stop play. De Gea received medical attention and was able to continue as confusion reigned over whether Mikel Arteta’s men had taken the lead before Atkinson pointed to the centre circle following a four-minute delay.
United then grew into the contest, but were up against a team that had kept six league clean sheets this term and were doing a sterling job at constricting space. Gabriel Martinelli could have doubled Arsenal’s lead as he latched onto a sumptuous Smith Rowe pass before dragging his shot wide, and the Brazilian was left to rue that miss. Shortly before HT, Jadon Sancho fed Fred, and the midfielder atoned for his earlier clumsiness by squaring neatly to Bruno Fernandes, who marked his 100th appearance for the club by slipping the ball confidently beyond Aaron Ramsdale to end a 15-game goal drought.
Shortly after the interval, De Gea produced a brilliant reflex save to deny Gabriel, before Ramsdale had to be sharp to divert a Ronaldo effort to safety. It wasn’t long before Portugal’s all-time record goalscorer reached his latest milestone, though, finishing with aplomb from close range.
The hosts’ lead was short-lived. Thomas Partey spread the play to Martinelli, who picked out Martin Ødegaard in the area, and the 22-year-old slotted into the far corner to beat De Gea. However, the Norwegian went from hero to zero as Atkinson awarded a penalty for his foul on Fred after consulting VAR, and Ronaldo stepped up to hammer down the middle as “SIUUUU!” rang around the ‘Theatre of Dreams’.
The victory sends the ‘Red Devils’ up to seventh, just two points behind their beaten opponents, who remain fifth and will look to bounce back at Everton on Monday. United, meanwhile, host Crystal Palace on Sunday, this time with Rangnick on the touchline as Michael Carrick’s successful caretaker spell comes to an end.