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 Newcastle United (August 19) by a score of 3-0 at St. James' Park. Then in the 3rd match of the season on August 27, United took on a strong team in Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. Already leading 2-0, United were entering the last 5 minutes of the match.
Rob Hawthorne: United still looking for more. Darmian... towards Lukaku...
Romelu looked for direct options at the goal, but found none. In a split second, the big Belgian striker passed the ball into the path of Jesse making a run on the right. Immediately, the English winger made a one-time low cross towards Kakeru.
Rob Hawthorne: Lingard... crosses to AIZAWA!
Tipped by Kakeru, the ball bounced off the goalkeeper, but was looping slowly towards the goal. Racing against one of Tottenham’s defenders, the Japanese striker got his foot to the ball in mid-air first, and made sure to push the ball beyond the goal line.
Rob Hawthorne: HE'S DONE IT! Having opened the score 5 minutes into the match, Kakeru Aizawa seals a bad day for Tottenham Hotspur with his second goal of the match with 5 minutes to go! 3-0!
Alan Smith: Serious questions have to be asked at the heart of the Tottenham defense. Look at Aizawa: he stood in the middle of the box totally unmarked for a good few seconds when the ball was fed to Lingard. Look at that cross! When you leave a player like Aizawa with that much space right under the crossbar, he's not going to miss.
Rob Hawthorne: Aizawa scores his 5th goal of the season, his 4th League goal. There's no stopping him now and United will surely enter the international break with a perfect record after 3 matches.
"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 before the international break." Robert said.
"Arsenal is the next match after the break, am I right?" Harry asked Robert.
"Yes. They are going to North London, but I'm confident. United are in great form right now."
Suddenly, Noriko looked at her smartphone after she felt the vibrations signaling an incoming message. After she read the SMS, Noriko was visibly dejected.
"I don't believe this."
"What is it, Noriko?" Sayuri asked.
"It was Sarah. She just texted me some news... It's about Arsenal."
"What about them?" Robert asked.
"They just officially announced on their Twitter account that they agreed for a transfer from Anderlecht, and that the unveiling of that new player will happen tomorrow. Kakeru and Nana won't be happy about it when they will get the news." Noriko replied.
"Who could that be?" Sayuri asked.
The game finally ended by a score of 3-0 for United. After the match, several players were packing their personal equipment ahead of joining their respective men's national teams. For some, qualifying matches for international tournaments were on the menu. For other players, they had to play friendly matches.
In the Manchester United dressing room:
"So who are Japan's opponents, Kakeru?" Matthias asked.
"We have a big match at home against Australia, and then we'll fly to Saudi Arabia. What about you in Germany?"
"The Norway match in Stuttgart on Monday should be fine, but we have to play in Czech Republic first on Friday." Matthias replied to Kakeru's question. "What about Spain, Big Dave?"
"We play Italy in Madrid on Saturday, and then we play in Liechtenstein on the following Tuesday." David de Gea, the goalkeeper, replied to his German colleague.
"What are your plans before leaving, Kakeru? Are you shagging Nana tonight?" Luke asked.
"Luke! Why do you have to bring that up? No need to say that out loud." Kakeru replied.
"He-he, I was teasing you of course."
"When you think of the teasing we do, we are really envying you in truth. It's not every day that any of us is engaged to a girl who, let's be honest, is that hot and talented at the same time... a teammate of all people." Daley said.
"In many ways, you are the lucky one among us." Ander added.
"I guess that's the case." Kakeru replied.
"Just have fun with her before you leave. See you back at the training ground after the break." Pog said.
"See you then, guys." Kakeru replied as he and Yusuke left the dressing room.
"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.
Then Kakeru and Yusuke arrived in the lounge where Nana and Noriko were already waiting.
"There you are. It's about time." Nana said.
"What's going on, Nana?" Kakeru asked
"Noriko sent me a message just after the match about important transfer news. I got here ASAP so we can tell you the news."
"Is it involving United?"
"No, Kakeru; it's Arsenal. They confirmed an agreement to sign a defensive midfielder from R.S.C. Anderlecht... and that player is someone you know very well." Noriko replied.
"Don't tell me... He really made the move to London?" Kakeru said.
"Yeah, he did. They will unveil him to the media tomorrow." Nana replied.
"Who are we talking about, Kakeru?" Yusuke asked, confused.
"Ryoma Oda." Kakeru replied.
"Is he not injured?" Yusuke asked.
"He is not match fit enough to play with the national team next week, but he should be OK by the time the next club match comes around." Nana replied
"If he goes to Arsenal, that means we will have a very hard battle on our hands every time we play them. They have the tools to become serious title contenders. He improved a big lot since he left Japan to play with Anderlecht." Kakeru said.
"Oda-san is one of your friends from Enoshima. Why are you looking unhappy?" Yusuke asked.
"Since he arrived in Anderlecht, his style has become more physical, and he greatly improved his overall play. We played against him at Old Trafford last season, and it was painful." Kakeru added.
"It was the return leg in the Europa League's quarterfinals in April, Yusuke. The first match ended up 1-1 in Anderlecht. In the second leg at Old Trafford, it took us everything to get past him so I can score the late and vital 2-1 goal in extra time to see us through to the semifinals. Oda scored Anderlecht's away goal in the first half after we took the lead, but what I remember the most was that I was totally worn out after the match." Kakeru said.
"Tenacity, aggressiveness, crunching tackles, good anticipation, commanding presence... he does everything to make our lives miserable. Furthermore, he knows both of us almost inside out." Nana added.
"I knew he improved a lot from what I can see of him on the national team, but I never thought he would be that good." Yusuke said.
"I compared him to other players in his position, past and present. He's probably the closest to what Patrick Vieira was as a defensive midfielder for Arsenal in the late 1990s." Noriko replied.
"That's quite a statement. Then I guess I should make a strong statement of my own in the next 2 friendly games so I can convince the Boss to give me playing minutes in the Arsenal match. If it comes down to that, I'll go out there, and give Oda-san some of his own medicine." Yusuke said.
"We can only hope." Kakeru replied.
'This could turn into a war from now on, so I hope you will prepare yourselves for it. You haven't seen what it was like between these 2 clubs back in my childhood when all the right ingredients were in place.' Noriko thought.
The following 2 weeks went by faster than anyone would have thought as August was gone, and September arrived. Kakeru and Yusuke were instrumental in giving 2 wins for their national team, including a 2-0 result at home against Australia where Kakeru scored a scorcher that sealed the victory against their big Asian Football Confederation rivals. After one extra day of rest to get rid of the jet lag from the flight back to England, Kakeru and Yusuke were back with the rest of their teammates to prepare themselves ahead of the next Premier League match in North London.
For the current League leaders, Manchester United, the objective was to increase the gap with Arsenal early in the season. Meanwhile for Arsenal, it was a match they could not afford to lose in order to maintain a reasonable distance with United 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 10
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.
'The hardest thing for me in the last 2 weeks was being not able to feel you anywhere close to me, Nana. 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, 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
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 10 and 16 respectively in their backs.
"It's nice to see you starting the match today. I thought your manager would have given you a day off because of the travel back and forth to Japan." Ryoma greeted Kakeru with a handshake.
"Thanks. I would have not missed this for anything in the world. You earned the opportunity to play here since you have improved so much over the last couple of years. I sure haven't forgotten last season's match against Anderlecht, so I will show you that I have gotten better than the last time we faced each other."
"You sure made a huge impact in the Community Shield, but I will tell you what. Things will be a lot different with Ryoma and myself in the starting XI today." Araki said.
"I look forward to see that, King. But as the Knight, I'm a fighter ready to take on any challenge." Kakeru replied.
"That's an excellent mindset. However, always 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 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 extend their grasp on the top of the table. Arsenal, with 5 points after 3 matches, have to win today in order to kick start to their title challenge. What can we expect today, Alan Smith?
Alan Smith: Both teams know how vital today's match is. However, Arsenal still haven't played up to their potential so far. Their back 4 needed help from midfield at times, but received none. That's why the manager took action to sign a new midfielder so late in the transfer window.
Rob Hawthorne: Indeed as you mentioned it, Arsenal signed this man, Ryoma Oda, from Anderlecht for around £25 million. He didn't play for Japan in the international break, but the Arsenal manager deemed he is fit enough to start today. The United supporters will certainly remember Oda's performance from last season at Old Trafford in which he carried Anderlecht on his shoulders, and almost took them to the semifinals of the Europa League.
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), Matteo Darmian (right-back), Eric Bailly (centre-back), Matthias Köhler (centre-back), Luke Shaw (left-back), Nemanja Matić (central defensive midfielder), Juan Mata (central midfielder), Paul Pogba (central midfielder and captain for the day), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (right winger), Romelu Lukaku (striker), and Kakeru Aizawa (left winger).
Yusuke and Nana both began the match on the bench for United. Although she was a little disappointed, Nana could understand José's decision since United also had to keep in mind the UEFA Champions League match coming in 3 days. 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 earn his first appearance with the first team.
For Arsenal, David Ospina (goalkeeper), Shkodran Mustafi (right centre-back), Laurent Koscielny (centre-back and captain for the day), Nacho Monreal (left centre-back), Aaron Ramsey (right midfielder) Ryoma Oda (central midfielder), Granit Xhaka (central midfielder), Sead Kolašinac (left midfielder), Ryuichi Araki (right winger), Patrick Jenpa (striker), and Alexis Sánchez (left winger) were chosen by their manager to start the match. Although Araki started as a right winger on paper, he was given full freedom by his manager to drift inside to a traditional number 10 position while Alexis and Patrick could move forward like 2 strikers. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who played against United in the Community Shield, got sold to Liverpool after Ryoma was signed by the Gunners.
The Manchester United players wore their all-black 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.
United kicked off the match, but Arsenal retrieved the ball deep in their own end, and started the counterattack through Kieran down the left wing. Waiting for support for a few seconds, Nacho passed the ball to his overlapping teammate, Alexis.
Rob Hawthorne: Monreal... to Sánchez. He’s making the run...
Alexis pushed the ball a little further to himself, but Matteo came in with a body check sending the Chilean to the ground. Despite the protests from Arsenal fans, the referee only ordered Matteo to calm down.
Rob Hawthorne: Oh, things are getting physical down there now.
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. Alexis 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 Lukaku.
Romelu then made a few feints to shake off one opponent before passing the ball to Pog, who came in attacking support. However, the Frenchman came one-on-one 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 Henrikh whipped the high ball towards the 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, Juan took a corner kick for United, but his attempt was cleared away by Laurent. 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 Aaron Ramsey on the right flank. Facing Luke a few yards from the edge of the box, Aaron 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 clearly not happy with the decision.
Indeed, Luke was shouting at the referee claiming that Aaron took a late dive after running 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 Juan 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 Luke to head the ball straight into David de Gea's feet. With the loose ball sitting just in front of his goalkeeper, Luke 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! Shape up!" 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 Alexis tried to move past Matteo, 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...
Having noticed Arsenal's high defensive line, the Japanese forward saw an opportunity for a pass, and returned the ball towards Romelu. Shkodran 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 for himself... ROMELU LUKAKU!
Running towards the goal from an angle, Romelu cut across towards the inside from right to left. With Laurent and Shkodran 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 David Ospina 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! Manchester United take the lead. Romelu Lukaku on the mark again!
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.
"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 asked.
"I couldn't try anything more than that. He was already in the box." Ryoma replied
"Ryoma's right. Lukaku knew what he was doing by cutting across to take everyone out of the equation. Anyone bringing him down would have conceded a penalty." Laurent, Arsenal's acting captain, 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 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 Juan Mata.
Juan intercepted a sloppy pass that was destined for an Arsenal player. The Spaniard attempted to get away from his marker, but couldn't shake his opponent off. Juan then made a quick pass that went just by Ryoma and towards Kakeru on the left.
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 black 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 Arsenal 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 Luke exclaimed.
"Calm down, Luke. 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. We played against him and Anderlecht last season, so we know what he can do. We have to cut his options, and play better than we did, especially me in the first place." Matthias added.
Then José 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, especially Aizawa. 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 Arsenal's defensive trio which consisted of Ryoma, Shkodran, and Laurent. 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, José and a few United substitutes were shifting their frustration towards the 4th official.
"What the hell were you doing? He tackled him from behind! That should be a free kick." José 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 Rui.
"Stand down now if you don't want to be sent off, Mishima." the 4th official made his ultimatum.
"Get a hold of yourself, please." Rui 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, José 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 2 yards 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 Matteo 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.
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, José ordered his coaching staff to proceed with a substitution: Henrikh was replaced by English defender Phil Jones. A distraught Eric walked by José on the way to the players' tunnel, but the Portuguese 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 deflected off the unmarked Laurent from very close range, and bounced into the net, sending the Emirates Stadium into frenzy for the third time.
Rob Hawthorne: Oh, it's in! Laurent Koscielny 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 **** all!" Nemanja replied, obviously angry and in pain. "Damn it!"
United's team doctor, Steve McNally, and United's chief physiotherapist 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, everyone expected José to send Michael in. However, the Portuguese manager had a surprising idea.
"Yusuke." José called.
"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."
Then José turned towards Nana. "Witch, I have 2 forced changes made so far, we are down to 10 men, and I want to send an attacker in later. You can stop warming up; I won't be able to put you on today."
"I understand, Boss." Nana replied, and then went back to the bench.
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 José's instructions through Yusuke for the remaining minutes of normal time.
"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."
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.
"He got the ball first; nothing wrong with that." 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 Francis Coquelin while Alexis was replaced by former Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck. United made their final change in the 70th minute by replacing Matteo with Anthony.
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?
Juan launched the ball flew towards Romelu at the near post, but Laurent got to it first. However, the Frenchman's clearance flew only a few yards outside of the box as far as Luke, 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 Shkodran 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 Anthony 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.
"With 2 minutes left in normal time, and the time that was lost with the injury and everything else, we could have 7 minutes left in total. We can grab a draw here." Henrikh 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 Martial.
Just inside the penalty area, Anthony made an excellent first touch to receive Matthias' pass. The Arsenal defenders quickly arrived in position to defend their goalkeeper, but the French winger spotted a fellow black 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, Kieran stopped the shot on the line, and the ball bounced towards the touchline.
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 Juan succeeded in earning his team a corner. Juan then ran quickly with the ball to the corner flag, and set the ball ready.
Rob Hawthorne: It's a corner for United. Juan Mata to take...
The corner kick 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 red shirts 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!" Laurent 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 and Nacho held off Laurent. 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 the title race with only one point away from the top after 4 matches. 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. However, don't think we are satisfied because we won today. We will fight for this title 'til the very end, and we swear to win it. So I hope you'll be prepared for the return match at Old Trafford in January because I sure will be ready for it. Until then, see you next time with the national team." Araki replied with his usual swagger before he walked away.
After also shaking hands briefly with Ryoma, 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.
"We all know Araki always had that swagger, but he and Oda-san have injected both swagger and determination into their team. I've played against Manchester City and Chelsea in a title race before, but I never felt anything against those two clubs. Something is different with this Arsenal team. When I saw the arrogance in Jenpa's eyes, I felt... something more intense than anger. 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."
"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, José 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, guys; 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."
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, José asked Yusuke and Nana 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." José 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 informed me that Nemanja's ankle injury could take him 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 on Wednesday... unless you become too complacent in training."
"Thank you, Boss. I will not let you down." Yusuke replied.
"Nana, you will also start on Wednesday. Can I count on you to provide that spark?"
"Yes, Boss. I'll be ready." Nana replied.
"Have a good rest when we get back to Manchester. You will both need it for Tuesday's training, and then on Wednesday’s match." José finished.
Yusuke and Nana then walked back towards their seats at the back of the same train car, where Kakeru was reading a book.
"I guess the Boss told you to prepare for Wednesday. Did he, Yusuke?" Kakeru asked.
"How do you know?" Yusuke asked.
"I just knew he would. You were rock solid today. Let me tell you something: you will love the atmosphere of a European night at Old Trafford." Kakeru finished.