Arsenal inflicted additional anguish on Manchester United by winning 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium, thereby ending United’s chances of finishing in the top four.
With Erik Ten Hag’s summer arrival confirmed earlier in the week, the Red Devils followed a disappointing loss at Anfield with a 3-1 defeat against a suddenly invigorated Gunners squad.
An enthralling game saw both sides make numerous defensive errors, but a first Arsenal goal for Nuno Tavares, a Bukayo Saka penalty, and a Granit Xhaka screamer proved more than enough for the hosts, who had looked shaky after Cristiano Ronaldo’s 100th Premier League goal had the visitors back in the game.
Bruno Fernandes missed a penalty and Diogo Dalot struck the crossbar twice as United failed to capitalize on their time of dominance on an afternoon when Ralf Rangnick benched United captain Harry Maguire.
The England defender has come under fire for his performances this season, culminating in a bomb threat last week.
He was one of five changes from the humiliating 4-0 defeat to Liverpool on Tuesday night at the Emirates Stadium.
Rangick feels Ten Hag will have a tough task when he takes over, but that the “surgery of the open heart” that the German believes is essential to turn around United’s troubles will come too late to resurrect their Champions League hopes.
With Maguire observing from the bench, it was evident that United’s defensive woes were not the responsibility of a single player.
Arsenal broke the lead in less than three minutes, with United’s defense all over the place as the returned duo of Raphael Varane and Alex Telles waved a leg in fruitless efforts to clear a simple cross, enabling Saka a shot on goal.
David De Gea did well to save the attempt, but Tavares was there to take advantage, moving faster than Dalot to pop in the rebound.
United responded in like, with Fernandes and Ronaldo combining to set up Anthony Elanga, whose low drive was superbly saved by Aaron Ramsdale.
Ramsdale was nearly caught off guard when a ball was intercepted by Scott McTominay, but Fernandes was unable to capitalize as Gabriel Magalhaes stopped his attempt from behind.
United were now producing the better opportunities, with Ronaldo arrowing a shot over from a tight angle and Dalot hitting the crossbar with a beautiful attempt.
Arsenal remained a danger, as Mohamed Elneny and Martin Odegaard combined to set up Nketiah, who should have done better than shot straight at De Gea.
The advantage was quickly doubled as VAR grabbed center stage, first ruling out a Nketiah goal for offside then bringing the attention of referee Craig Pawson to a foul on Saka in the build-up.
A penalty was ultimately granted, and Saka went up to convert from 12 yards and increase the advantage, exactly as he did in the victory against Chelsea on Wednesday.
Ronaldo sprang in between Tavares and Gabriel to turn home a Nemanja Matic cross and cut the deficit in half as he became the oldest player to achieve a century of Premier League goals.
They had a golden opportunity to equalize early in the second half when Tavares was fouled as the ball struck his extended arm.
Fernandes, on the other hand, couldn’t match his extravagant run-up with the equalizer, as his shot struck the outside of Ramsdale’s goal. United’s search for a second was also thwarted by an offside call against Ronaldo when he scored soon thereafter.
Dalot rattled the goal frame for the second time in the game, this time when his attempt cannoned off the post and back into play.
Those close misses came back to haunt United as Arsenal earned three points, boosting their own top-four hopes.
Calls for a second penalty fell on deaf ears, but Elneny set up Xhaka for a 25-yard strike past De Gea.