Manchester United were denied a deserved win after Olivier Giroud’s late header handed Arsenal a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
Juan Mata had given the Reds the lead midway through the second half, arriving at the perfect time to convert Ander Herrera’s clever cut-back, but Giroud’s 89th-minute goal salvaged a draw for the Gunners.
It was a result that flattered the visitors after they were pegged back for large periods by a lively United side, who have now been held to frustrating draws in three consecutive home league games.
Jose Mourinho made four changes to the side that beat Swansea City before the international break. Anthony Martial, Herrera, Antonio Valencia and Marcus Rashford all came in for Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini, Wayne Rooney and the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Before the match, Mourinho insisted narrowing the gap between United and Arsenal to three points would be “perfect” as the season edges towards its half-way stage and the Reds started with that positive intention.
Mata was inches away from giving United an early lead, curling a free-kick just wide of Petr Cech’s far post after Herrera was tripped, 25 yards out. At the other end, Alexis Sanchez, who was looking his ever-dangerous self, headed wide of David De Gea’s far post when he should really have done better.
The game was beginning to look more like a typical United v Arsenal encounter, with both sides having spells of attacking threats and the odd challenge a tasty-looking one.
Then came the big talking point of the first half as Valencia, who was making his first appearance since breaking his arm in the EFL Cup win over Manchester City, seemed to be pulled down by Nacho Monreal in the penalty area, but referee Andre Marriner waved his arms in disapproval of United’s claims.
Moments later, Mata was again inches away from giving United what would have been a deserved lead, but his low shot was tipped around the post by Cech, before the Arsenal stopper came to the visitors’ rescue again, saving twice from Martial in quick succession.
Possession: United 42% Arsenal 58%
Shots at goal: United 6 Arsenal 4
Shots on target: United 3 Arsenal 0
Corners: United 5 Arsenal 1
Similarly to the first half, the Reds started the second on the front foot, with Rashford, who scored twice on his league debut in a 3-2 win over Arsenal last season, looking to stretch the Gunners’ back line at every opportunity.
The Reds continued to press, earning a succession of corners, without troubling Cech until the deserved breakthrough came on 69 minutes.
Paul Pogba played in Herrera down the right and he pulled the ball back perfectly for the late-arriving Mata, who fired low past Cech.
Marcos Rojo nearly doubled United’s lead 10 minutes later, but he headed narrowly wide from substitute Daley Blind’s expert cross.
Then the sucker-punch. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who skipped past Rashford down the right side, crossed for fellow substitute Giroud to power a back-post header beyond De Gea with Arsenal’s only attempt on target.
It was harsh on United, who had dominated the game, but Mourinho, who remains unbeaten in his 14 league and cup matches against Arsene Wenger, can take some positives from an encouraging display.
Possession: United 45% Arsenal 55%
Shots at goal: United 12 Arsenal 5
Shots on target: United 5 Arsenal 1
Corners: United 10 Arsenal 4
United: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Darmian (Blind 64), Carrick, Herrera, Mata (Schneiderlin 85), Pogba, Martial (Rooney 63), Rashford.
Subs not used: Romero, Lingard, Young, Memphis.
Booked: Darmian, Mata, Rooney.
Arsenal: Cech, Jenkinson (Oxlade-Chamberlain 83), Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin (Xhaka 79), Elneny (Giroud 73), Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott, Sanchez.
Subs not used: Ospina, Gibbs, Gabriel, Iwobi.
Booked: Sanchez, Ramsey, Xhaka.