London – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes Manchester United’s forwards need to be more clinical after a 0-0 draw at an under-strength Arsenal dealt a second setback to their Premier League title challenge in four days.
United threw away top spot with a shock 2-1 defeat by bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United in midweek and are now three points adrift of league leaders Manchester City having played a game more than their local rivals.
The quartet of Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes have now scored just once in United’s last five league games.
Cavani was the biggest threat for the visitors with two second-half efforts that flew just wide, but Arsenal were worthy of at least a point despite missing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney.
“We come away with a clean sheet and we had good chances,” said Solskjaer. “We need to get our forwards firing again. That’s the next step now. We need to be more clinical and get them going again.”
A point does at least maintain United’s long unbeaten run away from home in the league, which now stands at 18 games, bettering the previous club record held by Alex Ferguson’s 1998/99 treble-winning team.
Arsenal edged to within six points of the top four and it was the Gunners who came closest to scoring when Alexandre Lacazette’s free-kick struck the bar in the second half.
“The fact we had three of our best players out probably has an impact, but I’m really happy with the players that played today,” said Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta.
“In the second half we were so dominant and had some big chances to win it.”
Unlike the early days of Solskjaer’s reign, when United routinely counter-attacked to great effect against stronger opponents, it is against their traditional top-six rivals that the Red Devils’ challenge for a first league title since 2013 has faltered.
United have still yet to beat any of City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea or Arsenal in the league in six attempts this season.
After winning at Old Trafford three months ago, the Gunners went seven league games without a victory but have bounced back in recent weeks.
Arteta’s men are now unbeaten in seven to move back into contention for a top-four finish, but will rue missing their chances in the second half to take all three points.
Tierney and Saka were missing through injury, while Aubameyang was also absent for the third consecutive game as he has had to quarantine after travelling back from visiting his ill mother.
After a tentative start from both sides, Bernd Leno made a brilliant save to deny Fred a clever opener for United as the Brazilian tried to lob the ball in from the edge of the box.
Fernandes goes close
It is exactly a year to the day since United signed Fernandes and the Portuguese nearly celebrated the anniversary with a curling effort that drifted inches wide.
Fernandes has had a transformative impact on United’s fortunes and came closer than anyone to breaking the deadlock before the break with a free-kick that was deflected inches over.
Willian has had the opposite effect since joining Arsenal in August, but the Brazilian was called upon by Arteta for the second half in place of Martinelli.
The former Chelsea winger’s lack of confidence was obvious as his weak effort was blocked behind when presented with a great chance two minutes into the second period.
Lacazette’s free-kick came even closer than Fernandes’s effort from a similar area on the field as the French forward’s shot crashed back off the bar.
Moments later Emile Smith Rowe’s powerful effort was parried by De Gea.
A swerving effort from Nicolas Pepe just did not have enough curl to nestle in the far corner, but United could still have snatched a win to keep the pressure on City late on.
Cavani pounced on Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s dangerous cross only to see his volley fly inches wide. — AFP