The Battle of Old Trafford - Second Half
"I mean, Martin Keown from England, and they were all... And David Seaman, they were all great lads. I really like them. But on the pitch, there was just a real hatred." – Nicky Butt (Former Manchester United player, 1992-2004).
"At times, it wasn't too much of a football game. At times, it was more of a battle than a game. It always had an argument. It always had crazy moments, crazy goals, last-minute goals, but it was THE game for the media, for the fans, TV, managers, whatever." – Thierry Henry (Former Arsenal player and captain, 1999-2007).
Sunday January 14
Start of the second half
The second half started with the Red Devils kicking the ball off. For the next 45 minutes, United were set to attack towards the Stretford End. After United controlled ball possession for 30 seconds, Arsenal retrieved the ball, and started moving towards United's half.
Martin Tyler: It's Aaron Ramsey on the counterattack for Arsenal.
Welshman Aaron Ramsey rushed forward with the ball, but then passed the ball to Héctor Bellerín on the wing. The Gunners were only a few yards away from the Manchester United penalty area, but several red shirts already fell back into defensive positions.
Martin Tyler: It's Bellerín. He's looking to pass across...
Héctor then burst a few yards forward, and then sent a ball across towards the penalty spot. Patrick was ready to take a good shot, but then Yusuke arrived out of nowhere, and tackled the ball away.
Martin Tyler: Strong challenge by Saeki on Jenpa! The referee says play on...
"HEY! Where's the peno?" Patrick angrily shouted at the referee, who only replied by waving his arms across.
Much to Patrick's dismay, the referee did not call a penalty. Yusuke's forceful tackle was deemed totally legal as the Japanese actually touched the ball before the player, which was allowed. Within seconds, the action moved towards Arsenal's end of the pitch.
Martin Tyler: Mishima... towards Sánchez.
Nana attempted a pass towards Alexis on the wing, but the ball was kicked out of bounds by an Arsenal defender. Nevertheless, Luke took the quick throw-in, and then completed a quick give-and-go play with Alexis.
Martin Tyler: Shaw... with the cross of the ball...
Luke did just enough to prevent the ball from rolling out of bounds when he attempted a long cross inside Arsenal's penalty area. However, the ball was a little too high for Romelu and Pog. Nevertheless, Kakeru was in a position to chest the ball down on the edge of the penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa gets it down.
Kakeru came face-to-face with Nacho. Furthermore, Sead Kolašinac was also rushing to add defensive support. Kakeru feinted to go right, but then rolled the ball to the left. At the right split second, the Japanese forward in red surprised the Arsenal defenders by playing a left-footed cross of the ball. In front of the 6-yard box, Pog and Ryoma went after the same ball.
Martin Tyler: Good cross... POGBA!
Pog used the full extent of his 6'3" height to overpower Ryoma in the air. However, the following header shot struck the post until it bounced just outside of the 6-yard box. The ball was still in play though.
Martin Tyler: Still there...
Beating all Arsenal defenders for pace, Alexis reached the ball, and then instinctively made a little chip pass towards an isolated Romelu. The big Belgian then used the power in his neck muscles to redirect the ball into a yawning cage.
Martin Tyler: LUKAKUUU!!!
In a blink of an eye, Old Trafford erupted as the home team scored the 2-2 equalizer very early in the second half.
Martin Tyler: Well, the big man has equalized for Manchester United! Just over a minute into the second half, they are thinking about winning it now!
Gary Neville: Well, this is exactly when Manchester United wanted to be, early in the second half. It first looked like Shaw couldn't find the target with the cross, but then Aizawa chests the ball down. Aizawa then makes a cheeky chip pass above Monreal and onto Pogba's head. The ball comes back off the post, but Sánchez keeps it alive. Arsenal are in the ropes. It's a fantastic header by Lukaku. He had to walk backwards to find the spot, but then had enough strength in his neck muscles to give enough to the shot past Petr Cech.
"YEAH! You did it, Rom!" Kakeru congratulated his Belgian teammate.
"Joli but, le grand! (Nice goal, big guy!)" Nana added.
"Thanks, guys." Romelu replied.
"Let's score the next goal now." Pog said.
"He's right. Back into action, lads! That next goal, we will score it!" Matthias urged his teammates to go back across the halfway line for the restart.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"GREAT HEADER, LUKAKU!!" Noriko shouted.
At that same moment, Romelu milked the celebrations by doing the windmill with both arms as if he was asking for more noise from the crowd.
"YEAH! COME ON!" Robert responded to the call.
"Let's go for the win!" Sarah added.
"No matter what happens after this, the fighting spirit the lads have shown is something special." Harry said.
"Arsenal will try to play our game, Grandpa. But a team with Mourinho as its manager knows how to pull the opposition out of their game plan." Noriko replied.
After the equalizing goal, the Arsenal team looked to provide a response against United's aggressive style. For several minutes, the pace of the match became increasingly more frantic. However, the downside of such situation was the higher possibility that things could come quickly to the boil should one incident go wrong.
In the 59th minute:
Martin Tyler: The pass couldn't reach Sánchez. Mustafi...
Shkodran intercepted a pass that was destined for Alexis. Then the German defender passed the ball back to Ryoma. A couple of seconds later, Pog came in full speed and sent Ryoma flying with the tackle. The referee said play on.
Martin Tyler: Full-blooded challenge from Pogba on Oda.
Despite Pog's tackle, the loose ball went towards Granit Xhaka. Then Nana also came in with a strong tackle that took the Swiss down after the latter passed the ball towards Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the left. However, the referee gave the advantage as Arsenal was on the attack.
Martin Tyler: Xhaka goes down. The referee played the advantage...
Henrikh ran deeper with the ball inside the Manchester United half. However, Yusuke was shadowing the Arsenal player in full speed, and then launched a perfectly timed tackle to stop the attack at 8 yards outside the Manchester United penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Good challenge by Saeki.
Yusuke had to get up quickly though as the loose ball was there for Aaron to pick up. In a surging effort, Yusuke clashed with Aaron with a 50/50 tackle that got the ball flying high and back towards the center circle. Ryoma came in to head the ball in the opposite direction for Aaron, who then made a layoff pass back for Ryoma.
Martin Tyler: Ramsey... back to Oda again.
When Ryoma tried to move forward with the ball to attack the Manchester United penalty area, Nana came in with another full-blooded tackle that sent Ryoma sprawling. That time though, the tackle was fully legal. The Manchester United supporters cheered at the display of grit from their team.
Martin Tyler: Strong challenge by Mishima again!
Then Alexis picked up the loose ball, and went on the counterattack. Once the Chilean ran across the halfway line, he then passed the ball towards Nana. The Little Witch then came face-to-face with Granit Xhaka.
"Come on, Mishima!" Xhaka challenged Nana.
'You have no idea about what I'll do.' Nana thought.
Nana skillfully performed a reverse elastico feint to shake Xhaka off. The Arsenal midfielder then resorted to stick a leg out, and thus tripped Nana down, but the Little Witch was still pushing herself forward in an attempt to get back up. It was at that moment that Ryoma lunged in with a sliding tackle that sent the ball out of bounds. However, the studs on Ryoma's trailing leg caught Nana to the knee, and that was all it took to irk all Manchester United supporters in the stadium.
Martin Tyler: Challenges are flying in at the moment... and Oda could be in trouble here.
'You wanted to play that way? That's how I do it.' Oda thought as he looked down at Nana, who appeared to struggle with some pain.
"What was that, you coward?" Kakeru went after Ryoma, but the referee stood in to separate Kakeru and Oda.
"I'm laying down the law. Stop whining." Oda dryly replied to Kakeru.
"You knew what you were doing all along. Come here to face a real man, ***hole." Yusuke was also giving his share of harsh words at Ryoma.
"Who's an ***hole, you butcher? What about the tackle she gave me earlier?" Ryoma replied.
"Get out of here, Oda." Matthias said as he held Yusuke and Kakeru back.
"Nobody asked for you, big guy." Patrick replied to Matthias.
"I'm not impressed. You lot have no balls down there." Matthias then grabbed his own crotch to send the message across to Ryoma.
"Dégage, trouduc! (Beat it, a-hole!)" Pog also shouted at Ryoma.
Players from both teams then separated the belligerents before things could get a little too spicy on the pitch. When things calmed down a little, the referee summoned Ryoma for a quick talk. The referee also had a yellow card in his hand.
"Ryoma, that was reckless of a tackle. You may have touched the ball, but the studs on your trailing leg hit the player. You're in the book. Make another dangerous foul like that, and you won't play next week." the referee said.
Martin Tyler: It's a yellow card for Oda.
Gary Neville: I think the referee's whistle had already gone when Oda caught Mishima. Xhaka was the one who first took Mishima down, but then Mishima tried to get back on her feet. Oda led his tackle with his studs there. Oda will say that he got the ball, but it was still a reckless challenge.
Meanwhile in the stands, the crowd booed the referee's decision to give only a yellow card. They were hoping for more.
"ODA, YOU RECKLESS ANIMAL!" Noriko angrily shouted.
"HE'S BLOODY MAD, REF!" Robert added.
"That was a disgusting tackle. I'm really starting to hate that guy." Sarah said.
"I would chin the bastard if I could." Harry added.
"Yeah, me too." Noriko finished.
Ryoma's yellow card was far from being the biggest problem for Arsenal at the time. The location of the indirect free kick was only 35 yards from Arsenal's goal, and thus it was an interesting opportunity for the home side. On the pitch, the free kick strategy was quickly chosen by the Manchester United players.
"You OK, Seven?" Kakeru asked.
"Yeah. It was quite painful, but I will manage." Nana replied.
"You're sure you're OK?" Matthias asked Nana.
"I'm OK. Trust me."
"I'll take this long free kick. I only need Nana here as a decoy." Yusuke said.
"OK, we'll try to be at the end of that ball." Matthias said before he joined the pack of players attacking attacking Arsenal's penalty area.
A few seconds later, the referee gave the signal. Yusuke whipped a strong aerial ball towards the heart of the penalty area. The ball flew over all heads in the penalty area, and then took a bounce just inside the 6-yard box, surprising and outstretching the Arsenal goalkeeper completely. However, the ball hit the outside of the post on the goalkeeper's right before it went out of bounds.
Martin Tyler: Oh, it's off the post again! Yusuke Saeki would have given his team the lead but for the post.
'Man! I didn't expect that, but I was so close!' Yusuke thought. Nevertheless, his teammates applauded his last effort.
Meanwhile in the stands, the crowd was still buzzing about how Yusuke's attempt was so close of going in.
"Damn! I thought there was had enough curve on that ball." Noriko said.
"We couldn't ask much more from him, Noriko. He made sure it was impossible for the goalkeeper to stop that even if that was intended for a teammate." Harry said.
"You're right, Grandpa. Still, it would have been great if he scored though."
'I know what you're thinking, Noriko. You want him to become the hero today. I'm sure he will someday earn that status soon.' Sarah thought with a little smile on her face.
"We should be careful about not wasting too many chances now. All it takes is one mistake that would tilt the balance on one side or the other." Robert said.
"That's right. Both teams are pretty even at this moment." Harry replied.
'Come on, guys. Please find a way to get through and grab that important goal.' Noriko thought anxiously.
In the following 20 minutes, the game became a stalemate with both sides cancelling out each other, especially with Pog and Ryoma squaring off against one another. In the 68th minute, Nacho Monreal was replaced by Arsenal skipper Per Mertesacker in an attempt to maintain a solid defensive line with 3 natural centre-backs. Tension was running high inside Old Trafford, and nerves were getting edgy on both sides as one single mistake could be costly.
In the 79th minute:
Martin Tyler: It's a giveaway by United. It's Aaron Ramsey organizing a counterattack for Arsenal.
With Henrikh covered by a Manchester United defender, Aaron passed the ball forward to Patrick just across the halfway line with hopes that the Cameroonian striker would use his athleticism to open up a gap.
Martin Tyler: He's found Jenpa... But Yusuke Saeki is standing in his way.
Yusuke quickly arrived into a defensive position where he could both protect his defenders and stop Patrick's advance. After just a split second of thinking, Patrick decided to make a small feint to try losing Yusuke, but the Japanese defensive midfielder kept on tracking the Cameroonian striker. At the right moment, Yusuke went in with a strong and legal tackle that sent the ball out of bounds at the same time Patrick was sent down hard to the ground.
"HEY!" Patrick furiously asked for a free kick, but the referee only indicated a throw-in for Arsenal.
"You make yourself comfortable down there." Yusuke said.
"Screw yourself!" Patrick replied.
Martin Tyler: Jenpa is not happy at the decision. Although he scored one goal today, it has become an increasingly frustrating day for him.
After the following throw-in, Arsenal controlled the ball for a few seconds. Following a quick pass from Patrick to Aaron, the latter spotted Henrikh making a turn towards the front of the penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Ramsey finds Mkhitaryan... He's having a crack.
Instead of trying for a direct shot, Henrikh chipped the ball above the 2 defenders and towards the top corner of the goal. However, the Manchester United goalkeeper managed to the shot in extremis with his left hand.
Martin Tyler: What a save by De Gea!
The ball flew behind, and United conceded a corner kick. Nevertheless, all 72,000+ Manchester United supporters sighed in relief when the ball flew out of danger.
Martin Tyler: Mkhitaryan will take the corner for Arsenal.
On the following corner kick, Henrikh whipped the ball towards the near post. Matthias was standing in front of Patrick at the near post, but the Cameroonian went a for a clever move as he deflected the ball with the back of his head to make sure the ball lands in front of the 6-yard box. In that area, Aaron was perfectly in position to take a shot.
Martin Tyler: Aaron Ramsey! Blocked by Bailly...
Eric blocked Aaron's shot at the last second. The rebound managed to bounce quickly outside of the penalty area, but Ryoma was ready to take a long-range shot of his own although Pog rushed towards him.
Martin Tyler: It bounces as far as Oda...
The shot flew like an arrow towards the top corner at the goalkeeper's right. But the Manchester United goalkeeper pulled another rabbit out of the hat as he made another spectacular jump to get into the shot's trajectory.
Martin Tyler: David de Gea saves again!
While the home supporters stood on their feet to applaud their goalkeeper's brilliant saves, the Arsenal players stood with their hands on their heads in disbelief. Nevertheless, Arsenal had a throw-in in their favor after the saved ball flew out of bounds on the side.
Martin Tyler: Arsenal still has the ball. Kolašinac will take the throw.
Bosnian wingback Sead Kolašinac made the throw towards his teammate Henrikh just on the outside of the box. Just as Henrikh was trying to take control of the ball, Antonio came in to take the ball away. But at the same time Antonio was looking to run away with the ball, Henrikh took the Ecuadorian down. The referee did not blow the whistle yet because of a potential advantage though.
Martin Tyler: Valencia goes down...
Running towards the loose ball was Patrick, but Yusuke was also following him like a shadow. Yusuke even went as far as to use his arms to grab Patrick's left arm from behind. At the same time, the referee blew his whistle since there was no advantage after the previous foul called against Arsenal. Within 2 seconds after the whistle, a very pissed off Patrick turned around to swing his right arm towards Yusuke's head. The Japanese midfielder jumped backwards to avoid contact, but the general reaction inside Old Trafford was immediate when everyone saw the swing of the arm.
Martin Tyler: Now, did Jenpa lash out an arm at Saeki?
"HEY! SEND HIM OFF!!!" Noriko shouted alongside the thousands in the stadium.
"THAT'S A RED CARD!" Harry shouted as well.
"OFF! OFF! OFF!" Robert added his voice as well. That particular shout was echoed by thousands of fellow United supporters.
"I think he's off this time. Look." Sarah remarked.
Having realized what he has done, Patrick immediately went to the referee, and asked him to not make a decision that would cost his team. A few Arsenal players also tried to plead in Patrick's favor at the very same time the huge majority of the crowd pleaded for the opposite outcome. Nevertheless, the referee brushed everyone away before the red card was produced against Patrick. The decision was greeted by a loud burst of cheers inside Old Trafford.
Martin Tyler: It's a red card against Patrick Jenpa! And Arsenal are down to 10 men with 10 minutes plus stoppages to go. It's the first time Jenpa is dismissed since he joined Arsenal.
Gary Neville: Well, the referee had no choice there. Jenpa threw an arm towards Saeki. He didn't hit anybody, but the referee will say that the intent was there. It's a moment of madness from the Arsenal striker.
Patrick and a few of his teammates continued arguing with the referee, but to no avail. Suddenly, Patrick saw Yusuke in distance, and ran towards him. In the process, he pushed Matthias aside, and then ran straight into Nana's back. That incidental contact got players from both teams gathering into a scrum.
Martin Tyler: It looks like we are not finished yet. Tempers are really flying here.
"Hey! Back off, Jenpa!" Kakeru shouted as he just came in between Nana and Patrick.
"On se calme, Jenpa! (Chill out, Jenpa!)" Pog said as well.
"You're not helping anybody's cause here. So just leave the pitch calmly now." Matthias said.
Most of the players in the scrum were just making sure there would be nothing more from either side. A few Arsenal players tried to provoke a reaction from Yusuke. However, Yusuke was aware of his own situation with already a yellow card to his name, and said nothing in return. Meanwhile, Patrick was walking towards the exit tunnel on a long walk of shame under the customary serenade destined to opposition players who get sent off. The vast majority of the 72,000+ Manchester United supporters put their voices in while waving goodbye with sarcasm.
CHEERIO, CHEERIO, CHEERIO
CHEERIO, CHEERIO, CHEERIO
CHEERIO, CHEERIO, CHEERIO
Following Patrick's dismissal, the Arsenal manager was forced to make his last substitution by replacing Henrikh with the big French striker, Olivier Giroud. It was for the sake of keeping some height in situations where aerial ability could come in handy at both ends of the pitch. Meanwhile, the Manchester United players knew that they had to risk everything in order to win the match.
José replaced Luke with Anthony, and ordered Yusuke to play at left-back. As a result, the new formation looked like this: Antonio (right-back), Eric (right centre-back), Matthias (left centre-back), Yusuke (left-back), Nana (right central midfielder), Pog (left central midfielder), Kakeru (right winger), Anthony (left winger), Alexis (second striker), and Romelu (striker). With no other choice but to go all in with his entire strike force, José broke away from his typically conservative approach, and hoped that his team would score the elusive goal that would win the match. On the other hand, the Gunners were still hanging on the prospect of getting a result, either a draw or a win, at any cost.
In the 88th minute:
Martin Tyler: Manchester United are still looking for a goal, but Arsenal are still holding on. Remember that if the score remains unchanged, Arsenal would still hold a 6-point lead over Manchester United at the top of the table.
At that moment, Pog advanced deeper in the attacking half. However, Pog had to move backwards with the ball to shake off the defensive pressure coming from Héctor Bellerín. Arsenal were literally playing with a 5-man defensive line at that moment.
Martin Tyler: Pogba... Lukaku...
Pog passed the ball to Romelu, who was walking a little far from Arsenal's penalty area. Nevertheless, the Belgian slowed the pace down, and thus allowed his teammates to move further ahead in attacking support.
Martin Tyler: Mishima has covered a lot of ground to get involved...
Romelu passed the ball to Nana, who moved into a more advanced position. Soon after, Nana found herself facing Granit Xhaka.
"Come on, Mishima!" Xhaka said.
Nana tried to shake Xhaka off in a 1v1 duel, but the Swiss defensive midfielder from Arsenal didn't make the first move.
"Seven!" Kakeru called for a pass a little ahead of her on the right flank.
Martin Tyler: It's Aizawa...
After Nana passed the ball to Kakeru, she took a very quick look around in order to quickly assess her options.
'Anthony is dealing with Mustafi, Koscielny is having his eyes on Big Rom, and Mertesacker is dealing with Alexis.' Nana quickly thought. 'But if I bend my run between 2 centre-backs...That's it!'
Nana then tried to walk a few yards along the width of the pitch to push Ryoma back, but then made a quick 90-degree turn, and burst in full speed towards Arsenal's penalty area.
"Why you..." Ryoma, who saw the immediate danger, said as he tried to grab Nana's shirt. However, the Little Witch quickly brushed away Ryoma's hand, and succeeded in getting past Ryoma.
Martin Tyler: He's looking to find a gap...
When Kakeru saw Nana's intended run, he quickly feinted to cross the ball with the right foot before he switched to a left-footed cross. Kakeru's swirling pass was destined to land between 2 Arsenal defenders. At the same time, Nana was slipping through and between the Arsenal defenders.
"Merde! (Shit!)" Laurent exclaimed.
Surprised by Nana's run, the French defender instinctively wrapped his arms around her, which resulted in both players going down inside the penalty area before she could even reach the ball. Thousands of Manchester United supporters jumped off their seats with their arms up screaming for a penalty. The nearest linesman waved his flag up before he put it across his chest, which prompted the referee to point towards the penalty spot.
Martin Tyler: OH, PENALTY! It's against Laurent Koscielny, and Arsenal cannot believe it!
When the decision was given, several Arsenal players were still frozen in total disbelief while the stadium erupted as if a goal was scored. A couple of Arsenal players even dropped on their knees in despair. Needless to say, there were a few protests from the visitors.
"That's not a penalty! She made a meal out of nothing!" Laurent argued his case.
"How? You’ve got that wrong!" Per Mertesacker asked.
"You can't be serious!" Aaron protested.
"That is a soft call, ref!" Petr added.
"Laurent pulled Mishima down, so that's a penalty. Don't argue with me." the referee replied before he turned towards Laurent, and dished the yellow card. "That was blatant obstruction, Laurent. You're in the book."
"I don't believe it! That was a typical homer's decision, typical!" a particularly aggrieved Ryoma protested.
"Oda, you're getting out of line. One more word and you'll get another yellow card." the referee replied.
At the same moment the Arsenal players protested, the Manchester United players came in to congratulate Nana's effort.
"Great job, Seven!" Kakeru hugged Nana, who also returned the hug.
"Great run, Witch!" Pog said as he ruffled Nana's hair.
"¡Bien jugado, Witch! (Well played, Witch!)" Alexis added.
"You got him! Well done!" Romelu added.
"Thanks!" Nana replied.
"Let's finish them off now. Who's taking it?" Matthias asked.
"I will do it." Kakeru replied.
Romelu and Alexis, who both had extensive experience in taking penalties in recent years, saw the fire and the confidence in Kakeru's eyes. For them, there was no question on who would be taking it.
"Go ahead, Knight. It's all yours now." Romelu said.
Finally, the players from both teams moved out of the penalty area except for Kakeru and Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech. Time already reached the 89th minute.
Martin Tyler: With a chance to cut the gap with Arsenal down to 3 points, the responsibility now rests with Kakeru Aizawa.
The Old Trafford crowd didn't stop buzzing since the penalty was awarded. Kakeru had to fight a hard internal battle to keep a cool head against all distractions: the crowd, the goalkeeper's size and reputation, potentially negative thoughts, etc. Finally, the referee gave Kakeru the signal to proceed.
Kakeru made his run, and took the shot towards the goalkeeper's right. The Arsenal goalkeeper also went to the right, but the shot was struck with ferocity into the top corner of the goal.
Martin Tyler: From the spot for Manchester United... AIZAWA!!! From 0-2 down, Manchester United have gone 3-2 up in the last minute of normal time!
The roof was raised at Old Trafford in an instant. Meanwhile, Kakeru ran a few yards, and slid on his knees to celebrate his goal before he was quickly joined by his teammates into a man pile.
"ATTABOY, KNIGHT!" Pog exclaimed.
"Way to go, Kakeru!" Nana also exclaimed.
"Great shot, Kakeru!" Yusuke added.
"Hell yeah!" several United players shouted.
Gary Neville: It's a very good penalty by Aizawa. Cech goes the right way, but he was beaten by the shot on pace and accuracy in the top corner.
In the stands, Noriko and Sarah were hugging each other in the celebrations. Meanwhile, Robert and Harry were jumping alongside the rest of the crowd for a few seconds.
"THAT'S THE WAY, KAKERU!" Noriko shouted.
"KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! YOU'RE ALMOST THERE!" Sarah added.
"That was great composure shown by Kakeru there. For a moment, I was worried that he would not be able to cope with the pressure." Robert said.
"The fact that he handled the pressure so well is the hallmark of a great player. And Kakeru has not reached his peak yet." Harry said.
"Not only him, but Nana as well. They both really played a great match today." Robert finished.
In response to the goal, thousands among the home supporters started to sing the song that appeared only a week ago to praise Kakeru. As the Old Trafford crowd chanted, the Japanese forward replied with a good hand of applause to acknowledge the support.
Martin Tyler: Is this the day where Manchester United resuscitate their title challenge or is there another twist coming up?
Before the action restarted, José made his final substitution by replacing Alexis with Ander in order to provide a stronger defensive midfield presence for the final minutes of the match.
When Arsenal restarted the action, the clock was about to enter into stoppage time. The Gunners brought several players forward in an effort to break the Mancunian resistance, and their first effort led to a corner kick.
Martin Tyler: Corner kick for Arsenal. This could be their best opportunity to level things up.
On the following corner kick taken by Xhaka, the ball was aimed to reach Olivier Giroud. However, Romelu and Matthias worked together to clear the ball outside of the penalty area. Aaron recovered the ball for Arsenal at the side of the penalty area, but came up against Eric. United's Ivorian defender finally stripped the ball off Arsenal's Welsh midfielder.
Martin Tyler: Taken away by Eric Bailly... now to Pogba...
Eric passed the ball to Pog, who then ran a dozen of yards forward before he kicked the ball down the pitch. Fortunately for Pog, his clearance also became a 70-yard long pass towards a running Kakeru on the left wing.
Martin Tyler: Long clearance that becomes a pass for Aizawa. Mishima is also coming in support...
Knowing that Nana was arriving behind him, Kakeru made a layoff pass for Nana. The Little Witch first came up facing Shkodran in front of Arsenal's penalty area, but then surprised Arsenal's German defender with a sombrero flick to the right. Nana then started running along the longer edge of the penalty area with Shkodran right next to her.
Martin Tyler: She goes past Mustafi...
"I'm not gonna let you!" Ryoma said.
'Watch me.' Nana thought.
Knowing that Ryoma was rushing towards the ball with a very imminent tackle, Nana gave a quick toe poke on the ball before she stopped her run for a short split second. The plan worked as Ryoma came crashing into his teammate Shkodran in full speed while the ball was still in play for Nana to continue ahead. The Little Witch then ran all alone towards the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Martin Tyler: She's past Oda. MISHIMAAAAAAA!!!
From a very good position, Nana curled the shot into the bottom corner of the goal to Petr Cech's left. At 4-2, Old Trafford went into total bedlam. All doubts about the result were finally brushed aside.
Martin Tyler: Two goals in 2 minutes for Manchester United! Mishima, who earned the penalty that made it 3-2, has scored the insurance goal in injury time. And Arsenal are certainly beaten at Old Trafford now!
On the Manchester United bench, José could not contain himself as he slid on his knees and onto the pitch to celebrate the goal. After Nana celebrated her goal with an acrobatic twist flip, she was greeted by Kakeru with a tight hug and a kiss on the forehead before they were both joined by their equally happy teammates.
"You did it, Seven! YOU DID IT!" Kakeru was ecstatic.
"It's over for them now!" Romelu added.
"Hell yeah! Attagirl!" their other teammates shouted.
"We all did it, guys! WE DID IT!" Nana replied.
Gary Neville: It's now game, set, and match. We know this could happen when a team moves so many players forward. It started with a long clearance from Pogba that became a pass for Aizawa. Aizawa then lays it off for Mishima. It's a great solo effort by Mishima to get past Mustafi and past Oda. After that, she curls the shot past Petr Cech and in the bottom corner of the goal.
In the stands, the Manchester United supporters started chanting the song that was first heard at the end of the Manchester derby back in December.
OOH-AH, NANA MISHIMA!
OOH-AH, NANA MISHIMA!
OOH-AH, NANA MISHIMA!
OOH-AH, NANA MISHIMA!
At the same time the Manchester United players celebrated, Ryoma was beating the ground in sheer frustration. He felt humiliated by Nana's action on the last play.
"DAMN IT!" Ryoma cursed out loud.
For almost all Arsenal players, the intensity levels dropped considerably with the game being out of reach. However, no one could foresee the second moment of total madness that would soon leave an everlasting mark on the history of the match.
In the dying seconds of injury time:
Martin Tyler: Cleared away towards Oda... Bellerín...
In an attempt to complete a give-and-go with his Spanish teammate, Ryoma ran towards the ball. However, Nana was also hunting for the same ball. As a result, Ryoma came in with a strong sliding tackle that touched the ball before Nana was taken down.
"HEEYY!!!" the Manchester United players shouted, but to no avail as the referee saw it as a legal tackle.
Meanwhile, the loose ball bounced off Eric and back to the middle of the park. There, Ander cleared the ball back into Arsenal's half. Laurent then chested the ball down, and passed the ball back towards Ryoma. However, Nana, who got up after the previous tackle, retaliated with a sliding tackle of her own to take the ball away.
Martin Tyler: Mishima comes in...
Although he was not taken down by Nana's tackle, Ryoma inexplicably saw red at that moment. The Arsenal midfielder deliberately stomped on Nana's ankle she was still on the ground. In a split second, tempers flared on both sides. Dashing in full speed towards the point of infringement, Yusuke immediately came to confront Ryoma directly.
"ODA, YOU CREEP!" Yusuke shouted.
"COME ON!" Ryoma then threw a jab towards Yusuke.
Martin Tyler: Well... Ryoma Oda has lit the fuse here. And now there's more bad blood on the pitch.
That jab was all it needed for both players to go at each other's throat. Yusuke and Ryoma started the scrap by grabbing each other's shirt. Despite all attempts by referees and players to stop the hostilities, both belligerents were still grabbing each other. Then Ryoma attempted to throw 2 punches at Yusuke, who deflected them with his arm. Meanwhile, Yusuke got his own right hand free in a flash before he fired 2 punches that struck Ryoma directly to the head. The home supporters went nuts when they saw that Yusuke had the upper hand in the fight.
Gary Neville: Somebody will have to stop this. Things could get very nasty.
As if it was not enough to have 2 opponents punching each other, players from opposite sides also started grabbing and shoving each other. Both José and the Arsenal manager had to come onto the pitch to act as peacemakers. After Yusuke's second punch, Ryoma collapsed to the ground in a fetal position for protection. However, Yusuke pulled the shirt on top of Ryoma's head, and threw 2 more punches in the ribs.
"GET UP AND FIGHT!" Yusuke had his fist up in a position to strike another blow.
"Yusuke! He's got enough." Kakeru held Yusuke's hand back, but then looked at the downed Ryoma. "Get outta here, Oda!"
"That's enough! ENOUGH! STOP IT!" the referee arrived in the middle of the scrum.
Finally, Yusuke was pulled away by his teammates. The Arsenal players did the same with Ryoma, who was still a little groggy because of the punches Yusuke threw at him. The referee then summoned Yusuke first to dish the inevitable punishment.
"You engaged yourself in fisticuffs with Oda. That's violent conduct, and that's a straight red card offense. Off you go." the referee showed Yusuke the red card.
Martin Tyler: It's a red card for Yusuke Saeki. Ryoma Oda is about to receive his punishment as well.
Gary Neville: They both have to go. This is terrible, but we must not forget the incident that sparked all of this.
"Oda. Oda, come here." the referee walked towards Ryoma, who had his own shirt ripped open. "The stamp on Mishima is already a red card in itself, but then you instigated the fight with Saeki. My report will say that you're responsible for 2 incidents with violent conduct. Off you go too." the referee then showed Oda the red card, much to the joy of the home supporters.
Martin Tyler: Red card for Oda as well. You have to wonder how long Arsenal will have to endure without him after all the unpleasant moments he instigated.
Meanwhile, the team doctor and the physio assessed Nana's condition.
"It's not serious, but you'll need some ice on that ankle for a few minutes." Dr. Steve McNally said.
"I'm not done yet with that guy." Nana said before she took a long and hard look towards Ryoma, who started walking on his way out.
"Don't even think about it. With a 4-2 scoreline, you have done enough. We'll get you back to the dressing room now." Steve said.
On the long walk of shame towards the Southwest tunnel, Ryoma was booed off the pitch by the crowd. He was escorted by one of Arsenal's coaches and 2 security guards. Despite Ryoma's efforts to ignore everything and everyone around, he had to endure insults and jeers. Thousands of angry Manchester United supporters, including Noriko, called Ryoma by all names under the sun.
"ODA, YOU TERRIBLE LOSER! HOW DO YOU LIKE GETTING YOUR ASS KICKED BY MY MAN? YOU SHOULD BE KICKED OUT FROM THE NATIONAL TEAM FOR LIFE! WE DON'T WANT A LIVING DISGRACE LIKE YOU ON BOARD! GO BACK TO YOUR MOTHER, BAKA (idiot)!" Noriko shouted loudly enough to make sure Ryoma heard her.
"What the hell does she want?" Oda said to himself.
"Drop it, Ryoma. You caused enough trouble for today." the Arsenal coach made sure Oda kept on walking out.
"THAT'S RIGHT, ODA! **** OFF, YOU ****ING MORON! HOW THE **** CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF A FRIEND TO ANYBODY? YOU DESERVE NONE! AH, WHAT THE ****?! IT'S NO USE TALKING TO A ****ING IDIOT LIKE YOU!" Noriko added in English. The nearby steward also had to ask Noriko to tone down with the swearing.
"Noriko, what was that?" Robert asked.
"That's the first time I see you curse like a sailor against a Japanese player, Noriko. What was that for?" Sarah was also surprised.
"Sorry. But I had to say what I said because that jerk sank really low in my estimation. I can't believe he dared to do that against a friend. What happened there was arguably as bad as what Vernardi said against Nana back in December." Noriko replied.
"Ryoma Oda is the investigator of this mess. I can somewhat understand Noriko's reaction. He's not worthy of being a friend with my granddaughter's friends after something like that. Personally, I also think he's a ****ing idiot." Harry added.
"He better think again about his actions. I won't feel sorry for that jerk if he loses a lot more than friends because of this. Thanks, Grandpa." Noriko replied.
"Still, you better not say a word of this to your mother. She would freak out if she knows what you just said to Ryoma Oda." Robert said to Noriko.
"I won't. Don't worry." Noriko finished.
After Ryoma walked down the tunnel, tempers calmed down on both sides. As for Nana, she was escorted to the dressing room by the medical staff as a precaution. There was not much time left to play when the incident broke out. Only a few seconds after the restart, then came the sound that sparked a massive celebration among the 72,000+ Manchester United supporters.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!
Martin Tyler: It was must-win for Manchester United. They have won. They could have gone 9 points adrift of Arsenal. Things appeared to go in that direction when Patrick Jenpa and Ryuichi Araki gave the Gunners an early 2-goal lead. But then contributions from Kakeru Aizawa, Romelu Lukaku, and Nana Mishima allowed United to score 4 unanswered goals. After Aizawa made it 3-2 on a late penalty, Arsenal had to chase the game. And they were wide open for the counterattack, which was brilliantly executed by Manchester United. Arsenal are now only 3 points ahead of José Mourinho's team with 15 matches left in the Premier League season. The result has blown the title race wide open again, but it has come at the price of a few unpleasant moments of which you will hear about later in the studio. Nevertheless, let's not forget the football goals that make the final score: Manchester United 4-2 Arsenal.
For all who support Manchester United, there was a massive feeling of relief. On the opposite end, it was a tough pill for Arsenal to swallow. The remaining players shook hands very briefly, but handshakes between rivals were very cold considering the chain of events that took place over the last 2 hours or so. The mutual feeling on both sides was that it was only the beginning of a revived rivalry.
The Manchester United players celebrated with their loud supporters for a few minutes. After that, Kakeru and his teammates finally left the playing surface. However, the match was not over yet for one player; the action transported itself in the tunnel.
"Don't do it!" Laurent shouted.
"COME OUT HERE, MISHIMA! YOU TOO, SAEKI! WE HAVE UNFINISHED BUSINESS!" Ryoma angrily shouted.
Then Nana and Yusuke came out of the Manchester United dressing room to face Ryoma although their teammates asked them to stay back.
"What do you want? You didn't have enough?" Yusuke asked.
"Don't you have better to do? Go watch the replay, you bad loser." Nana said to Ryoma.
"Oh, yeah? Watch this!" Ryoma threw a sports drink bottle at Nana, who barely evaded it.
However for Nana, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. The Little Witch retaliated by throwing an ice pack, which was intended to be put on her sore ankle, straight at Ryoma in the stomach. As if things needed to escalate any further, a brawl almost started between Japanese rivals. Thankfully, players from both sides moved quickly in between. Referees also intervened although they did not see what started the fracas.
While opponents shouted all kinds of words in the middle of the incident, the main conversation of interest was the one between Japanese rivals from the moment Kakeru stepped in front of Ryoma.
"YOU DIRTY BASTARDS!" Ryoma's shout was aimed at Nana and Yusuke.
"Calm down, Oda!" Alexis also tried to calm his former teammate down.
"Piss off, traitor! Mind your own business!" Ryoma shouted back at Alexis.
"HEY! Lighten up, Oda, you jerk!" Kakeru pushed Ryoma back.
"Stay out of this if you don't want to get hurt!" Ryoma replied.
"Try me!" Kakeru had a very angry look in his eyes. "Nana's business is also mine."
"And mine as a teammate and friend!" Yusuke added.
"You chose a bad entourage, Aizawa. I cannot stand players who use dirty tricks to get players sent off or to win penalties." Ryoma said to Kakeru.
"And who are you to lecture me? What happened with Araki was unfortunate, but Jenpa asked for trouble himself. And Nana was clearly taken down by your teammate on the peno. Look at you though: Nana and Yusuke took hits for the team, but all you did was for your own ego. You're pathetic of a man. You've got a head full of bad wiring."
"What was that?"
"You are screwed in the head, Oda!" Kakeru replied to Ryoma’s question with an angry face.
"YOU BRAT! Is that how you treat a friend after all those years?"
"WHO NEEDS ENEMIES WITH FRIENDS LIKE YOU?!" Kakeru shouted in English, and made sure everyone heard the words.
Those words had as much of a staggering impact on Ryoma's psyche as a gunshot wound.
"Until you grow a better temper than this, we have nothing left to say. As things stand now, we don't need you as a friend." Kakeru added.
"That's it then? Fine. **** your whole team!"
"F*** your whole team, especially you and Jenpa!" Nana swore back at Ryoma.
"Next time we play against one another, Mishima, I will take you down." Ryoma replied.
"I swear on my brother's grave: if you touch my girl again like that, you're dead. Get the **** out of my sight." Kakeru finished while pointing his finger at Ryoma's face.
After that, referees and stewards pushed both teams back to their respective dressing rooms. A little later, the chief referee of the match tried to gather as much information as possible about what happened in the fracas. The ensuing report by the referee stated that Kakeru, Nana, and Ryoma were strongly involved in a heated verbal exchange. However, the investigation was made difficult given the fact that both clubs remained silent and that no video footage was available.
A little less than one hour and a half after the match, Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke came to meet with Noriko in the lobby of the Lowry Hotel.
"Hey, Noriko!" Nana called her friend over.
"Hey, you guys!" Noriko walked towards her friends, and hugged them one by one.
"You're a great sight for sore eyes after that kind of match." Yusuke said
"I'm glad to hear that, handsome." Noriko greeted Yusuke with a little kiss first before she turned towards her other friends. "That was a huge win. All thanks to you."
"Thanks, Noriko. I'm glad that we prevented a disaster." Kakeru replied.
"Yeah, it would have been a disaster if Arsenal got away with a 9-point gap. But everything's now possible with just 3 points behind them and us with 15 matches left to play." Nana added.
"How's your ankle, Nana?" Noriko asked.
"It's fine. I just needed to put some ice after the match. I should be OK to train with the boys on the next training session." Nana replied.
"Good. I was worried that we could lose you." Noriko said.
At that moment, a few Manchester United players, who came to meet their loved ones, spotted Noriko.
"Is this your missus, Yusuke?" Matthias asked.
Then Noriko looked at Yusuke. She was unsure if it was the right time for them to tell the other players about their relationship.
"Should we tell them?" Noriko asked Yusuke in Japanese.
"I think it's about time you join my other family, and that includes joining the WAGs (wives and girlfriends) club." Yusuke replied with a smile.
Noriko then answered first to Matthias, albeit timidly: "Well, yes, I am Yusuke's girlfriend. Hello."
"Lads, this is Noriko Lewis. She's half-British and half-Japanese, but born in Manchester." Yusuke formally introduced Noriko to his non-Japanese teammates.
"Nice to meet you." Matthias said to Noriko.
"The pleasure is mine." Noriko replied.
Then players and their respective significant others continued to formally introduce themselves to Noriko and vice-versa.
"Hey, I now remember where I have seen you before." Jesse said to Noriko. "You're the one fans call 'Red Kate' on fan channels, right?"
"Yes. It's based on middle name, Mister Lingard." Noriko replied.
"Nah, call me Jess. I watch videos of fan reactions after matches sometimes for fun, but I must say that I always enjoy your comments. After all, there are not many women who make comments after matches out there." Jesse said.
"Really?" Noriko asked.
"Absolutely. You know how to make clever comments in front of the camera."
Noriko started to blush a little.
"What about we take advantage of the situation to make our relationship official?" Yusuke asked in English to make sure everyone around understood the conversation.
"What?" Noriko asked.
"I'm sure you have a number of fans and also a few trolls for each video you're in. I have over a million followers on my Twitter account, so I think it would be right if we make sure to end all speculations about the two of us. I will put a picture of us in the tweet. Then I will write that 'Red Kate and I have been dating each other since November', and that 'I'm privileged to be the boyfriend of such a devoted fan of the club'... only if you're comfortable with it."
"Well, I already have my share of both fans and trolls for every video I appear on FullTimeDEVILS, so I guess I will feel a lot better knowing that you support me as much as I support you." Noriko said. "Do it."
Yusuke then wrote the tweet in English, and sent it on the web through his smartphone.
"You're just incredible!" Noriko showed a big smile, and then hugged Yusuke, which got everyone among the United players and their loved ones giving a round of applause.
"Welcome in the big Manchester United family, Noriko." Michael said.
"I guess we'll leave you guys alone now. Enjoy your evening." Matthias said.
"OK. See you guys." Kakeru replied.
Kakeru, Nana, Yusuke, and Noriko then saw the other Manchester United players leave.
"What's wrong, Kakeru? You don't look too happy." Noriko noticed Kakeru's facial expression.
"I was thinking about some of the things I said to Oda in the tunnel after the match." Kakeru said.
"What happened in the tunnel?" Noriko asked.
"Oda was mad at Nana and Yusuke. He threw a bottle at Nana, but she retaliated with an icepack. Then insults were thrown on both sides, I stepped in, and I was sucked into the exchange. I told him that I didn't need his friendship, and that he would be a dead man if he ever touched Nana again like he did today." Kakeru replied.
"Wow." Noriko said.
"I just didn't think too much before it came out. I never came out against a friend with words that are as harsh as those, but I did. I really wonder now if I just went way too far for my own good."
"Kakeru..." Nana softly said.
"Sometimes when emotions run high on both sides, people do or say reckless things, and friends might even fall out at times." Noriko said. "Nevertheless, you were drawing a line about what your friendship can or can't tolerate. Am I right?"
"Now that you say it, I drew the line. It's just that I never thought I'd dare saying something like that. When I finished high school, I promised that me and my former schoolmates always remember Enoshima High School before we ever reach for hate as adversaries. I feel like I broke that promise." Kakeru replied.
"As far as I'm concerned, I think Oda asked for it. There was nothing else you could have done in the circumstances. In the past, friends from a same national team got into fights and spats against one another in club matches. Still, there is always a time for apologies when the dust settles down. If that Oda guy really values his friendship with both of you, then he will apologize before your next encounter." Noriko said.
"I hope you're right." Kakeru replied.
"He better do so." Nana remarked.
"If he doesn't... well, you would say that he was never a true friend to begin with." Noriko said. "Regardless, coming on the pitch with such extreme intensity is not all bad. Have you noticed a difference between today and how you used to play?"
"I felt like I was more powerful than ever out there. Every time the opposition did something, I was relishing the thought of making them pay in the best way I know how to. I played like a wounded animal today." Kakeru added.
"I think I never played a grittier game in my life, especially in such a must-win match. Damn, I did just that. It took all of my guts together to get through all of the rough stuff." Nana said as well.
"The preparation from the last few days really pushed me beyond my own limits so I can punish the opposition even harder than before. I now understand the meaning of 'going to war' in a sports context." Yusuke added.
"That's great. When you go through a match like this, and win it under huge pressure and with a lot at stakes, it will become a massive baggage of experience in the future. Why? Because you will know where to draw the line on everything next time should a similar situation arise." Noriko said.
"You're right. If we were not that ruthless, we wouldn't have won this." Kakeru replied.
"All I say is: Thanks for preparing us in the way you did, Noriko." Yusuke said.
"No need to thank me. I'm willing to do this for my friends and for my club." Noriko replied.
"Let's go home now. I think we all need a good rest after such a day." Kakeru said.
"I agree. I'm exhausted." Nana replied.
"Yeah, let's all go home." Yusuke finished.
In the aftermath, the Football Association charged a number of players with improper or violent conduct. Suspensions and fines were finally dished on January 18.
On Arsenal's side, Ryoma was suspended for the club's next 7 domestic matches (Premier League, FA Cup, and EFL Cup included) on 2 accounts of violent conduct, and was fined £100,000 on top of the ban. Patrick was handed the standard 3-match ban for a straight red card, but also earned an extra one-match ban for failing to leave the pitch immediately after his dismissal. Beyond fines and suspensions, Araki was the biggest casualty for Arsenal with a broken foot that ruled him out of all competitions for the next 6 weeks.
On Manchester United's side of the punishment, Yusuke received a 4-match ban for violent conduct in the altercation. Matthias served a one-match ban for the obscene gesture he made towards opposition players when he grabbed his own crotch. Kakeru and Nana didn't receive any ban for their verbal tirade with Ryoma. However, Kakeru and Nana were fined in the thousands of British pounds for improper conduct.
In the past, only 2 matches were dubbed as "The Battle of Old Trafford" by the British media: the first one in September 2003, and the second one known as "The Battle of Old Trafford II" or "The Battle of the Buffet" in October 2004. Nevertheless, people already started dubbing the recent match as "The Battle of Old Trafford III" or "The Battle of Old Trafford – The Next Generation" because of the new actors involved in the revival of the rivalry.