Drawing any certainties from a summer tour game can be foolish, so the shrewdest conclusion to offer from this encounter is that those new signings of Manchester United and Arsenal who featured can be content with their outings.
And if pre-season is a phoney war, at least this meeting could be cast as a little more real due to Erik ten Hag, United’s manager, and his Arsenal counterpart, Mikel Arteta, identifying the other’s team as a rival when the new campaign begins next month.
Each sent out strong XIs before a sell-out crowd of 82,262 at the MetLife Stadium. Mason Mount, Lisandro Martínez and Luke Shaw were among those selected by Ten Hag, while Arteta chose new signings Declan Rice, Jurrien Timber and Kai Havertz together for the first time.
While Mount, bought for an initial £55m this month, was making a third start, Ten Hag’s other new addition, André Onana, was not deemed ready to be a substitute after arriving at United’s New Jersey base on Thursday following his £44.1m move from Internazionale. The Cameroonian, however, did participate in the warm-up.
This meant Tom Heaton was United’s No 1 and twice he was sharp when repelling Gabriel Martinelli. Rice, meanwhile, operated for Arsenal in his deep-pivot role, floating about the turf, seeking to control the contest.
This was Bruno Fernandes’s first game as United’s new captain. When racing on to Shaw’s pass he made the correct move by turning the ball back for Antony and, while the Brazilian missed, Fernandes was quick to applaud his left-back’s vision.
Ten Hag configured United in his familiar 4-2-3-1 that positioned Mount alongside the youngster Kobbie Mainoo in central midfield and Jadon Sancho, who fluffed an opening at the close of a flowing United sequence, as the No 9.
Timber (a defender), Rice and Havertz (attacker) were signed to add quality in areas that were previously lacking, Arteta stated in Friday’s pre-match conference. Seeing his captain, Martin Ødegaard, flip in a delightful chip for Eddie Nketiah will have therfore been an exciting prospect: Arteta will hope the Norwegian and the German can dovetail with menace.
Mount was a peripheral figure in a position he never occupied with great effect for Chelsea, though in tracking Havertz all the way back into his area the 24-year-old illustrated the awareness the role requires.
When a goal arrived after 34 minutes, it came from a far more familiar source: Fernandes, in true if-you-don’t-buy-a-ticket, you-can’t-win-the-lottery fashion, struck a speculative left-foot shot from outside Arsenal’s area. It should have been a regulation save for Aaron Ramsdale, diving to his right, but the Arsenal keeper allowed the ball to skid under his body. Mainoo received a kiss on the back of the head from his captain for the pass that fed him.
Soon, United were two ahead. Sancho sprinted past Gabriel and then rifled past Ramsdale from an angle on the right, a finish that teemed with the belief he sometimes seems to lack. This was his final act as he and every other outfield United player was changed for the second 45 minutes.
Next for United is Wednesday’s meeting with Wrexham in San Diego (with a predominantly youth-based team) and Thursday’s trip to Houston to take on Real Madrid, while Arsenal fly to Los Angeles to face Barcelona in midweek. Further clues will be garnered from these outings for both Ten Hag and Arteta but, really, they are about fitness and the start of the process of fitting new players into the managers’ respective plans.