Manchester United’s season lurched onto the next disappointment as their Premier League top-four hopes were all-but extinguished with defeat at Arsenal.
With Erik Ten Hag’s arrival in the summer announced earlier in the week, the Red Devils followed a sorry loss at Anfield with a 3-1 reverse against a recently rejuvenated Gunners team.
An enthralling game saw both sides make plenty of mistakes at the back but a first Arsenal goal for Nuno Tavares, a Bukayo Saka penalty and a Granit Xhaka screamer proved more than enough for the hosts, who had looked shaky after Cristiano Ronaldo’s 100th Premier League goal had the visitors back in the game.
Bruno Fernandes missed a penalty and Diogo Dalot twice hit the woodwork as United failed to make their period of superiority pay on an afternoon where Ralf Rangnick dropped United captain Harry Maguire.
The England defender has been heavily criticised for his performances this season, culminating in a bomb threat last week.
He was taken out of the spotlight at the Emirates Stadium as one of five changes from the galling 4-0 loss at Liverpool on Tuesday night.
Rangick said Ten Hag has a difficult job when he takes the reins, but the “operation of the open heart” the German believes is required to overhaul United’s fortunes will come too late to revive their Champions League chances.
With Maguire watching on from the bench it soon became clear United’s defensive ills were not the fault of one man.
Arsenal needed less than three minutes to break the deadlock, United’s defence all over the shop as the recalled pair of Raphael Varane and Alex Telles wafted a leg in failed attempts to clear a simple cross, allowing Saka a shot on goal.
David De Gea did well to palm the effort away but Tavares was on hand, reacting quicker than Dalot to pop in the rebound.
United looked to respond in kind, Fernandes and Ronaldo combining to free Anthony Elanga, whose low shot was well saved by Aaron Ramsdale.
Ramsdale was then almost caught out having seen a pass intercepted by Scott McTominay but Fernandes could not take the chance as Gabriel Magalhaes blocked his shot behind.
United were now creating the better chances, Ronaldo arrowing a drive over from an acute angle before Dalot cracked the crossbar with a fine strike.
Arsenal still posed a threat as Mohamed Elneny and Martin Odegaard combined to free Nketiah, who should have done better than shooting straight at De Gea.
The lead was soon doubled as VAR took centre stage, firstly ruling out an Nketiah goal for offside before drawing referee Craig Pawson’s attention to a foul on Saka in the build-up.
A penalty was eventually awarded and, just like he did in the win at Chelsea on Wednesday, Saka stepped up to score from 12 yards and double the lead.
United reacted this time, Ronaldo popping up between Tavares and Gabriel to turn home a Nemanja Matic cross and half the deficit as he became the oldest player to reach a century of Premier League goals.
They were presented with the perfect chance to draw level early in the second half, with Tavares conceding a penalty as the ball hit his outstretched arm.
Fernandes, however, could not match his lavish run-up with the equaliser as his effort hit the outside of Ramsdale’s post, United’s quest for a second also scuppered by an offside flag against Ronaldo when he scored shortly afterwards.
Dalot rattled the frame of the goal for a second time in the game as his effort cannoned off the post and back into play.
Those near misses came back to haunt United as Arsenal secured the three points which aided their own top-four ambitions.
Calls for a second penalty fell on deaf ears but Elneny squared for Xhaka to thunder as 25-yard effort past De Gea.