Mikel Arteta went with the tried and tested up front at Old Trafford.
Nicolas Pepe played just 62 minutes of the victory over Dundalk, meanwhile Willian made a 28-minute cameo for Arsenal on his return from a short-term lay-off.
Given those decisions, some indications where that Ivorian was due a starting berth at Old Trafford, with the other suggestions being that the Brazilian was just getting a run around to prepare him for the trip north.
It was the latter.
Having scored a superb goal at the Emirates last time out, Pepe will have been brimming with confidence prior to what was expected to be a big night against Manchester United. In the end he played no part at all.
Ten or 15 minutes into the game and Arsenal were all over United. Aggressive in the pressing and switched on to danger, every player was putting in a solid shift. Less so, however, for Willian.
He gave the ball away ten times in that period and swung in a few wayward crosses. The only slight on an otherwise tremendous opening to the game. Willian didn’t hide, though. A shaky opening made way for a display full of high intensity pressing and clever decisions on the ball. Arteta’s choice was eventually vindicated.
However, there were moments of ‘what if’ in regards to Pepe’s absence. The 32-year-old’s effort that struck the crossbar was an opportunity that if presented to Pepe may have had a different outcome.
What Willian has over Pepe is consistency in the less noticeable aspects. Maintaining pressure throughout was key to unlocking the United defence, but while Pepe may have buried that chance, he wouldn’t have adhered to the various tactical quirks that Arteta asked of his teammate.
Choosing Willian over Pepe does not constitute the time being up for one or the other, but instead demonstrates Arteta’s understanding of what is needed for each opponent. In the same vein of how Sir Alex Ferguson always played Park Ji-sung for the ‘big games’, Arteta may do likewise on the right side of the front three.
I hope it’s not a long-term decision, and instead one used to educate Pepe on the areas he needs to improve, but it served a purpose at Old Trafford. One that paid off. Making a habit out of nailing the simpler tasks, a la Willian, is next on the list for Pepe.