EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY — Before Manchester United and Arsenal get a chance to finally make good on once again reaching the pinnacle of the Premier League, they got their chance to channel Frank Sinatra and make good in New York City before their journeys back across the Atlantic.
Two of the most historic football teams in the world squared off on a “soccer” pitch just across the Hudson River in East Rutherford, New Jersey and MetLife Stadium, the home of the National Football League’s New York Giants and New York Jets. For the Red Devils and the Gunners, these two have met numerous times in legendary venues and in different competitions. But United, who was founded in 1878 under the name “Newton Heath,” and Arsenal, established just a few years later in 1886, did something that they had not done in this illustrious rivalry: face off against each other in the United States.
Saturday’s contest, a match that Manchester United went on to win 2-0, broke the MetLife Stadium record for largest attendance for a soccer match, as 82,262 fans fled to the “Swamps of Jersey,” in swamp-like conditions. to witness a battle between two clubs who qualified for the UEFA Champions League this coming season after 2022 campaigns that saw both show flashes of their former dominance in England. The support shown by the American fans of both clubs continues the positive momentum of the United States’ sports scene as it readies itself to host its second FIFA World Cup in three years’ time. It truly is starting to feel like 1994 again.
The fixture began with a lengthy stint of even play, with both squads finding scoring chances early on. The best chance came in the 11th minute, where Arsenal midfielder Gabriel Martinelli had a point-blank chance and a rebound, both denied by 38-year-old Manchester United goalkeeper Tom Heaton. Heaton, who got the start instead of new signing Andre Onana (from Inter Milan), played a superb 90 minutes between the sticks in what was one of his most impressive performances as a Red Devil.
The deadlock was broken in the 30th minute when newly-named Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes received a pass from exciting youngster Kobbie Mainoo and fired a left-footed shot into the bottom left corner past Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
The Red Devils’ starting midfield trio of Fernandes, Mainoo, and new addition Mason Mount bossed its counterpart trio of Arsenal holdover Martin Odegaard and new additions Declan Rice (from West Ham) and Kai Havertz (from Chelsea), and soon, United doubled its lead. A miscue from Arsenal center-back Gabriel led to a breakaway for United winger Jadon Sancho who ripped a strike into the short side, top right corner in the 35th minute.
The next half saw United change all 10 of its outfield players, and regular starters such as Marcus Rashford and Casemiro got their run during the game’s final 45 minutes. Arsenal saw one of its best chances to score in the second half pass them by after striker Eddie Nketiah whipped a shot past the far post in the 52nd minute.
Now, what is next for the two clubs? For Arsenal, Mikel Arteta and his team will look to “finish the job” after finishing in second in the Premier League last season. Although they led for the majority of the season, they were eventually caught by Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, who went on to claim the league as part of its historic treble. Their second-place finish allowed Gunners to return to the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2017, the last of their amazing streak of 19 consecutive seasons playing in Europe’s premier club competition.
Manchester United’s 2022 season was a success in the first year of Eeik ten Hag’s tenure, from winning the Carabao Cup to finishing third in the Premier League and runners-up to Manchester City in the FA Cup — the first-ever FA Cup Final that featured a Manchester Derby. United will also return to the UEFA Champions League, a competition they have not won since 2008. While also completing a couple of transfers in the off-season, United will start the season without David de Gea between the sticks for the first time in 12 years as Onana will now take over the No. 1 shirt after signing a five-year contract this past week. New midfield signing Mason Mount will also compete for a spot in the starting 11, where he is predicted to start alongside captain Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro.