The Battle of Old Trafford - First Half
"I had a lot of hatred for Arsenal because I knew they were big rivals. I can't think of any other word that springs to mind when I was going into battle with Arsenal. Absolute hatred was the word." – Roy Keane (Former Manchester United player and captain, 1993-2005).
"If I play against him [Roy Keane], I would be concentrated, all the week. So I would prepare myself in a different way maybe because I still have this game in mind, and I still have how to play against him in my mind." – Patrick Vieira (Former Arsenal player and captain, 1996-2005).
"I'll ****ing see you out there, you ****!" – Roy Keane to Patrick Vieira (before the match on February 1, 2005).
These previous quotes were some of the things former Manchester United and Arsenal players said regarding the rivalry between the 2 clubs back in the mid-1990s up to the mid-2000s. It was so intense that there was no room for friendship at all when the 2 sides met in that period. It was THE match for lovers of the game to watch.
For the last week, Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke have been preparing themselves mentally for this battle for survival in the Premier League title race by watching the videos Noriko prepared for them. On the training ground, the 3 Japanese were very intense. As a result, Kakeru earned his place in the starting XI although he only played a little more than 30 minutes under on his return. However, the big story was still about the controversial player swap between Manchester United and Arsenal despite the current rivalry. Although it was not totally true, several London-based journos put forward the narrative that Alexis went to Manchester United only for the money. In response, other media brought forward the fact that Alexis was a fan of the Red Devils in his younger days.
Arsenal (16 wins, 5 draws, 1 loss – 53 points) looked to extend the gap from 6 to 9 points in the Premier League title race against second-place Manchester United (14 wins, 5 draws, 3 losses – 47 points). For Manchester United, it was a matter of survival in the title race; winning was the only option against the hottest team in the Premier League at the moment. The stage was set for a battle of heavyweights between Manchester United and Arsenal. This time, Old Trafford is under the spotlight on a chilly afternoon in January.
Sunday January 14
12:45 PM GMT
Manchester United vs. Arsenal (Premier League match 23)
Old Trafford, Manchester, UK
Noriko, her father, her grandfather, and Sarah were on their way to get inside Old Trafford through the Munich Tunnel. As they walked some distance away from the line of Arsenal supporters entering the Southeast corner of the stadium under heavy police surveillance, they could hear insults coming out from both groups of supporters. Even Noriko threw a few obscene gestures towards the Arsenal supporters a little earlier. Tension was already filling the air before the match even started.
"VIEIRA – OH, OH, OH. VIEIRA – OH, OH, OH. HE GAVE GIGGSY THE BALL, AND ARSENAL WON **** ALL!" a few hundreds of Manchester United supporters sang outside of the stadium when they spotted the Arsenal supporters.
"I don't think I have seen such bad blood from United fans against Arsenal fans in quite a while now." Sarah remarked.
"After all the stuff Jenpa said in the media last week, I can't say I'm surprised. He declared war on us." Noriko replied.
"Yeah, that was the kind of stuff that would have been said back in the Ferguson vs. Wenger days when it was war between these 2 sides. It has become so tense that even your mother gave her ticket to Sarah today." Robert said.
"That level of rivalry is just too intense for her, and I can understand her." Noriko replied.
"I hope our friends will be up for it. They will have to be at their best today." Harry said.
"The thing I'm concerned about is whether or not Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke are capable of pushing their own limits further in order to survive something as intense as this." Robert said. "By the way, Dad, are you sure this kind of high-intensity match is not too much for you though?"
"Me?" Harry laughed out loud. "I have seen a lot worse in 26 years and a half under Alex Ferguson. I saw the 1990 brawl against Arsenal at Old Trafford. I was at Villa Park for the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay. I was also here attending the 2 matches dubbed ‘Battle of Old Trafford'. There won't be anything new for me with it comes down to a fierce match against Arsenal like in the old days."
'This is where the season will be played. I know you have prepared yourselves well enough for this. It's all about delivering on the pitch now.' Noriko thought about the mental preparation Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke did in the last week to be ready for what could be one of the biggest tests of their professional careers so far.
1:10 PM GMT
In the dressing room, the starting Manchester United players were preparing themselves ahead of the match as they put on their match kits. As for the new player, Alexis Sánchez, he was wearing the number 22 that belonged to Henrikh as rules did not allow him to take Nana's number 7 until the offseason should both players agree to change numbers. Knowing that a lot of things have been said in the media about the importance of this match and about the transfer, Kakeru and Nana came to talk with their new teammate.
"How do you feel? Not too nervous?" Kakeru asked.
"A little. I played and I won trophies with those guys not long ago, so it's strange." Alexis replied with a thick Chilean accent.
"We understand. Everything will be as normal when the whistle blows, so stay strong." Nana said.
"You're at the right place here because you chose to live your dream. We'll stand with you no matter what." Kakeru added.
"Thanks." Alexis replied.
"Vamos (Let's go)." Kakeru said.
Then José arrived in front of the players for the final speech before kickoff.
"Everyone... The Boss." Matthias said.
"People... This is THE match of the season. I don't need to remind you of everything that was said and written about this match. I also don't think I need to tell you where we stand either. We had a rough time in December, but that's in the past. What matters is now. If Arsenal think they will walk over us that easily, then let's make sure they will regret it! Let them feel that they are in hell right now! This is Manchester United, this is Old Trafford, and NO ONE... and I say NO ONE walks over us!" José said.
"YEEEEAAAAAHHH!!!" the players shouted with sheer enthusiasm.
"We can resurrect our season here and now, and start climbing our way back up to the place where we belong. It starts TODAY! Let's do this!" José finished.
The players gave the usual round of applause after the speech before the players gathered together one last time to get pumped up between them. Leading the group as their motivational guy was Pog.
"Anyone here from Madrid in the house?" Pog asked.
"Oh, that's me!" David replied while his teammates responded with cheers and whoops in this little pre-match game among players.
"Or is there someone from that hot place known as the Ivory Coast – la Côte d’Ivoire?"
"Ça c’est moi! (That is me!)" Eric replied to Pog.
"Anyone here from sunny USA?"
"That would be me!" Nana replied enthusiastically while Kakeru was hugging her. The players gave an even louder round of applause.
"Beautiful from sunny USA! Anyone here from Kamakura in Japan?"
"That's me!" Kakeru replied.
"Me too!" Yusuke added.
"That's better! We've got two!" Pog said with a smile before he put on a more serious face. "Is anyone here from North London?"
"Nope, nope." the other Manchester United players replied. Some even started booing at the sound of North London.
"Come on, lads!" Pog asked for a louder response.
"Good... because I HATE ARSENAL!!!" Pog shouted, and his teammates cheered in response.
"Damn right!" Kakeru exclaimed.
"Who do we hate?" Pog asked.
"ARSENAL!!!" the other Manchester United players replied altogether.
"WHO DO WE HATE?!" Pog asked once more.
"COME ON! LET'S GO!" Pog shouted.
"Let's kick their arses!" Matthias galvanized the players, who then got up and shouted all sorts of things. They were pumped up and ready for battle.
When the Arsenal players lined up in the players' tunnel alongside the 11 Manchester United starters, no one looked at the other team, and no word was said. Yusuke only showed a poker face at Araki when the latter walked by him. Hoping for a friendlier response, Araki tapped on Nana's and then on Kakeru's shoulders. However, neither Kakeru nor Nana showed any friendlier response than Yusuke's.
"What's up with them?" Araki asked Ryoma.
"They are all about business, I guess."
Finally, the referee gave the signal for both teams to come out. The welcome was deafening inside Old Trafford as a wall of cheers greeted the United players. Following the players' arrival on the pitch, a moment of controversy came up when Pog declined to shake hands with Patrick in response to the latter's arrogant comments. Kakeru and Nana shook hands with Patrick, but they also gave their best imitation of the Paddington Bear hard stare at Patrick.
Cheers were also loud during the presentation of the local players by the public address announcer, but not before boos rained down on every Arsenal player who was announced. Obviously, Patrick received the loudest boos of all when his name came up. On the other hand, Alexis received loud boos from the group of Arsenal supporters when his name was announced.
Let's go to Martin Tyler to provide the main news for both starting lineups.
Martin Tyler: Let's confirm the teams for you. David de Gea starts in goal; he faced Arsenal in the last 2 encounters between the 2 teams. Eric Bailly will look for personal redemption for the red card he picked up against the Gunners in September; he is paired with Matthias Köhler. Japan's Yusuke Saeki, who made his debut against Arsenal, starts in midfield for the suspended Nemanja Matić. The biggest story, however, is Alexis Sánchez making his debut for Manchester United and against his former club after a controversial player swap in mid-week. He will support Kakeru Aizawa and Romelu Lukaku in that front 3.
On all broadcasts, the graphic showed United's starting 4-3-3 lineup: David de Gea (goalkeeper), Antonio Valencia (right-back and acting captain), Eric Bailly (centre-back), Matthias Köhler (centre-back), Luke Shaw (left-back), Yusuke Saeki (central defensive midfielder), Nana Mishima (central midfielder), Paul Pogba (central midfielder), Kakeru Aizawa (right winger), Romelu Lukaku (striker), and Alexis Sánchez (left winger). Nemanja had to serve a one-match suspension from domestic competitions because of a cumulative number of yellow cards, and thus Yusuke took his place in the starting lineup.
Martin Tyler: In the last meeting between these 2 sides, Petr Cech was injured. He has experience of matches at Old Trafford, especially when he was at Chelsea. Nacho Monreal returns to the starting lineup. Arsenal start with 2 holding midfielders: Ryoma Oda is tucked in alongside Granit Xhaka. Ryuichi Araki starts up front and at the right of Patrick Jenpa, who guaranteed a win for Arsenal today.
Arsenal's starting 3-4-3 lineup came up as followed: Petr Cech (goalkeeper), Shkodran Mustafi (centre-back), Laurent Koscielny (centre-back and acting captain), Nacho Monreal (centre-back), Héctor Bellerín (right midfielder), Granit Xhaka (central midfielder), Ryoma Oda (central midfielder), Sead Kolašinac (left midfielder), Ryuichi Araki (right forward), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (left forward), and Patrick Jenpa (striker). Except for the swap between Alexis and Henrikh, the main difference between the Arsenal lineup of this match and the lineup from September was the presence of the veteran Czech goalkeeper, Petr Cech. The former Chelsea goalkeeper with the special rugby helmet had more experience than anyone else at Arsenal about matches at Old Trafford.
On the bench, United had Sergio Romero, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, and Jesse Lingard on the ready for any eventuality. Meanwhile, the North Londoners also had David Ospina, Per Mertesacker, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck, Alex Iwobi, and Olivier Giroud on the bench.
Martin Tyler: Like in the days of Sir Alex Ferguson against Arsène Wenger, it's Manchester United vs. Arsenal for the top of the League. We've got the thrilling anticipation of a match with a massive incidence on the title race, and it's LIVE!!!
Arsenal elected to take the kickoff after they won the first coin toss. However, United won the second coin toss for field positioning, and chose to attack towards the East Stand in the first half. With everyone in position, all eyes turned towards the referee ready end the long wait for 75,000+ spectators in the stadium and millions of viewers worldwide. The clock then hit the kickoff time of 1:30 PM.
Arsenal started the match by establishing ball possession first. The Manchester United did not have any control of the ball yet when Arsenal started building its web in the attacking half straight away.
Martin Tyler: Oda... long ball towards Araki.
Araki came up facing Luke. The Arsenal player tried to shake the Manchester United left-back with a few body feints, but Luke stood his ground firmly. Finding no option ahead, Araki then passed the ball backwards to his Arsenal teammate Héctor. Choosing the right timing, the Spanish right-back unleashed a long aerial ball towards the far post.
Martin Tyler: It goes towards Mkhitaryan...
The ball first appeared to fall towards a harmless position. However, Henrikh came in, and surprised everyone by batting the ball in mid-air with the back of his right leg in an attempt to pass the ball back towards the middle. Antonio, who was a little more than a yard away from Henrikh, saw the ball strike his arm before it bounced out of bounds.
"HAND BALL!" the Arsenal players shouted.
The referee took 3 seconds to give his decision, and it was the decision United supporters didn't want to see.
Martin Tyler: Penalty! Only 35 seconds into the match, the first touch of the ball by a Manchester United player has produced a penalty for Arsenal.
Antonio claimed that the ball hit his chest while his teammates in red were mentioning the very short distance that did not allow him enough time to move his arm out of the way. At the same time all Manchester United players argued with the referee, it was total disbelief in the stands.
"THAT WAS A HORRIBLE AND HARSH CALL, REF! YOU KNOW THAT!" Robert shouted.
"ARE YOU DRUNK OR WHAT, REF? YOU CANNOT GIVE A PENALTY WITH SUCH A SHORT DISTANCE!" Noriko added her voice in.
"The worst call of the whole season." Sarah remarked.
"I agree." Harry replied before he shouted at the referee: "PULL YOUR FINGER OUT, YOU BLIND IDIOT!"
Gary Neville: Well…
Martin Tyler: The ball hardly traveled any distance, but this angle might give us a better clue.
Gary Neville: That's not a penalty for me. It's so close. I've been there a few times in my career as a full-back. You turn around, and try to make yourself as big as you possibly can. It hits his arm, but it's so close to him that he could not react. I would be devastated as a full-back if I got a penalty against me for that.
Despite all protests, the referee pushed all players outside of the penalty area except for United's goalkeeper and Arsenal's designated penalty taker. Almost instantly, the vast majority of Old Trafford were already booing at the penalty taker, who was none other than Patrick Jenpa.
Martin Tyler: Despite all the controversy he created last week, Patrick Jenpa steps forward for Arsenal. This could be a big moment in the title race if he scores here.
Following the referee's whistle, Patrick made his run, and struck the ball with his right foot. United's goalkeeper expected the shot to go to his right, but the shot rolled towards his left instead. Suddenly, the Red Devils found themselves trailing behind 0-1 early on.
Martin Tyler: Jenpa does it! Arsenal have the lead at Old Trafford.
Patrick celebrated his goal with a cocky gesture that tells the Old Trafford crowd to "shut up", which only sparked plenty of angry reactions among the 72,000+ United supporters in the stadium. Among the angriest and most vocal supporters, Noriko and her relatives didn't hesitate to start calling names against Patrick.
"PISS OFF!" Noriko shouted.
"BEAT IT, YOU TOSSPOT!" Robert showed Patrick the two-fingered salute.
"SHUT YOURSELF, YOU ****!" Harry swore even louder as well.
Although they just fell behind on the scoreboard, the Manchester United players were working hard to keep their composure. Pog made sure to cheer his teammates up: "They just got lucky, that's all! We keep pushing hard! C'MON!"
The play resumed with the home side looking to retaliate with goals. However, the Mancunians met fierce resistance from the Gunners as the defensive line didn't give away an inch. Meanwhile, Ryoma and Granit provided solid protection for their team's defensive line, making it even harder to break for the home side.
In the 14th minute:
Martin Tyler: It's a free kick for Manchester United... and Sánchez has taken it quickly. It's towards Mishima...
Noticing that Nana was making a run behind Ryoma, Alexis immediately made a long pass towards the Little Witch. However, Ryoma smelled the danger, and started dashing just behind Nana. As the ball was about to fall at Nana's feet, Ryoma put his arms forward and around Nana. The resulting play was that both Nana and Ryoma went down inside the penalty area while the ball bounced out of bounds, irking the 72,000+ Manchester United supporters in the stadium.
Martin Tyler: Was she pulled down by Oda? The referee gives a goal kick.
Arsenal got away with a goal kick in their favor rather than anything else with heavier consequences, much to the dismay of all Manchester United players and supporters alike.
Gary Neville: Well, I have to say that was clumsy. If that was outside of the box, a free kick would be given. Oda was all over Mishima; he didn't go for the ball.
"Resorting to diving now?" Ryoma took the opportunity to take a verbal shot at the young woman who was once Enoshima's club manager.
"You knew what you were doing, you clumsy fool!" Nana replied angrily after she stood up glaring into Ryoma's eyes.
After the ensuing goal kick, the action moved back into the Manchester United half where Arsenal started to pile up some pressure. The Gunners were looking to strike another blow that would crush the Red Devils almost completely.
Martin Tyler: Jenpa... headed down towards Bellerín...
At the end of a long aerial ball, Patrick headed the ball down towards his teammate Hector Bellerín. However, Luke got to the ball first, and cleared it high towards the center circle. The ball was then headed back by Laurent, and thus Arsenal was still on the attack.
Martin Tyler: Araki... great flick past Pogba.
Araki and Pog rushed towards the same ball, but the Arsenal midfielder performed a perfect sombrero flick to eliminate Pog from the equation. Then Araki came face to face against Yusuke.
"Come on, Araki!" Yusuke challenged his opponent.
Araki shifted his body to the left and then to the right to shake Yusuke off. When the situation became dangerous for United, Yusuke was forced to commit the foul by sticking the thigh out to take Araki down.
Martin Tyler: Saeki has given away a free kick. There could be some danger here.
"Saeki, come over here." the referee summoned Yusuke. "I'm warning you now, and I want to be very clear: if you keep fouling players like that, you will go in the book. Am I clear?"
"Yes." Yusuke replied.
"Off you go." the referee replied.
The real danger was the distance of the free kick as the point of infringement was only 28 yards from goal; it was a good range for a free kick specialist like Araki to get a good shot on goal. Nevertheless, most of the Manchester United players were lined up on the edge of their own penalty area hoping to provide enough protection for their goalkeeper. The referee then gave the signal to proceed.
Araki then made his run, and struck the ball with his favorite left foot. The ball flew above the jumping Manchester United players, but then swirled towards the goalkeeper's left with a strong sidespin and topspin effect. David de Gea stretched his own jump as far as he could, but the ball went out of his reach, off the inside of the post, and into the top corner of the goal.
Martin Tyler: It is ARAKI!!! It was within his range! It's: Manchester United 0-2 Arsenal! Just only over 16 minutes in, Ryuichi Araki has doubled Arsenal's lead, and Manchester United see their world collapsing here.
Gary Neville: Talk about composure, Ryuichi Araki. There was nothing David de Gea could do. That was a brilliant free kick from Araki. The shot went right over the ball, but then the spin of the ball led it to fly downwards and towards the inside of the post.
"That's how you do it! Great goal!" Patrick congratulated Araki.
"Thanks, Pat." Araki replied before he was soon mugged by the rest of his teammates.
"We're in business now." Ryoma said.
"Let's keep on rolling, guys! Keep rolling!" Laurent added.
Araki switched to his thoughts as he watched Kakeru and Nana's shock on their faces from distance: 'How will you react now, Kakeru? Nana? We have full control of this one now.'
Except for the 3,000 Arsenal supporters cheering and singing out loud, you could hear a pin drop inside Old Trafford. Araki's goal had a crushing effect on the home crowd's morale. The game carried on with Arsenal mostly dominating ball possession, and Manchester United looking desperately to find energy from somewhere. It was not until after a quarter of the match gone that one little incident, which did not appear to be anything special at first glance, brought up a spark.
In the 25th minute:
Martin Tyler: Mishima finds Sánchez to his right...
Nana passed the ball to Alexis. However, the Chilean winger had Héctor Bellerin in the way. Alexis then walked with the ball backwards before making a reverse pass into Luke's path. The Englishman was attacking towards Arsenal's penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Here's Luke Shaw on a burst...
Luke then tried a cross towards the far post for Kakeru. However the ball flew way above Kakeru, forcing the latter to start running after the ball.
Martin Tyler: Oh! Just a little too high for Aizawa...
At the same time Kakeru was running after the ball, Nacho Monreal was also going for the ball. The Spaniard then used his right arm to shove Kakeru as the former put his body between Kakeru and the ball.
'Damn it!' Kakeru thought.
As Nacho started running with the ball from deep in his half and towards the opposite direction, Kakeru frantically gave chase. Within a split second, Kakeru tackled the ball out of bounds, and took the Spaniard down with him in the follow through motion.
Martin Tyler: Strong challenge by Aizawa. No foul.
Then Nacho raised the ire of everyone supporting Manchester United when he stood lying on the pitch. Not even the usually kind Kakeru was tolerating any of that, so it wasn't long before he would give his 2 cents. While the vast majority of the attendance booed at the player down, the referee blew his whistle, and then called the physio to come and check in.
"Get up, you pansy! I'm a future doctor, and I know there's nothing." Kakeru made the hand gesture that said "get up!"
Then Ryoma came in to try putting some order back.
"Hey, Aizawa. What was that?" Ryoma asked.
"It's called ‘putting a shift', nothing less." Kakeru dryly replied.
"Don't push it with me." Ryoma warned.
Then Kakeru walked away before he clapped his hands with a "listen up!" gesture, and tried to rally his teammates: "COME ON, LADS! WE NEED TO PLAY HARDER!"
"Are you OK, Kakeru?" Nana asked.
"Nope, we are still too flat. We need to start playing just like we trained ASAP." Kakeru replied. "On the next attack, I will push further forward. Just stay ready to give a good ball in."
"OK, Kakeru. Let's do this!"
"Time to get angry." Kakeru said.
Then Kakeru looked in distance into Yusuke's eyes. In a flash, he understood what Kakeru's message was.
"What's up with him?" Araki asked Yusuke.
"He's only getting warmed up. You better start wishing he doesn't get angry." Yusuke replied. "It's the same thing for me and Nana."
The play restarted with Arsenal attempting to launch another attack against United, however it was thwarted with a strong tackle by Yusuke on Araki. Pog then retrieved the loose ball, and started the counterattack straight away.
Martin Tyler: Now, it's Paul Pogba starting a counterattack for Manchester United.
Pog then passed the ball towards Kakeru on the right. The Japanese forward then dribbled past 2 Arsenal players, and was on the verge of entering Arsenal's penalty area from the flank before he came face to face with Ryoma.
"Not gonna happen." Ryoma said.
Martin Tyler: It's cleared by Oda... only as far back as to Pogba though.
Kakeru couldn't dribble past Ryoma, but Kakeru's attack forced Ryoma to clear the ball in a rush. As a result, Pog retrieved the ball around the two-thirds of the pitch. Nevertheless, Pog had to react quickly with Araki closing in.
Martin Tyler: Pogba... to Mishima...
The Frenchman passed the ball towards Nana, who then ran some distance forward. When Nana appeared ready to unleash a right-footed shot from a daring distance of 33 yards, the Arsenal players scrambled to get in front of the anticipated shot.
"Don't think about it!" Granit Xhaka said as he attempted to close down on her.
However, Nana fake the shot before she skipped past the Swiss. In order to support the Arsenal defenders, Ryoma also rushed towards Nana.
"Where are you going, uh?" Ryoma said.
"Not me." Nana replied.
Suddenly, Nana surprised Ryoma by making a diagonal chip pass towards the inside of the penalty area, and above the defenders. Arriving there was Kakeru as the ball was still in the air.
Martin Tyler: Long ball by Mishima... over Monreal...
Kakeru then propelled himself in the air with a boost from his left leg, and then struck the ball first-time with his right foot. Despite the very acute angle, Kakeru's acrobatic scissor kick blasted the ball like an Exocet missile into the top corner of the goal. Despite his stretching effort, the Arsenal goalkeeper could only look at the damage while Old Trafford erupted.
Martin Tyler: AIZAWAAAAA!!! GOODNESS GRACIOUS ME!!!
Gary Neville: Well, it's game on now. That's a fabulous strike by Aizawa. Even at 6'5", Petr Cech just couldn't get near that shot. Kakeru Aizawa jumps in the air, and then strikes a perfect volley with his weaker foot. Cech just had no chance on that shot. It has to go down as one of the best goals of the season.
Martin Tyler: What a goal! Manchester United are back in the match, and Old Trafford is alive.
In the immediate aftermath following the goal that halved the deficit, Kakeru picked the ball up, and gave it to a teammate. Kakeru's teammates briefly congratulated him as they moved back for the restart.
"Huge goal, Knight!" Romelu said.
"Well done, Kakeru! Let's go for more now!" Nana said.
"That's how to do it! We're back in it!" Matthias congratulated as well.
On the way towards restarting positions, Kakeru gave a look into Patrick's eyes in the distance, and then threw his arms and fists up as a gesture of defiance towards the Cameroonian striker.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"CRACKING SHOT, KAKERU! WELL DONE!" Noriko shouted.
"GOOD STRIKE THAT, BOY!" Harry added his voice as well.
"C'MON UNITED!!!" Robert shouted.
"Kakeru's anger is driving him. It's the first time I see that, but that's helping him reach another level." Sarah remarked.
"That's how he will survive a battle like this, and lead his team to victory, Sarah." Noriko finished.
From that point forward, United and the Old Trafford crowd looked reenergized by Kakeru's spectacular goal. There was a general feeling that Arsenal were somewhat rattled. In return, the Manchester United players started to fall back to the original game plan in which José asked his players to play an aggressive approach against Arsenal.
In the 32nd minute, after an offside call against Arsenal:
Martin Tyler: Kicked forward by De Gea... headed back by Oda...
After the free kick taken by the Manchester United goalkeeper, Ryoma headed the ball in the opposite direction in an attempt to reach Patrick. However, Matthias anticipated the pass, and kicked the ball down the pitch. As the ball rolled across the halfway line and towards the advancing Ryoma, Kakeru jumped in with a strong tackle that got Ryoma flying forward and falling to the ground. The referee blew his whistle to give Arsenal the free kick, but it was nothing to calm Ryoma down.
"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!" Ryoma shouted at Kakeru in full anger.
"I already told you. I'm putting a shift, and this is strictly business." Kakeru replied, and also gave a hard stare into Ryoma's eyes.
'What's wrong with him? Except for those weird moments at Enoshima, I have never seen him with those intimidating eyes since he became a pro.' Ryoma thought.
"Kakeru, come here." the referee called Kakeru over to make a clear point about mistimed tackles. "That was a late tackle, so I'm giving you one last verbal warning this once. If that happens again today, you'll get the yellow card. Understand? No more of that!"
Kakeru nodded in reply, and the referee let the play restart with an Arsenal free kick from deep in Arsenal's own half.
Gary Neville: That was a poor challenge by Aizawa. He's usually not the kind of player to mistime a tackle in a blatant way, but he was certainly not going for the ball there.
That last incident was only an example of the take-no-prisoners approach United players were looking to apply from the start. The purpose of playing so aggressively was to wear down the opposition, and that was exactly what the Red Devils did for several minutes.
In the 38th minute:
Martin Tyler: Saeki controlling the ball...
Yusuke moved forward a few yards with the ball. Although he was followed closely by Araki, Yusuke managed to pass the ball towards the edge of Arsenal's penalty area where Kakeru stood.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa... finds Lukaku in front of the penalty area...
Immediately after he received the pass from Kakeru, Romelu had to fight for possession against Ryoma. Although Romelu was taller than Ryoma, it was Arsenal's Japanese defensive midfielder who poked the ball away. The loose ball was then chased by both Araki and Yusuke. Araki touched the ball first, but Yusuke was already committed as well as he propelled himself with a tackle that ended up hitting Araki's left foot really hard in the frontal collision.
Meanwhile, the ball bounced off Yusuke and in a position where Nana could strike a one-timer kick. The ensuing shot was so quick and accurate in its swirl that Arsenal's goalkeeper couldn't reach the ball. Despite a few short-lived cheers from the Old Trafford crowd, the referee blew his whistle again a few times to call for order.
Martin Tyler: Mishima with the hit, but it won't count. Araki has been fouled.
However, a few Arsenal players gathered in front of both Yusuke and Nana. The visitors were not happy with the succession of events.
"Saeki, you donkey!" Ryoma called out as he was only standing inches away from Yusuke's face.
"What do you expect me to do with a 50/50 ball?" Yusuke asked in reply.
"I should punch the lights out of you." Patrick said.
"Oh, I'm scared. Come on then!" Yusuke defied the big Cameroonian as well.
"Try me as well if you dare." Nana added as she came in to stand by her teammate and friend.
"OK, calm down, everyone!" Laurent said to tone things down at the same time other players from both teams moved in to separate the belligerents before tempers could get too feisty. Kakeru pulled Nana away almost immediately.
"Away you go!" the referee ordered all players to disperse before he turned towards Yusuke, and dished out the yellow card. "You came in late on that challenge. I can't let you get away with that; you're in the book, Yusuke."
Meanwhile, Arsenal's physio and Arsenal's team doctor were still looking at Araki's injury. It was serious enough that the Arsenal doctor indicated to the bench that a substitution was required to replace the injured player.
Martin Tyler: Saeki gets the first yellow card of the match, but it looks like the end for Ryuichi Araki.
Gary Neville: It was a bad tackle by Saeki, but it has to come down as a 50/50 challenge that went horribly wrong. You watch this: it was a situation where both players went for the ball. Araki got to the ball before Saeki, but it was so close. Just a split second was enough to get the tackle wrong.
Yusuke and Kakeru then walked towards Araki to attend him.
"I'm sorry that tackle went wrong." Yusuke said.
"We fought for the same ball. It happens." Araki replied.
"Stay strong, Araki." Kakeru said.
Araki was stretchered off the field under respectful applause from the crowd. The Arsenal manager then ordered Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey to take over the role Araki provided as the engine behind Arsenal’s attacks from central midfield. As a result, Arsenal changed its formation directly into a 3-5-2. Nevertheless, United kept pushing hard with hopes of scoring a 2nd goal before halftime.
In the 40th minute:
Martin Tyler: Pogba's on the run... now to Lukaku.
After receiving a pass from Pog, Romelu cleverly flicked the ball behind Arsenal's defensive line and into Kakeru's path. The Japanese forward had perfectly timed his run to beat the offside trap.
Martin Tyler: Through for Aizawa! No offside!
The Gunners' Czech goalkeeper charged forward in a desperate attempt to stop Kakeru, but the Japanese forward in red ran around the downed goalkeeper. In the mass confusion in Arsenal's defense, Ryoma fell over his goalkeeper, Laurent was too slow to pull it back, but Nacho arrived in front of the goal line.
Martin Tyler: He goes around Cech...
Kakeru lost a split second when he got around the goalkeeper, but he still had a chance to take a good shot. When the shot was taken, it appeared goal-bound until a diving Nacho deflected the shot onto the goal post. The ball was then cleared out of bounds by an Arsenal defender.
Martin Tyler: Oh, it's off the post!
"HAND BALL! HAND BALL, REF! HEEEEYY!!!" Kakeru shouted out loud at the referee. Kakeru was asking for a penalty decision.
"I didn't see any hand ball. It's a throw-in for you now." the referee shook his head.
"Oh, come on! I don't believe this!" Kakeru exclaimed in despair.
Gary Neville: Aizawa is asking the referee for a hand ball. I don't know... I thought he hit the post from up here, but he immediately turned towards the referee. It's a great ball by Lukaku to Aizawa, He runs around the goalkeeper, he has time to shoot, and...
The TV replay then showed that Nacho had his fists up in front of his own head when Kakeru took the shot. The ball actually hit the Arsenal defender's hand in the midst of his desperate dive, and then the ball went off the post.
Gary Neville: Oooohhh... Dear, oh dear. I will tell you what: Aizawa may well be right. On a second view, there was an arm up that denied a goalscoring opportunity.
Martin Tyler: United came really close to level things up on the scoreboard, but luck has not been on their side so far.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"THAT SHOULD BE A PENO! WAKE UP, REF!" Noriko shouted.
"YOU'RE A DRUNK SOD, REF! THAT'S RIDICULOUS!" Robert added to the shouts.
"We have met another coward of a ref." Harry remarked.
"How do you know it was a pen? Everything happened so quickly from my position." Sarah asked.
"With the way the player went down, it would not be surprising if he did not put his arms closer to his body. And knowing Kakeru, he would not react like that if he was not fully convinced that there was something worth calling." Noriko replied.
"Yeah, and the crowd in the East Stand is still going wild. They also saw it." Robert added.
It wasn't very long that the home supporters' anger triggered a chant that was often used to mock Arsenal at the highest point of the old rivalry. Noriko and her relatives joined their own voices to the thousands inside Old Trafford.
"SAME OLD ARSENAL, ALWAYS CHEATING! SAME OLD ARSENAL, ALWAYS CHEATING!"
The 3,000 Arsenal fans responded with some vocal banter of their own, but their voices were buried by the noise coming from the United faithful. At the same time, Manchester United supporters, players, and coaches alike continued expressing their displeasure towards the referees, but the officials stood by their decision. Nevertheless, the Manchester United players came back 3 minutes later with a corner kick.
In the 43rd minute:
Martin Tyler: Sánchez will take this corner kick.
Following the referee's signal, Alexis unleashed the ball towards the pack of attacking red shirts, but the long aerial ball was deflected away by Patrick.
Martin Tyler: Jenpa heads it away. Saeki misses his kick...
Yusuke was in position to hit the ball from just outside of the penalty area, but he missed the ball. He then turned to run after it.
"I have it!" Nana shouted.
"OK!" Yusuke replied. He understood what was going to happen, thus he moved out of the way for Nana to unleash another long-range shot.
Martin Tyler: MISHIMAAA!
Instead of using finesse, Nana went for full power by striking her shot hard and low. Despite the presence of several Arsenal players, the ball flew by and between a few pairs of legs. At the very last second, Arsenal's goalkeeper dived to his right, and prevented the shot from hitting the low bottom corner of the goal, much to the disbelief of the 72,000+ United supporters in the stadium. The play was stopped as the ball left the playing surface on the side.
Martin Tyler: Fantastic save by Cech!
'Damn! I was sure that was the one.' Nana thought.
"Good shot, Witch!" Pog cheered Nana up.
"We will get them next time." Matthias added.
Meanwhile, Kakeru and Yusuke also raised thumbs-up signs to praise the last effort.
That last attempt proved to be the last scoring chance for either side in the first half. When the halftime whistle was blown, it was still: Manchester United 1-2 Arsenal. Although Arsenal players and supporters were quite happy with the result so far, they knew that the mission was far from being accomplished. As for the Manchester United players and supporters, they knew that the last 20 minutes of the first half were something that could be used as a building block for the next 45 minutes.
In the Manchester United dressing room:
"Are you OK, Yusuke?" Kakeru asked.
"It's the first time one of my tackles ever injured someone. On top of that, it was on someone I know." Yusuke replied.
"It's unfortunate for him, and I know how you must feel right now. I have been there before. Still, I'm sure Araki expects you to keep playing hard as a proud athlete regardless."
"Yeah, you're right, Kakeru." Yusuke said.
"Just make sure that you keep that high level of intensity in your game for the next 45 minutes. We will need you at your very best." Nana said.
"I will. Don't worry. I just needed a little time out to get over it." Yusuke replied before Kakeru gave him a tap on the shoulder.
José then stepped in the dressing room, which got his players seating down on their respective seats. It was time for the so-needed halftime speech.
"I know that we didn't get the start we wanted, but we grabbed a goal back, and then we played a lot better than they did. Yeah, that's right; we were the better team out there. The last 20 minutes are exactly what I wanted to see. In the second half... keep playing like that, keep pressing them, give them nothing, hit them quick and fast. We play the second half as if it is still 0-0. We go for one goal at the time; that's how we will win matches. Show them just that!" José said.
The players responded with a good hand of applause. After José's speech, Rui asked Kakeru, Nana, Romelu, Pog, and Alexis to gather around and discuss about specific attacking tactics.
"With Oda and Xhaka protecting the central defenders, it's hard to get through the middle. We'll have to stretch Arsenal by using the width to get around the wide players. We'll need you more than ever in the second half, Kakeru and Alexis." Rui said.
"OK." Alexis replied.
"I agree. Their wingbacks look quite vulnerable if they are under pressure." Kakeru added.
"That's only one part of the solution though. There is something more important for us to do." Nana said.
"What is it?" Rui asked.
"The real leader at the heart of their defensive setup now is Oda. He's the one who organizes everything. If we can get someone to isolate Oda away from the action..."
"There is a chance to attack through the middle, right?" Romelu said.
"Yeah. Bad habits from the last few years with those Arsenal players don't change overnight even with a leader like Oda around. All we need is someone to put the pressure on Oda; he's not the biggest guy out there. If it works, then his defensive leadership can be neutralized." Nana replied.
"Fine by me. I will give a run at him." Pog said.
"Very well. We'll use a mix of attacks from the wings and through the middle. Pog, you keep Oda in check. Make sure they can't predict where we will hit from. You get that?" Rui said.
"OK, Coach." the players replied.
Soon after, Matthias stood up to galvanize his teammates one last time before they would have to walk back out: "It's just one goal between us. We keep pushing them hard in the second half right from the start. The Boss gave us instructions. If we follow them, we will get the result. YEAH? LET'S GO!"
"YEEEAAH!!!" the other Manchester United players replied in unison. A few seconds later, the bell rang to signal time for players to get back on the pitch.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"I hope that the halftime break won't kill too much of the momentum we had for the last 20 minutes of play. We looked like getting somewhere." Noriko said.
"I know. I'm sure the Arsenal manager told his players to slow things down from now on, so the most important thing for our boys is to come out with all guns blazing before Arsenal can settle down defensively." Robert replied.
"It's a matter of who wants to win it the most now." Sarah said. "Knock on wood."
Then the Manchester United players arrived on the pitch first under the cheers of their supporters, who shouted "UNITED! UNITED! UNITED!" in full voice. A short moment later, the Arsenal players came on at a slower pace in an attempt to take some focus away from the home side, which got the home supporters booing at them.
Martin Tyler: Here we go with the second half with Arsenal still in front, but Manchester United looked to be on the front foot since the 25th minute. Is there another twist to the summit meeting in the next 45 minutes? We're about to find out.
When both teams got set into restarting positions, the referee blew his whistle ordering the Manchester United players to kick the second half off.