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Arsenal's shortcomings revealed by Man Utd defeat as inconsistencies continue to plague Mikel Arteta's young guns

Marcus Rashford struck twice as Manchester United made it four wins in a row to end Arsenal's perfect start to the season; the Gunners remain top of the table on 15 points thanks to their opening five wins; Mikel Arteta: "We haven't won because we lacked discipline in moments"

Martin Odegaard applauds the travelling fans following defeat at Old Trafford
Image: Martin Odegaard applauds the travelling Arsenal fans following defeat at Old Trafford

There is a moment in Amazon's latest 'All or Nothing' documentary series, which charted Arsenal's plight across the 2021/22 campaign, where Mikel Arteta is struggling to articulate his words when addressing his squad in an enraged post-match debrief.

The rant lasts about a minute, is furiously impassioned, and ends with the Spaniard storming out of the dressing room at the City Ground.

Arsenal had just lost to Nottingham Forest. Moreover, they had been completely outplayed by the then-Championship side - a repeat of the outcome of January 2018's FA Cup meeting when Arsene Wenger's era was meandering towards its disappointing conclusion.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United’s win against Arsenal in the Premier League

At that juncture, with a regretful sense of foreboding, there was a feeling the former Gunners captain could soon meet a similar end. It was not the first time his credentials had been called into question. The Arsenal way had seemingly been lost.

"We were not good enough and we have to apologise for it," Arteta summarised in the aftermath of that despondent defeat. A polite synopsis of the scathing review he privately delivered to his players.

Sunday's defeat against Manchester United was different. "This game was there for the taking," Arteta asserted.

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Arsenal manger Mikel Arteta gives his verdict on his side's 3-1 defeat to Manchester United and whether VAR should have disallowed Gabriel Martinelli's goal

Fast forward eight months from that fateful night in Nottingham and the mood has dramatically loosened. Arsenal are top of the Premier League after six games played - a point ahead of nearest challengers Manchester City.

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The outlook is much-improved, but such comfort was rudely awakened by Erik ten Hag's rejuvenated United - abruptly ending Arsenal's five-game winning streak.

Their enterprising identity, which Arteta has previously professed to be in need of rediscovery, took centre stage in moments but was was undone in others as United grew in stature.

An hour's worth of toil and endeavour obliterated by two devastating Marcus Rashford breaks.

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The Super Sunday panel of Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Paul Merson give their verdict on who will finish higher out of Arsenal and Manchester United

Still the top-flight's youngest manager, Arteta's first Arsenal triumph came against the Red Devils. Sunday's result, in contrast, was one of frustration, prompting yet more questions of Arsenal's mettle against top-four rivals.

Resilience is not necessarily an art this youthful Arsenal side are capable of mastering. Although it's not for the want of trying.

Not to be dissuaded by Gabriel Martinelli's controversially chalked off goal - another VAR misgiving - nor Antony's well-taken opener, Arsenal's young guns exhibited somewhat of an action plan. They plotted and schemed until their patience was rewarded.

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Dermot Gallagher believes the referee was right to disallow Gabriel Martinelli's goal, while Sue Smith and Stephen Warnock both thought the decision could have gone either way.

"Paul Tierney, he's one of our own" ironically rung around the stands 10 minutes into the second half - Arsenal's sense of injustice towards the referee was even felt by the home supporters, much to their amusement. It served only to enthuse Bukayo Saka, who netted the equaliser six minutes later.

In fact, Saka epitomised the Gunners' approach to the first 60 minutes. Not altogether convincing, but worthy of parity. The winger's last two Premier League strikes have both been scored against United - the other back in April - taking his goal involvements tally to 35. Only Cesc Fabregas (52) boasts a better record before turning 21 years of age.

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Watch Antony's first Manchester United goal from every angle

"I thought it was an even game, but we managed to exploit the spaces better," scorer Rashford said in the aftermath, having found the net six minutes after Saka's leveller. Rashford was able to play perfectly on Arsenal's vulnerabilities.

An ill-timed triple sub, made naively by Arteta in the 74th minute, then prompted further punishment as Rashford skipped gleefully beyond Ben White before tapping home Christian Eriksen's square pass to wrap up the game. Both moments, a mere 60 seconds apart, exposed frailties. A verdict shared by Sky Sports' Gary Neville.

"Arsenal were fantastic for 65-70 minutes, but there was quite a bit of immaturity in the last 20 minutes," he said.

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Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford hails his side's spirit after their 3-1 win against Arsenal at Old Trafford

"It's about points, not plaudits," Roy Keane concluded. His summary was in relation to Arsenal's plucky performance - impressive in patches - but lacking in control across an entire 90-minute period.

Fast-paced, possession-based football, which thrills and entertains audiences is a hallmark of Arsenal Football Club. Unfortunately that tends to go hand in hand with a lack of conviction in big moments. "I've seen enough today to be convinced that Arsenal can mix it," Paul Merson determined. 'Mix it' as part of a competing top four, or as a chasing outsider, remains to be seen.

Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring Arsenal's equaliser
Image: Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring Arsenal's equaliser

The fixture schedule has indeed been kind to the north London club, but early-season momentum can only carry a side for so long. Arsenal's kryptonite in recent campaigns has been consistency, or a lack thereof. Against United they were bold and energetic but not without fault. It's a familiar story.

Arteta's era, a slow burner, has nonetheless gathered pace in recent months. There remains reason for cautious optimism at Emirates Stadium - the table does begin to resemble some sort of meaningful structure six games in.

Since late February, Arsenal have taken 42 points from 21 Premier League games. Averagely, per game, they are scoring more frequently (2.6 up from 1.5), registering more shots on target, and conceding fewer goals season-on-season. They are, after all, top of the league for a reason.

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From the nurturing of William Saliba to the acquisition of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, they have made some shrewd summer moves. Jesus in particular has brought a purpose to Arsenal's attacking industry. The element of sparkle has returned, despite clear imperfections.

It may well be that United battle it out with Arsenal for a Champions League spot this season. Both, at the very least, have the chance to close the gap that has emerged between themselves and the English elite.

This season's sub-plots are tantalisingly thicker than ever.

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