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Once Teammates, Now Opponents

After the first win against Brighton, United continued with their strong message of intent by going all guns blazing. As evidence, the Red Devils went on to beat newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers (August 18) by a score of 3-0 at Molineux Stadium. Then in the 3rd match of the season on August 26, United took on a strong team in Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. Already leading 2-0, United were going for more in the last 5 minutes of the match.

Martin Tyler: It's given away by Ben Davies here. Mishima... finds Lukaku on the right.

Romelu was running in the pace down the right wing for United, but then put on the brakes before shifting the run towards the inside of the penalty area. Then the big Belgian made a left-footed ground pass that went behind Jesse, but right on cue for Kakeru to take an early shot.

Martin Tyler: Oh, what a save by Lloris...

The ball bounced off the goalkeeper, but was still bouncing free in a dangerous position. Racing against one of Tottenham's defenders, the Japanese striker got his foot to the ball in mid-air first, and made sure to smash the ball into the twine.

Martin Tyler: …but in goes Aizawa! It's 3-0 and 2 for Aizawa! Aizawa with the shot, Lloris with the save, Aizawa with the goal, and Manchester United are running riot!

The vast majority inside Old Trafford got on their feet to celebrate another goal from their new top marksman in red. Kakeru already scored one goal against Brighton, the game-winner against Wolverhampton, and his team's first and third goals against Tottenham.

Gary Neville: Well, Tottenham have more questions to answer with the man-marking here, but that was a good ball from Lukaku, who came in from a wide position. Lingard and Aizawa made the runs inside the box. Both Tottenham centre-backs are on Lingard, but Aizawa knew where he had to be by dropping a little bit inside the penalty area. It was a great save by Lloris on the first shot, but Aizawa leaves no chance on the rebound.  It's a great start for the Japanese forward this season.

Martin Tyler: Aizawa scores his 4th goal of the season. There's no stopping him now, and United will make it 9 points out of 3 Premier League matches, and will remain at the top of the table for at least one week.

"He's already top scorer in the League with that." Noriko said.

"What's more satisfying is that United scored 10 goals, and conceded none in almost 3 League matches so far." Robert said.

"Arsenal is the next opponent, am I right?" Harry asked Robert.

"Yes. They are going to North London." Robert replied. "That one will be a tough test."

"I'm still confident. United are in great form right now, but Arsenal are still the same vulnerable side we have seen in Wenger's last few years." Noriko said.

"I hope you're right." Robert finished.

The game finally ended by a score of 3-0 for United. After the match, several players were already discussing about their upcoming opponent. Everyone was aware of the challenge Arsenal might pose based on the previous encounter between the 2 sides.

In the Manchester United dressing room:

"It's crazy to think that we have to play Arsenal before the international break." Matthias said.

"I know. It was just a month ago that we played against them in Japan." Kakeru replied. He and Yusuke were already dressed in their training polo shirts and pants.

"They already looked like a capable side back then." Romelu said.

"What does that other Japanese guy look like?" Nemanja asked. "I never played against him before when he was at Anderlecht."

"Oda... Think of him as a midfielder who can play a physical game, and yet has a good passing range and can score the odd goal. He once was an attacking midfielder before he was converted into a defensive midfielder during his second year in high school." Kakeru replied.

"He is a fighter, but he has good instincts. In a number of ways, you could build a team around him if you have to." Yusuke added.

"Well, regardless of who they are, I'm not going into the international break without beating them first." Romelu said.

"I don't want to lose against those guys either." Pog added.

"We will give them one hell of a battle." Matthias said.

"Yeah! Let's go after them next week." Kakeru replied.

"Just relax for now." Jesse said before he asked: "What are your plans for tonight, Kakeru? Some shagging with Nana?"

"Jess! Why do you have to bring that up? No need to say that out loud." Kakeru replied. His teammates laughed out loud.

"He-he, just tell us."

"Fine, there is a good chance that I will." Kakeru replied.

"Ha! I knew it!" You're paying wine for tonight, Pog!"

"No fair." Pog lamented.

"Teasing me just for a bet?" Kakeru was flustered.

"You've got to admit that she is both hot and talented, Kakeru. You found the real gem." Matthias said.

Then Nana stepped into the doorframe of the men's dressing room.

"I heard it all outside. I hope I'm not disturbing." Nana said with an apparently gentle voice. However, she showed a dark aura and gave frightening glares behind that soft voice. All players gulped in fear.

"Well, we're about to let you go." Matthias said. "See you on the bus."

"OK, see you later on the bus."

Kakeru and Yusuke walked out of the dressing room alongside Nana.

"Seriously!" Kakeru grumbled.

"Good thing I pulled you out of there." Nana replied. "You need to stay calm in those situations."

"What does the word shagging mean? I didn't get that one." Yusuke asked.

"(sigh) It means going at ‘it' with someone." Kakeru replied with an annoyed tone.

"Oh, I see." Yusuke said.

"Anyway, whatever I do with my fiancé is none of their business. We are just like any normal couple after a day of hard work." Nana replied as she grabbed Kakeru's arm.

"Yeah. They probably are going to have quality time with their wives or girlfriends too." Kakeru replied.

"And I want some too." Nana replied with a grin.

"Happy couples… really." Yusuke said out loud.

"What about you, Yusuke? No super fangirl in your arms yet?" Kakeru asked.

"I'm still waiting for the right woman to pop up." Yusuke replied. "I'm looking for an opening on a genuinely stable relationship. No flings nor mere fangirls for me."

"Oh, I see." Kakeru replied.

"Hopefully, that opening will come soon." Nana added.

"I sure hope so too." Yusuke said.

"Well, let's get on the bus." Kakeru finished.


The following week went by faster than anyone would have thought as August was gone, and September arrived. The Manchester United players spent several hours on the training ground to prepare themselves ahead of their first big test on the road, in North London. For the current League leaders, Manchester United, the objective was to increase or maintain at least the early gap with their main rivals Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea.

On the other hand, Arsenal had already lost their home opener by a score of 0-2 against Manchester City on before the Gunners drew in their second match. Arsenal finally won for the first time in the Premier League in their third match. With only 4 points in 3 matches, the next match against Manchester United was one that Arsenal could not afford to lose in order to maintain a reasonable distance with the top teams in the title race.

Kakeru was getting a little more anxious a few days ahead of the match, but Nana found the perfect way to reduce his anxiety.

Sunday September 2

In the early morning of the match, Kakeru woke up first in a hotel room at the Landmark London, the 5-star hotel where Manchester United players always spend the night ahead of any away game in London. He was lying on the bed alongside Nana, both naked under the bed sheets. Kakeru took the opportunity to enjoy the sight of his beautiful sleeping fiancée.

'You really know how to make me feel better whenever you're around, whether it's just a gentle touch or more.' Kakeru thought.

At that moment, Nana woke up.

"Ohayou."

"Ohayou, Kakeru." Nana sat up on the bed. "Did you have a good night of sleep?"

"I did, and I feel much better now, thanks to you. I would have let anxiety gain too much ground on me if it wasn't for you." Kakeru replied.

"I'm always here for that." Nana said before she kissed Kakeru.

"Still, I was surprised when the Boss said it was OK for the two of us to have such quality time together the night before a match, especially after what he said back in July."

"It was only because he wanted us to be in top shape for our first training session with the team back then." Nana said.

"I see. I hope we do this more often from now on. They say nowadays that it helps athletes feeling relaxed, and it sweeps away mental fatigue." Kakeru said.

"As long as we still go to sleep early in the night before the match, we're fine." Nana replied before both laughed altogether, and then got off the bed to take a shower.

A few hours later, after some light training in the hotel's spa, and after a team lunch in the magnificent Winter Garden, the Manchester United players took place in the team bus for the drive towards Arsenal’s home stadium in North London. A little before 2:00 PM BST, the bus was approaching the stadium where Kakeru could see thousands of Arsenal supporters standing outside of it. The match was surely going to be both a sellout and the center of attention of millions of football fans worldwide by kickoff time at 4:00 PM BST.


Arsenal vs. Manchester United (Premier League match 4)

Emirates Stadium, London, UK

Manchester United and Arsenal... Two clubs with great history and traditions; one of the fiercest rivalries ever seen in English football. Although both clubs squared off against one another in the same league for most of the time since 1919, people believe the rivalry was born on October 20, 1990 as an ill-tempered clash saw both teams being docked points. After Arsène Wenger arrived in 1996 as Arsenal’s manager, United and Arsenal became perennial rivals between 1996-97 and 2004-05. During that time, both managers called names against one another. Rivals, like former captains Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, clashed several times on the pitch and once in the players' tunnel. Intimidation, viciousness, bickering, and fighting... in other words, open war was the norm between both teams until the rivalry cooled down from the 2005-06 season and onwards.

Roy Keane vs

Roy Keane vs. Patrick Vieira (February 1, 2005)

February 1st, 2005.

Both teams lined up in the players' tunnel. Looking at the Arsenal players, Kakeru spotted his friends and former Enoshima teammates, Ryuichi Araki and Ryoma Oda, being part of the Gunners' starting XI with numbers 22 and 24 respectively in their backs.

"It's nice to see you starting the match today. It's a shame that I couldn't play against you in Saitama; people say it was great." Ryoma greeted Kakeru with a handshake.

"Thanks. Saitama was great."

"Things will be a lot different with Ryoma and myself in the starting XI today though." Araki said.

"And remember this: once that whistle is blown, expect no sentimentality from me today of all days. I won't lose to you this time with my new team." Ryoma said.

"I expected nothing less. I will see you on the pitch." Kakeru finished with one last firm handshake with both Ryoma and Araki before the signal was given by the referee for both teams to walk out of the tunnel.

Rob Hawthorne: This fixture usually comes with an important context surrounding it, and today is no exception. Manchester United, with a perfect 9 points after 3 matches, are looking forward to maintain a perfect record into the international break. Arsenal, who have had some issues under their new manager, have to win today in order to close the gap with the top of the table. What can we expect today, Alan Smith?

Alan Smith: Both teams know how vital today’s match is. Arsenal still haven't played up to their potential so far, but there have been signs of improvement in the last couple of matches. Today, the manager has chosen to rely on past chemistry in midfield in the starting XI.

Rob Hawthorne: As you mentioned, Ryoma Oda, the man who was bought from Anderlecht for £25 million, starts in defensive midfield behind Ryuichi Araki. Both Japanese internationals played together in their high school days in Japan in what was one of the most potent teams in the country. Kakeru Aizawa, now the top marksman in the Premier League, was also part of that Japanese high school team. More recently though, the United supporters remember Oda from the 2017 Europa League campaign in which he almost carried Anderlecht to the semifinals.

While the players from both teams were shaking hands before the match, the TV broadcasts from all over the world displayed both starting lineups and substitutes. Manchester United started with David de Gea (goalkeeper), Antonio Valencia (right-back and captain), Eric Bailly (centre-back), Matthias Köhler (centre-back), Luke Shaw (left-back), Ander Herrera (central midfielder), Nemanja Matić (central midfielder), Paul Pogba (central midfielder), Kakeru Aizawa (right forward), Romelu Lukaku (striker), and Alexis Sánchez (left forward).

Yusuke and Nana both began the match on the bench for United. Although she was a little disappointed, Nana could understand Andrew's decision as the textbook tactical approach was to soak up the Arsenal pressure with a compact block, set up for counterattacks, and use Ander’s energy to disrupt the Arsenal midfielders. Meanwhile, Yusuke's progress in increasing both his stamina and his overall strength was excellent, so much that everyone at United knew it was only a matter of time before he would make his first official appearance with the first team.

Arsenal started the following 4-2-3-1 formation: Petr Cech (goalkeeper and acting captain), Héctor Bellerín (right-back), Shkodran Mustafi (centre-back), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (centre-back), Nacho Monreal (left-back), Aaron Ramsey (central midfielder), Ryoma Oda (central midfielder), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (right winger), Ryuichi Araki (attacking midfielder), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (left winger, and Patrick Jenpa (striker). With Mesut Özil ruled out due to illness, Araki started for the first time at Arsenal in his trademark number 10 position. With Jenpa and Aubameyang in the side, the Gunners were hoping to score more goals.

The Manchester United players wore their all-navy blue kit for the occasion. Meanwhile, the Arsenal players wore their very popular home kit: white socks, white shorts, and the shirt bearing a red torso and white sleeves. The players were in position, and waited for the long-awaited signal from the referee.

PEEP!

United kicked off the match, but Arsenal retrieved the ball deep in their own end, and started the counterattack through Nacho Monreal down the left wing. Waiting for support for a few seconds, Monreal passed the ball forward to Aubameyang.

Rob Hawthorne: Monreal... to Aubameyang. He’s making the run...

Aubameyang pushed the ball a little further to himself, but Antonio came in with a body check that slammed the Gabonese to the ground. Despite the protests from Arsenal fans, the referee only ordered Antonio to calm down.

Rob Hawthorne: Oh, things are getting physical early on down there.

Although the free kick spot was way far from being given near the final third of the pitch, several Manchester United players moved back to mark all Arsenal players who moved up for the free kick. Meanwhile, Ryoma was about to take the free kick with one of his characteristic long and high passes.

Rob Hawthorne: Ryoma Oda will take the free kick.

Ryoma's free kick took a strong curve towards the inside of the box, but it was deflected away by the towering Matthias. Aaron Ramsey then headed the ball back towards the Manchester United box, but it was repelled again towards the center of the pitch. Kakeru collected the ball before he started the counterattack.

Rob Hawthorne: Aizawa's leading the counterattack... He passes to Sánchez.

Greeted by boos from his former fans, Alexis then made a few feints to shake off one opponent before passing the ball to Pog, who came in attacking support. However, the Frenchman had to deal with with Ryoma running towards him. Pog pushed the ball just ahead of Ryoma after feinting going to one side only to go to the other. However, Ryoma stuck the leg out, and sent Pog sprawling.

Rob Hawthorne: And Oda's tackle has given Manchester United a free kick.

After the following free kick, the Manchester United players played several quick passes. Finally, the dangerous attack came from the right flank as Alexis whipped a floating ball towards a few teammates inside of the box.

Rob Hawthorne: Lukaku arriving, and Aizawa behind him!

Kakeru hit the ball with a header, but couldn't make a clean contact with it. The ball was sent just wide to the goal as a result.

'I should have done better; I messed up that chance.' Kakeru thought.

On the bench, everyone was hands on heads.

"C'mon Kakeru. That was a chance." Nana said out loud.

Rob Hawthorne: That was the first serious chance of the match just inside 3 minutes.

The game continued to be a matter of going back and forth for both teams although no clear attempts on goal were taken during that time. In the 16th minute, Alexis took a corner kick for United, but his attempt was cleared away by Sokratis. Nemanja appeared to be in position to get the ball first, but Araki's arrival created a moment of hesitation which forced the Serbian midfielder to fall back.

Araki made the run towards the Manchester United half while 5 United players ran back towards their defensive positions to stop the Gunners' counterattack. Araki then passed to Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the right flank. Facing Luke a few yards from the edge of the box, Henrikh tried to cut inside but his legs got entangled with Luke’s before the Arsenal player fell down. The unexpected result was that the referee gave Arsenal a free kick on the play.

Rob Hawthorne: Free kick given. Luke Shaw is unhappy with the decision.

Indeed, Luke was shouting at the referee claiming that Henrikh ran into him. The slow motion replays appeared to give Luke a case, but it still remained an indirect free kick for Arsenal.

"Forget about it, Luke. We have to defend the free kick." Kakeru said before he and Ander formed the 2-man wall just inside the box.

At the same time, Araki was whispering something into Ryoma's ear before the latter joined the pack of players inside the box. When the signal was given, Araki kicked the ball above the 2-man wall.

Rob Hawthorne: Araki curves it in...

The shot flew towards Ryoma, who managed to get in front of Eric to head the ball straight into David de Gea's feet. With the loose ball sitting just in front of his goalkeeper, Eric took no chance and kicked the ball behind for a corner.

Rob Hawthorne: Great save by De Gea! That was a great header by Oda! Araki had the right idea on that shot.

"Come on! Focus!" David de Gea shouted at his teammates. He was angered by the sloppy defending on the last attempt by Arsenal.

The following corner kick gave nothing for Arsenal. The stalemate remained between both teams until the 30th minute. Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang tried to run past Antonio, but United's right-back stole the ball, and passed it to Matthias, who appeared to clear the ball towards the sidelines. However, the clearance took a slight curve towards the inside of the field, and was deflected off Kakeru's head.

Rob Hawthorne: Off Aizawa to Lukaku, back again to Aizawa...

The ball first landed into the feet of Romelu, who then passed the ball back to Kakeru. Having noticed Arsenal’s high defensive line, the Japanese forward saw an opportunity for a pass, and returned the ball towards Romelu. Sokratis appeared to be in a good position to block Romelu's path even without touching the ball first, but the Belgian striker surprised the Arsenal defender with a sudden burst of speed. In a flash, Romelu got on a breakaway.

Rob Hawthorne: And he's slotted it through... ROMELU LUKAKU!

Running towards the goal from an angle, Romelu cut across towards the inside from right to left. With Sokratis and Mustafi unable to catch Romelu up, Ryoma desperately tried to close the distance. For a split second, Ryoma even managed to put his arms on Romelu while Petr Cech was running towards United’s striker as well. However, the big black Belgian kept his composure as he chipped the ball above Arsenal’s goalkeeper and into the net.

Rob Hawthorne: Well worked move! Brilliant run! Brilliantly finished off by Romelu Lukaku! Manchester United take the lead!

Romelu was joined by his jubilant teammates while the loudest noise in the stadium at the time came from the cheering traveling Manchester United supporters in the southwest corner of the lower tier.

"Yeah! Get in there!" Kakeru exclaimed.

"Great goal, Rom!" Matthias said.

"Thanks, guys."

"Quelle course, mon gars! Quelle course! (What a run, man! What a run!)" Pog exclaimed.

Meanwhile, Ryoma was looking at the jubilant Manchester United players in disgust.

"Why didn't you grab him? Putting a hand on him did nothing." Shkodran Mustafi asked.

"I couldn't try anything more than that. He was already in the box." Ryoma replied

"Ryoma's right. If he did anything more at that moment, it would have been a penalty and a red card.” Petr Cech added to Ryoma's words.

"Thanks. I really couldn't do much more."

"It's only one goal down, lads. Let's grab that goal back!" Welshman Aaron Ramsey tried to cheer his Arsenal teammates up.

'That was a good pass, Kakeru. But it is far from over.' Araki thought.

The game continued with Arsenal launching forward with the firm intention of taking the score back on equal terms before halftime. Arsenal players took a few shots, but nothing to threaten the Manchester United goalkeeper. There was also a danger of being caught on the counterattack for the Gunners. In the 42nd minute:

Rob Hawthorne: A bad pass by Nacho Monreal. It's Ander Herrera.

Ander intercepted a sloppy pass that was destined for an Arsenal player. The Spaniard ran a few yards ahead with the ball before he made a pass forward. The ball went just by Ryoma and towards Kakeru on the right.

Rob Hawthorne: ...to Aizawa, Arsenal didn't pick him up.

Kakeru had some space, but knew a direct shot would be difficult. Within a fraction of a second, he spotted Romelu running in position to receive a pass. Kakeru instinctively chipped the ball towards the penalty spot, where Romelu made a head contact with the ball.

Rob Hawthorne: Here comes Lukaku! Oh, it goes wide!

Romelu's header flew just wide to the net. Looking at the sky in despair, the Manchester United striker knew he wasted a big chance to double the lead. No one else wearing navy blue could believe what they had just seen.

"You gotta be kidding me!" Kakeru exclaimed as he watched the ball still bouncing in the stands.

'We had to score that.' Nana thought for herself as she watched the action from the bench.

At that time, most Arsenal fans were sighing in relief as the difference was still only one goal. That moment of good luck would prove to be a turning point as Arsenal made one last push in injury time before halftime. After a few successive passes between Arsenal players, the ball arrived at Ryoma's feet.

"Here!" Araki called for the pass.

"Magician!" Oda signaled as he passed the ball forward to Araki, who was lurking a few yards in front of the penalty area.

"Cover him, Matthias!" Kakeru warned.

Within a fraction of a second, Matthias arrived within 2 feet of Araki before Oda’s pass arrived to its intended target. Despite showing his back to the Manchester United goal, Araki flicked the ball upwards and slightly towards his right side with his left foot upon receiving the pass. Immediately, the "Magician" made a very quick 180-degree turn, and struck a violent left-footed volley shot.

Rob Hawthorne: Araki...

The ball flew across the area, and had a strong topspin effect. Despite David de Gea's efforts to make a save, the shot ended up into the top corner of the goal. In a blink of an eye, the thousands of Arsenal fans jumped off their seats following the moment of brilliance.

Rob Hawthorne: WHAT A STUNNER! Only seconds before halftime, Ryuichi Araki brings Arsenal back on terms at 1-1!

"Damn it!" Kakeru cursed, so did his teammates while the Arsenal players were celebrating the goal.

Alan Smith: This is sheer brilliance by the Japanese magician. Look how he uses Köhler as a shield: he flicks the ball slightly wide, and volleys the shot around Köhler. With such pace and accuracy, it was unstoppable for De Gea. It's a majestic piece of football by a very talented footballer.

Rob Hawthorne: Shades of Thierry Henry's volley goal in 2000.

The first half ended within seconds after the ball was kicked off again. For the Manchester United players, it was once again a very disappointing letdown on the verge of halftime against Arsenal.

In the Manchester United dressing room:

"I can’t believe he pulled that out on us!" an angry Matthias exclaimed.

"Calm down, Matthias. I missed the chance which should have taken us 2-0 up, but this isn't finished yet." Romelu replied.

"We have to keep our eyes open. They are obviously different as a team with Oda in their lineup." Kakeru said.

"He's right. Many of us played against him and Anderlecht before, so we know what he can do. We have to play better against him than we did, especially me in the first place." Pog added.

Then Andrew came in to give the halftime team talk: "It was not a bad half, lads, but we could have done better. The problem is that we allowed them to control the play instead of taking control ourselves in the way we know best. We have to take them where we want them to be. Why? Because that's how we will create our chances, and win the match. Keep working hard!"

Meanwhile in the Arsenal dressing room:

"You did well in taking the best chances, and that was a great goal by Araki. However, we are still giving them too much space when they have the ball. I want you to go more physical on them, mark them tighter, and get into their heads. Also let me make this clear: I want all of you to keep the opposition away from our penalty box. They must not be allowed to move, shoot nor pass in there. Take them out of their game at all costs!" the Arsenal manager ordered his players.


The second half started a few minutes later when Arsenal players kicked off the ball. Both teams fought for taking a better control of the ball, but no genuine chances were created. Kakeru tried using different moves without using the Phi Trick, but couldn't get past the Arsenal defenders. No one else managed to make a breakthrough for the visiting team either. After 7 tense minutes in the second half, a moment of controversy cast its shadow upon the match.

Rob Hawthorne: It's Aizawa leading the counterattack...

Kakeru ran with the ball, but he was quickly caught from behind by Ryoma's sliding tackle, and fell awkwardly. Everyone involved with Manchester United asked for a foul, but the referee indicated the play to continue.

Rob Hawthorne: Oda takes him down, no foul...

Ryoma ran a few yards forward with the ball, and then unleashed a through pass that reached Patrick in a breakaway position. At first raising their arms asking for offside, Matthias and Eric ran after Patrick to stop him.

Rob Hawthorne: Great pass for JENPA!

Despite Matthias and Eric's desperate attempts to stop Patrick, the Arsenal striker put the shot easily past David de Gea.

Rob Hawthorne: And Arsenal now lead 2-1! Patrick Jenpa scores the goal that turns the score around at the Emirates! And Manchester United are absolutely furious about something here!

At the same time Arsenal were celebrating, Kakeru was attended by the team's physio as the former was shaking off the pain. On the pitch, the Manchester United players were protesting against the referee. Also on the sidelines, Andrew and a few United substitutes were shifting their frustration towards the 4th official.

"What the bloody hell were you doing? He tackled him from behind! That should be a bloody free kick." Andrew shouted.

"The referee had the linesman with him, and neither saw any foul." the 4th official replied.

"Jenpa was offside by quite a way as well. All of you made a bloody ridiculous mistake out there! This is a joke!" Nana also protested before she was held back by Michael Carrick.

"Stand down now, Mishima." the 4th official ordered.

"I'm not done yet! You're a hack! Your colleagues are all hacks!" Nana continued to give an earful to the touchline referee.

"Get a hold of yourself, please." Michael said to Nana. "We need you to be ready when we make a change. We will handle this."

Then Nana went back to her warm-up exercises as asked despite her discontent. Meanwhile, Andrew replied to the 4th official with a sarcastic laugh and ironic smiles to express his own displeasure.

Rob Hawthorne: Aizawa appears to be able to carry on, but let's have a look at what Manchester United are still complaining about.

Alan Smith: It all starts in Arsenal's half. Oda comes in from behind with a crunching tackle on Aizawa... he touched both player and ball, but it looks like he caught the player first for a fraction of a second. And then on the goal, let's have a look... that's offside. Jenpa is offside... by a yard at least. It's a fabulous ball by Oda, but Jenpa is offside. United have a case.

Rob Hawthorne: United have been undone by 2 decisions that haven't gone their way, but there is no question about the quality of Jenpa's finishing.

Kakeru walked back to his position, but not without giving Ryoma an icy glare on the way.

The match continued for a few more minutes in which Ryoma continued to give Kakeru a hard time with a very physical game. Following another interception from Arsenal in the 63rd minute, Araki started another attack by launching a long ball forward for Patrick. After the ball bounced off his chest, the Cameroonian dashed forward between Eric and Antonio for the ball deep in United’s half. However, United's Ivorian defender was the fastest and took control of the ball at the side of the penalty area.

Rob Hawthorne: That's good defending by United. Bailly takes the ball...

Without any hesitation, Patrick ran after Eric, and then both players went shoulder to shoulder.

'Now let's try this.' Patrick thought.

The Cameroonian grabbed Eric's shirt by the sleeve from behind, and pulled it to slow his opponent down. Trying to shake Patrick's grasp off, Eric raised his elbow. However, Patrick loosened his grab when he felt the elbow was moving towards him. As a result, Patrick took the elbow, and fell to the ground holding his own face.

Rob Hawthorne: Oh, was that an elbow? Eric Bailly could be in trouble here.

The referee had to disperse players from both teams who were pushing and shoving each other. When he deemed he had enough space to speak alone with his linesman, both men made sure to discuss what was seen from the linesman’s point of view since the latter raised his flag.

"Bailly had the ball, and Jenpa was running after him. They went shoulder to shoulder, but Bailly slowed down, and lifted his elbow up deliberately in the face." the linesman said.

"Deliberately?" the referee asked.

"Yeah."

Immediately, the referee asked Eric over, and gave the decision no Mancunian player or fan wanted to see.

Rob Hawthorne: It's a red card against Eric Bailly, and Manchester United are now down to 10 men.

From his position, Kakeru looked in disbelief at the turn of events. Meanwhile, some of his teammates voiced out their frustration at the referee and towards Patrick.

TV replays showed that the linesman was unable to spot the initial shirt-grabbing that started it all. Nevertheless, the Cameroonian got up, and smirked as he walked away. Following the incident, temperature was certainly rising once again between both teams.

With the emergency of the situation, Andrew ordered his coaching staff to proceed with a substitution: Alexis was replaced by English defender Chris Smalling. A distraught Eric walked by Andrew on the way to the players' tunnel, but the Lancashire-born manager didn't say a single word in order to keep a cool face while he was worried deep down.

Rob Hawthorne: Ryuichi Araki will take the free kick.

Araki whipped the ball inside the box and towards Patrick at the far post. Pushing Nemanja rather forcefully in mid-air, Patrick headed the ball towards the goal. However, David de Gea made the save by pushing the shot away.

Rob Hawthorne: Saved by De Gea on Jenpa, but it's still on...

Still, the play wasn't stopped yet as the rebound flew outside the box for Ryoma. Instinctively, Ryoma blasted a low shot back into the box, knowing Arsenal had a numerical advantage because of the red card. The shot was slightly deflected off Ander on the way to the back of the goal. Suddenly, the Emirates Stadium erupted into frenzy for the third time.

Rob Hawthorne: Oh, it's deflected in! Ryoma Oda makes it 3-1 for Arsenal! Things are getting worse and worse for Manchester United.

And worse it got when everyone saw Nemanja down on the floor holding his ankle. Kakeru went towards him, and made a sign for the medical staff to come down immediately.

"What happened just now?" Kakeru asked while attending Nemanja’s injury.

"That bastard Jenpa pushed me in mid-air, and I fell... badly on the ground. My ankle's done. Those referees are homers again, saying they saw nothing!" Nemanja replied, obviously angry and in pain. "Damn it!"

United's team doctor, Steve McNally, and chief physiotherapist both checked on Nemanja's injury. It only took a few seconds before Steve called the stretcher, and indicated a substitution to proceed ASAP. Meanwhile on the bench, Andrew made a decision to throw Yusuke into the thick of the battle.

"Yusuke." Andrew called.

"Yes, Boss?"

"You're going in. Whatever you do, stop Araki at all costs. Tackle him hard, get in his head, I don't care. He must NOT be allowed to create anything."

"OK, Boss."

Then Andrew turned towards Nana, who had been warming up for some time. "Witch, I have 2 forced changes made so far, and we are down to 10 men. I cannot promise to put you later on today, but keep warming up."

"I understand, Boss." Nana replied.

United proceeded with the substitution form the moment Nemanja was stretchered off the field. Yusuke came towards Kakeru, Romelu, Pog, and Matthias. They were all gathered to receive Andrew's instructions through Yusuke.

"Baptism by fire, Yusuke. What do we do now?" Kakeru asked.

"We have to stop Araki at all costs first, and that's where I'm coming in. Matthias, you keep your eyes on Jenpa. Kakeru, Rom… whenever we take the ball, be prepared for a quick counterattack."

"OK, I'll take care of that so-called Panther." Matthias replied. "Make sure you stop Araki."

"I will give him hell. Don't worry." Yusuke finished.

The match restarted with United controlling the ball for a while. When Arsenal recovered the ball, the counterattack was moving once again towards Araki, dashing from his own half towards the half-way line. However, Yusuke cut his run from an angle, and managed to kick the ball away just a fraction of a second before he collided with Araki with a shoulder charge. Both players fell to the ground after the contact.

"Hey! What was that, ref?" Araki was not happy as he felt that Yusuke ran into him on purpose.

"Play on! Play on!" the referee replied.

Araki looked into Yusuke's eyes for a moment. United's new Japanese midfielder didn't say a word, but his gaze was clearly saying that he was ready to make life a living hell to anyone standing in his way on a football pitch.

Since the 67th minute, Ryoma was given a rest because it was his first top level match since his injury. The former Enoshima Performer was replaced by Granit Xhaka while Henrikh Mkhitaryan was replaced by former Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck. United made their final change in the 70th minute by replacing Ander with Jesse. Andrew had to make the difficult decision to keep Nana on the bench since the priority was to add another forward who can pile up some energetic pressure against tired legs.

While Kakeru had trouble getting past Arsenal's defensive line, Matthias was keeping Patrick at bay at the same time Yusuke shut Araki and other Arsenal players down with some well-timed crunching tackles. In order to protect Araki from Yusuke's tackles, the Arsenal manager ordered his star player to support the defensive line as closely as possible. Meanwhile, United kept pushing forward in an attempt to get back in the game.

In the 88th minute:

Rob Hawthorne: Manchester United have a corner. Can they get back into this game?

Jesse launched the ball flew towards Romelu at the near post, but Sokratis got to it first. However, the ball flew only a few yards outside of the box as far as Antonio, who sent the ball back inside the box. With his back at the goal, Kakeru chested the ball down.

"You won't score on my watch!" Araki said.

'Watch me then.' Kakeru thought.

Despite being pushed and roughed up by Mustafi and accidentally kicked at by the defending Araki, all within a tight space, Kakeru passed the ball back towards the edge of the box. At that area, Yusuke struck the ball with his left foot, and sliced the ball into the bottom corner of the goal. Suddenly, Arsenal only led by 3 goals to 2.

Rob Hawthorne: IT'S SAEKI!!! His debut goal, and it's a lifeline for Manchester United with 2 minutes before stoppages!

While Romelu picked up the ball inside the goal, Yusuke signaled to his teammates that they must come back quickly for the restart. "C'MON, THERE'S NO TIME! LET'S HAVE ANOTHER ONE!"

"Way to go, Yusuke!" Nana shouted from the bench.

"We will have a few more minutes coming up. We can grab a draw here." Alexis said.

"You're right. We can do this." Nana replied.

Arsenal kicked off the ball, and tried wasting as much time as possible. However, United eventually retrieved the ball, and launched all their forces forward in their attempt to deny Arsenal the 3 points at the death. The next attack started with Matthias sending a long ball forward at the beginning of the 5 minutes of stoppage time.

Rob Hawthorne: This is Köhler... aimed at Lingard.

Just inside the penalty area, Jesse made an excellent first touch to receive Matthias' pass. The Arsenal defenders quickly arrived in position to defend their goalkeeper, but the English forward spotted a fellow navy blue shirt coming through the middle, and sent the pass towards him.

Rob Hawthorne: Good control... Aizawa arriving...

At the moment Kakeru came in to strike the one-time shot, Araki pushed Kakeru hard from behind and to the ground before any contact was made with the ball.

Rob Hawthorne: Was he fouled there? LUKAKU!

The pass continued its way towards Romelu, who struck the shot with his left foot. However, Nacho Monreal stopped the shot on the line, and the ball bounced out of bounds.

Rob Hawthorne: Saved off the line by Nacho Monreal!

"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? Impeding, ref!" an angry Kakeru shouted at the referee, who didn't call the previous incident.

"ARE YOU SHITTING US? That was as clear as daylight!" Pog vociferated at the referee as well.

"That was bullshit!" Matthias added his own complaint, but the referee said no word in reply.

Even on the bench, Manchester United substitutes were all arms raised in disbelief. Nevertheless, the Manchester United players on the pitch proceeded with the throw-in, and Jesse succeeded in earning his team a corner kick. The English forward ran quickly with the ball to the corner flag, and set the ball ready.

Rob Hawthorne: It's a corner for United. Lingard to take...

The ball flew towards the near post for Pog to make contact with his head. Following the flick, the ball bounced towards across the face of goal and towards an area where a few Manchester United players were. Among them, Kakeru smelled the opportunity, and instinctively charged in with a diving header shot flying towards an open spot of the goal.

Rob Hawthorne: It's bouncing to AIZAWA!

Dashing towards the ball, Araki immediately kicked the ball away and high before it crossed the line.

Rob Hawthorne: OFF THE LINE AGAIN! IT'S ARAKI!

However, the ball was still flying high, and several players were waiting under it inside the box. After the ball bounced off a head, it was flying sideways where Matthias and Patrick ran for it. When both players ran into each other, Patrick fell down. The referee then blew his whistle against United, much to the Mancunians' dismay.

"Achike! (**** off!)" Kakeru and Yusuke cursed altogether at the referee in sheer frustration.

Rob Hawthorne: Free kick for Arsenal... and tempers now arise. Köhler thinks Jenpa made a drama out of it.

"You diving scheisskopf (shithead)!" Matthias accused Patrick of going down too easily. In the next second, the tall German walked forward to confront the Cameroonian.

"Hey! Back off!" Aaron Ramsey held the angry Matthias off before a few more players from both teams joined in. Pog and Kakeru tried to pull Matthias out while Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal held their Welsh teammate off. Meanwhile, Araki pulled Patrick away from the scuffle.

"Calm down, Matthias. We can't waste time now." Pog said.

"We have to pull ourselves together." Kakeru added.

Then Kakeru's gaze looked straight into Patrick's, who responded with an arrogant smirk.

Following the little scuffle, Arsenal controlled most of the ball in injury time while the few moments United had the ball didn't generate any serious attack in front of a compact Arsenal setup. Finally, the referee blew the whistle that sounded joy and relief for the local supporters.

PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!

Rob Hawthorne: It's all over. Arsenal have won, and are now back in business. Manchester United, however, will feel particularly unlucky with the number of opportunities they missed, and a number of decisions that didn't go their way. The final score: Arsenal 3-2 Manchester United.

After the incidents between both teams, only very few players remained on the pitch to shake hands between rivals. One of them was Kakeru.

"Good game, Araki." Kakeru said as he quickly shook hands with Araki while trying to remain as sporty as possible. However, the defeat was very hard to take considering the chain of events that included Araki's late uncalled foul on Kakeru in the penalty area, so much that Kakeru could hardly look into Araki's eyes.

"It was a good game, Kakeru. The only thing is that Oda and I have the bragging rights when we'll meet with the National Team." Araki replied.

"Yeah, for sure." Kakeru tried to crack a smile.

Then Patrick came in to shake hands with Kakeru.

"Good game, Jenpa." Kakeru said.

"Yeah, but don't think we are satisfied because we won today. I hope you'll be prepared for the return match at Old Trafford in February because I sure will be ready for it. See you then if not in a cup match." Patrick replied with his usual swagger before he walked away.

After also shaking hands briefly with Ryoma further away, Kakeru walked towards the players' tunnel thinking: 'If we have to win the Premier League, I have to do a lot better than this, and we must beat them at all costs.'

"You OK, Kakeru?" Yusuke asked.

"It looks like something’s bothering you." Nana, still wearing her substitute's outfit on, said.

"I know that I have been angry against opponents before, but Jenpa just stirred up something inside me. During the match, some of the things he said... When I saw the arrogance in his eyes, I felt... something more intense. I don't know what it is, but I never felt that towards a club or a player in particular."

"Kakeru." Nana said.

"I will have to be at my best both physically and mentally in our next encounter. However, I’m not sure how we can prepare ourselves mentally for that. Oda-san, Araki-san, and Jenpa brought a level of commitment that I have not seen with most Arsenal players for quite a long time."

"Well, there's someone who knows a lot about the United vs. Arsenal rivalry, and who can help us when the time comes. But let's cool down in the dressing rooms first." Nana replied.

"I agree. Let's go." Yusuke added.

When Kakeru and Yusuke went back to their dressing room, the first person they looked at was Eric. The Ivorian defender was sitting at his place with a towel on his head. He didn't want to say a word as he was still feeling bad about the red card which left his team down to 10 men.

Kakeru then walked towards his Ivorian teammate.

"No matter what everyone thinks or says, we all lost this match together as a team. We will get them next time as a team." Kakeru said while he gave with a tap on Eric's shoulder.

"We now have to think about the next game. There's no need to dwell on this." Yusuke added.

"Merci (Thanks)... That was a beautiful goal, Yusuke. You played well."

"Thanks." Yusuke replied to Eric with another tap on the shoulder.

A few minutes later, Andrew came in the dressing room after he spoke to the reporters in the mandatory post-match interview. There were a few things he was not happy about, but he sure wasn't going to lash everything out on his players in his post-game speech.

"OK, lads; this one's behind us now. No one ever said it would always go our way, but we need to remain in control of our emotions. That's how we win matches. Arsenal didn't win the title today. There are 34 League matches left to play, and it’s far from over. Trust me. But for now, just think of what you have to do in the next week and a half or so. Then come back in training for our next League match."

Then the players went back to what they were doing.

"Yeah, but we now have to win maximum points against the other strong teams as well." Kakeru said.

"For as long as we don’t drop silly points when we need them the most." Yusuke replied.


After the players got cleaned up, they left the Emirates Stadium with their luggage straight towards King's Cross station, where they took a train from Virgin Trains for a first class travel back to Manchester. During the trip, Andrew asked Yusuke to have a quick meeting in private at the front of the first class train car.

"How are you feeling, Yusuke?"

"OK, Boss. I felt really good out there, but I wished we won the game." Yusuke replied.

"Good thing you managed to stop Araki. He was killing us out there." Andrew said. "Do you feel ready to play more games?"

"I will accept any decision, Boss. Still, I feel I can make the most of my chances."

"Steve has not confirmed how long that ankle injury will keep Nemanja out, but he thinks it could take at least a month before he returns. So I hope you’re prepared because I trust you to be my midfielder who protects the back 4, starting in 2 weeks... unless you become too complacent in training or get injured with Japan."

"Thank you, Boss. I will not let you down." Yusuke replied.

"Have a good rest when we get back to Manchester, and make sure to come back healthy after the international break. Off you go." Andrew finished.

Yusuke then walked back towards their seats at the back of the same train car, where Kakeru was reading a book and Nana was listening to some music.

"I guess the Boss told that you would be our main defensive midfielder for now. Did he, Yusuke?" Kakeru asked.

"How do you know?" Yusuke asked.

"I just knew he would. You were rock solid today." Kakeru replied.

"Who do we play in 2 weeks?"

"Everton... Or as the blue half of Liverpool would call them, the Toffees." Nana replied to Yusuke's question.

"Why is that?" Yusuke asked.

"I have heard that there was a famous type of candy made in the Everton district, in Liverpool. That's how they were nicknamed." Nana replied.

"Anyway, it's no use thinking about the Premier League for now." Kakeru said. "We have to think about Japan."

"Sure. Chile and Costa Rica will be visiting us." Yusuke replied.

"I hope everything will be fine for both of you." Nana said.

"No need to think too much. For now, I just want to go back to Manchester." Kakeru finished.

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