Arsenal earned a point with a 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday night, but the biggest winner in the Gunners squad was Mesut Ozil, the player left out again by head coach Unai Emery.
Ozil didn't make the matchday squad, and Arsenal produced some drab football without the classy No. 10. It would have helped if club-record signing Nicolas Pepe justified his £72 million price tag.
Instead, Pepe looked bereft of confidence and quality before being hooked for 19-year-old Reiss Nelson after 74 minutes.
Arsenal already had a goal thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, despite the officials' best efforts to rule it out. The linesman had inexplicably flagged for offside when the striker was clearly on the right side of United's defence.
It was a decision that summed up a poor night for referee Kevin Friend and the match officials.
United are 10th after only collecting nine points from seven matches, so there isn't much to be happy about. Yet at least Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can be pleased with the development of Scott McTominay, who scored the Red Devils' lone goal on the night and impressed with another Tigerish display.
Week 7 Results
- Sheffield United 0-1 Liverpool
- Aston Villa 2-2 Burnley
- Bournemouth 2-2 West Ham United
- Chelsea 2-0 Brighton and Hove Albion
- Crystal Palace 2-0 Norwich City
- Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Southampton
- Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 Watford
- Everton 1-3 Manchester City
- Leicester City 5-0 Newcastle United
- Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal
Winner: Mesut Ozil
Unai Emery may not like it, but his Arsenal team needs Mesut Ozil to start every week. The languid schemer can frustrate with his inconsistency, but he's also the most-gifted creative player in Emery's squad by some distance.
Arsenal without Ozil is a trying watch. Accurate through-passes were replaced by ponderous and square distribution.
The Gunners' delivery from set pieces, an Ozil strength, was also dire. In short, Arsenal's players were devoid of ingenuity and technical acumen any time they had the ball and didn't see Ozil available to receive it.
There wasn't much of a surprise about the Gunners failing to click going forward without their natural conductor. In his place, Emery played three holding midfielders, Granit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira.
No member of this trio can see the angles, exploit space and use the ball as well as Ozil. Those skills have rarely impressed Emery, though, with the Spaniard ready to loan out the club's highest-earner in the January transfer window, according to John Cross of the Daily Mirror.
Somebody in the corridors of power needs to tell Emery he must make it work with Ozil and not rob a workmanlike team of his artistry.
Loser: Nicolas Pepe
Arsenal hoped for a transformation on the flanks when the club splashed the cash for Pepe. It was a gamble that the 24-year-old could replicate the 22 goals and 13 assists he tallied in Ligue 1 last season.
Those numbers seem like the stuff dreams are made of for Pepe in England. The misfiring winger has scored just once, rolling in a penalty Aubameyang let him take during the recent 3-2 win over Aston Villa.
Being handed a freebie is seemingly the only way to get Pepe to muster end product. The Ivory Coast international hasn't found his accuracy when crossing from wide areas:
Even when he's running with the ball, Pepe hasn't been able to make his pace and trickery count:
Pepe's struggles were underlined by how emphatically he was outperformed by 18-year-old academy graduate Bukayo Saka on the other flank. Leaving the field to be replaced by another youth graduate in Nelson sent an emphatic statement to Pepe about the need to shape up.
Emery might need to move Pepe more central and take better advantage of his runs in behind and talent as a finisher. Whatever the formula, the Gunners already find themselves having to answer troubling questions about their most-expensive asset.
Winner: Scott McTominay
McTominay is adopting many guises for United this season, and in the process, he's fulfilling the roles more high-profile names should be thriving in. The Scot is acting as the tenacious ball-winner Nemanja Matic should be, showing the energy Fred lacks, picking the passes Juan Mata has been missing and is offering the end product Paul Pogba is lacking.
Pogba returned from injury to start at Old Trafford, but he rarely found his range. By contrast, McTominay was unerring when he struck United into a 45th-minute lead:
Adding a goal threat to his game is the next logical step toward McTominay becoming the complete midfielder. A general in the middle who can impact every phase of the game is something the Red Devils have lacked for too long.
Still just 22, McTominay can grow into the role and develop from necessary stop-gap in a lean period for the club into a genuine building block United must construct a winning team around.
Advocates of VAR who don't support United likely collectively rejoiced when the replay system confirmed Aubameyang's finish. It was the classic case of technology correcting what would have been a glaring and costly officiating error.
There was little doubt Aubameyang had stayed onside when he met Saka's pass, except in the mind of the linesman who lifted the flag:
The idea the linesman's erroneous call may have caused United goalkeeper David De Gea to lose focus only emphasises the heavy toll these mistakes can take from both teams.
While the VAR debate will rage and some mistakes will be inevitable while the processes of the new system remain in the teething process, other calls on the night left the referee and his assistants with more questions to answer.
None was bigger than a suspected handball by Arsenal defender Sead Kolasinac that would have given the hosts a penalty. Replays appeared to show a clear infraction, but neither Friend nor anyone else connected with upholding the rules was moved to intervene.
There will be better days for top-flight referees this season, but the decisions missed Monday will only intensify the demands for better procedures between the officials on the pitch and those running the replay equipment.