Paul Merson believes Mikel Arteta’s rash substitutions cost Arsenal the game at Manchester United and he has picked out the man who made the difference at Old Trafford for the hosts.
Bukayo Sako’s leveller on the hour gave Arsenal only brief hope of a victory. Antony had fired the hosts ahead on his debut, but Marcus Rashford scored twice in the second half, with his first goal just six minutes after the equaliser.
It was a harsh result for Arsenal, who had shown glimpses of domination against their resurgent hosts. And Merson believes all hope of an away win disappeared when Arteta went all-in with a 75th-minute triple substitution.
The Spanish coach brought on Emile Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah and Fabio Vieira for Martin Odegaard, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Albert Sambi Lokonga.
But just 90 seconds later Arteta’s side conceded a third to Man Utd as Rashford scored on the break.
“I thought the triple substitution was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction from Arteta,” Merson wrote on his Sky Sports column.
“There was another 20 minutes in the game and at 2-1 down there’s another chance in the game. I just thought it was too many subs at the same time and I think they lost it there.
“Man Utd went solid and brought Fred on so they were always going to give you the ball so you want your better players on the pitch. Arsenal were playing well and they lost their shape.
Not the same old Arsenal
“Aaron Ramsdale had not made a save. It was not like he was man of the match, so just keep it tight at the back and you will get a chance in the game.
“They will cause havoc in the last 15 minutes, people would have got nervous here, players would have got nervous. For me it was a knee-jerk reaction too quickly with 20 minutes to go.”
Merson insisted that Arsenal put in a good showing against Erik ten Hag’s men, despite the result.
“It’s a funny game football but there’s ways of losing matches and I thought there were a lot of positives,” added Merson. “I thought for 60 minutes – bar the opening 10 minutes – I thought Arsenal dominated it, even when they went 1-0 down.
“I’m not walking away from Old Trafford thinking, ‘Oh that’s it, same old Arsenal’, I saw enough that they can mix it there’s no doubt about that. I thought they were the better team for most of the game.
“I think Arsenal got excited. It went 1-1 and they thought, ‘We’re going to go and win this game now’, instead of steadying it down.
Christian Eriksen the key man
The first 15 minutes of the second half United got ripped to shreds. Arsenal should have gone on and won it – a better team would have gone on and won it. It was so one-sided.”
But the former Gunners star did point to a player who made the “difference” for United. Despite getting ‘run-ragged’ by Martin Odegaard on occasions, Merson believes Christian Eriksen’s creativity won United the day.
“Eriksen was the difference. I thought he got run-ragged by Odegaard at times and Odegaard was running the show,” added Merson.
“But the thing with Eriksen that Arsenal have not got is that ball through the lines. He did it in the first half with Bruno Fernandes for the first goal.
“Arsenal have got Saka and Lokonga but they are not going to put the ball through the lines. And that was the difference for me between the two teams. It was Eriksen’s passing.”