Friday afternoon’s FA Cup fourth round drew together the red of north London and the red of Manchester as its standout tie. Arsenal found themselves newly rejuvenated this season under new management in the form of Unai Emery, achieving a whopping twenty game unbeaten streak, all while Manchester United were having their worst ever start to a Premier League season, as Jose Mourinho began to crumble in his third season at the helm. Their 44 points and sixth place standing have all but confirmed people’s suspicions of Mourinho’s inability to perform in his third season with a team.
As for Arsenal, the end of 2018 and the halfway point of the English soccer season saw a mild drop in form and a change of management for a finally fed up Manchester United. But the most dramatic point of the season was when Mourinho was fired on the Dec. 13. Then, on Dec. 19, Gunnar Solskjær, The Baby-Faced Assassin, took over. About a month later and the two titans of English football stepped onto Arsenal’s home pitch to fight it out for a place in the FA Cup Round of 16.
The importance of the game couldn’t be understated, with both teams fielding what were primarily their first teams, when second squads often find their way into FA cup games. To start the game, however, Solskjær replaced in form forwards Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford with out of favour Romelu Lukaku and ex-Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez. 31 minutes into the game, the latter two combined for a strike into the back of the net by Sanchez putting Manchester United 1-0 against his old club.
Two minutes later and Jessie Lingard made it 2-0, before Arsenal’s mercurial striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang halved the deficit right before the break. A vicious second half saw Arsenal attempt to work their way back into the game with David De Gea making a few brilliant saves before Anthony Martial came off the bench to seal the game with a goal less than 10 minutes from full time. The final was United 3 and Arsenal 1.
Aside from still being eligible to win the trophy and the prestige that winning a game of this caliber brings, the implications for Manchester United are huge. Having endured for too long Jose Mourinho’s negative style of play, paired with his widely detested off the pitch antics, the arrival of Solskjær has brought new faith to United fans.
Solskjær won his first game in charge 5-1 against Cardiff city, making him the first manager of a United team to score five goals since the retirement of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson way back in 2013. Certainly, against out of form Cardiff a win was expected, but five goals never are. After handily defeating weaker competition for a few consecutive games, United had big wins against both North London giants, Tottenham and Arsenal, in the span of a couple of weeks. Solskjær made his presence known.
In his 37 days in charge so far, Man United has played and won each of their eight games, scoring a total of 22 goals and conceding only five. The ex-Man United player has spoken widely of his appreciation of the clubs historically famous open and attacking style of play and has adopted this to great effect. His player management has also been fantastic, unleashing the best out of players like Matic, Lindelof, Martial, and Lingard who underperformed under Mourinho. This change has been seen especially in Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, with the former contributing directly to a goal every 88 minutes under Solskjær, a 40-minute improvement from his stats under Mourinho. Pogba too has scored five and assisted four in seven games under Solskjær, up from five goals and four assists in 20 games under Mourinho.
Manchester United have a new lease on life and they are having a better run of form than they have had in a long while. Less than a month and a half ago Manchester United sat in sixth place far off from even the next highest team, seemingly doomed for mid table obscurity. Now they have equal points with Arsenal in the league and only three behind fourth place Chelsea means a shout for the top four is realistic and reentry into the Champions League by that means seems possible. Fans have begun to dream again. Only one question remains, who will stop the Baby-Faced Assassin’s United team?
Up next for United is a series of league matches, followed by their Champions League matchup against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinal round. The last time Manchester United won the Champions League was under the reign of Christiano Ronaldo.