By Chris Harris at Old Trafford
Olivier Giroud came off the bench to rescue a point for Arsenal with a late goal at Old Trafford.
The Frenchman soared above the Manchester United defence to thump a header past David De Gea after a fine cross from another substitute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Juan Mata looked to have condemned the Gunners to defeat with an unerring first-time finish from Ander Herrera’s cut-back.
For a long while this rather flat encounter looked like being a missed opportunity for Arsene Wenger's side, who enjoyed plenty of possession but lacked penetration.
But Giroud and Oxlade-Chamberlain changed all that, and Arsenal headed home on a relative high despite missing the chance to go top of the Premier League.
SETTING THE SCENE
When you think of Old Trafford you think of Marc Overmars in 1998, Sylvain Wiltord in 2002 and even Anders Limpar in 1990 - season-defining goals in title-winning campaigns.
Yet Arsenal travelled north for this lunchtime kick-off chasing their first top-flight win at this ground in more than a decade.
Wenger’s side were certainly due a win over United, not least to atone for last season’s 3-2 loss at Old Trafford - a below-par display and this year’s only away defeat in the Premier League.
Fears over Alexis’ fitness were allayed and he took his place in the starting line-up. Carl Jenkinson joined him as Wenger’s choice to replace the injured Hector Bellerin.
Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny also came into the side as Wenger opted to stiffen his midfield. Alex Iwobi and Granit Xhaka dropped to the bench.
Before the international break Arsenal threatened - but failed - to open up a six-point lead over Tottenham. Could they open up a nine-point lead over another bonafide title rival?
United made the early running, helped by a couple of ponderous moments where Arsenal gave the ball away in their own half.
Nacho Monreal stepped in to stop a dangerous pass from reaching Rashford, but the visitors soon settled and, helped by Ramsey’s inclusion and Alexis’ tendency to drop deep, they controlled the midfield.
Perhaps it was the early kick-off, perhaps it was the safety-first selection from both managers, but the game lacked its usual bite.
Chances were at a premium but Alexis had a golden one when Monreal’s deflected cross was flicked on by Walcott. Alexis opted to guide the ball back across goal when an angled header past De Gea looked the obvious option. The chance went begging.
With their usual ball hoarder, Santi Cazorla, and their most attacking full back, Bellerin, out of the picture, the onus was on Mesut Ozil to pull the creative strings. One delicious turn ended with a threaded pass to Walcott, but his cut-back was cleared.
Francis Coquelin volleyed over the bar but it was United who finished the half on the front foot.
Valencia had a big shout for a penalty turned down after getting in a tangle with Monreal, and Cech plunged to his right to push away Mata’s low effort before tipping over Anthony Martial’s effort.
Arsenal had 60 per cent of the first-half possession but not much to show for it. And they continued to feed off scraps after the break.
Walcott seized on a loose ball and played a smart one-two with Alexis, receiving the return ball in space on the right. He tried to pick out Alexis or Ozil but United had got back in numbers and cleared the danger.
From Ozil’s resulting corner there was more danger but Phil Jones stayed strong to deny Laurent Koscielny a clear header.
Valencia remained a threat for United, running at Monreal time and again. But United couldn’t translate promising approach play into chances.
Well, not until the 68th minute. That was when Pogba slid a ball through to Herrera on the right and his cut-back was struck crisply past Cech by Mata.
Wenger responded by bringing on Giroud and Xhaka but Marcos Rojo had the next good chance. He planted his header wide.
Oxlade-Chamberlain gave Arsenal another attacking option for the final moments, and it was his surge down the right that made the difference.
The cross was perfect - and so was Giroud’s header.
Referee: Andre Marriner
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