Arsenal 3 – 0 Manchester United
1 – 0 Sanchez (6)
2 – 0 Özil (7)
3 – 0 Sanchez (20)
It was the most devastating 38% of possession imaginable. Arsenal decimated Manchester United’s defences within seven minutes and had sealed the points with less that a quarter of the match played, leaving you wondering why they didn’t play with half this gusto on Tuesday night.
It’s been a while coming this result. United have held the upper hand for too long over the past few years but now Arsenal are in the ascendency, three matches undefeated against a team whom they have struggled to beat. The world is a slightly better place this morning with the three points which lifted Arsenal into second place in the Premier League and puts a spring into the step as we head into the international break.
A brace from Alexis and one from Mesut Özil inside the first twenty minutes ended the contest and as if to emphasize the midweek failings, a solid Petr Cech performance means West Ham are still the only English club to score at The Emirates so far this season.
There was much to admire about both sides of Arsenal’s game displayed yesterday. The United defence was mesmerised by Arsenal’s speed of movement. Why not, it was utterly captivating in the same way that Liverpool were blown away in April. Everyone pressed from the kick-off, not giving any United player any respite in possession, hassling and harrying to win the ball back before quick passing created space where there was none previously.
It culminated in seventy-five seconds of the beautiful game as Mesut Özil slid the ball into Alexis who had stolen in front of De Gea and compounded the United keeper’s misery with an impudent flick to send the ball into net. No sooner had United restarted the game than Theo Walcott’s hard work on the right found the German in space and providing the sort of finish that makes you wonder why he doesn’t score more often.
Not to be outdone, Alexis’ finish for the third, having bundled his way across the United area, it was a ferocious drive into the top corner to confirm the win. All three goals came as a result of lively movement, particularly Theo Walcott who dragged United’s centre backs out of position to create space for others. It was a performance where everyone was attuned to their team mates; it was an afternoon where everything clicked.
Regrets that there weren’t more goals? I should think so. Aaron Ramsey’s wretched form in front of goal continued with a volley which went high and wide, probably needing better technique to miss the target entirely than to guide Alexis’ lofted pass into the net. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain almost added the fourth, denied at the death by the woodwork as he lifted the ball delicately over the advancing De Gea.
If it sounds like it was one-way traffic, it wasn’t and the inclusion of Petr Cech underlined the folly of his omission against Olympiakos. Arsenal were at times casual in their possession at the back, robbed too easily which was surprising given how good the defensive play was overall. The Czech made a sprawling block to deny Martial the goal which the footballing gods had written he would score. Making space, the youngster’s shot was goalbound until it struck Cech’s leg.
His handling and judgement gives confidence to the back four, his experience a presence to exert a calm influence over the back four. Another clean sheet without any particular drama underlines the value he brings to the side, missing in midweek as the back four turned to jelly.
Post-match, the euphoria got too much. Theo Walcott believed the performance sent a message to the rest of the Premier League. It did: Manchester United are nowhere near as good as you thought and Arsenal remain as inconsistent as ever.
Little wonder Arsène was pleased. As he put it, Arsenal controlled the match through pressing high up the pitch in the first half before containing United, to a certain extent, in the second. Overall, the defence did its’ job but you sense that better opponents might have put them under more pressure. That said, with a three-goal cushion, it is no surprise that they switched off at times.
Whilst Alexis garnered the headlines, Theo Walcott’s growing maturity as a lead striker contrasted with the misfortunes coming Olivier Giroud’s way at the moment. Walcott didn’t score but was pivotal in the first two goals with his movement, dragging United out of position with width and dropping deeper than they may have been expecting.
It offers a stark contrast to the poor run of form Giroud is in at the moment. The chance to give himself a boost in confidence was lost in shot straight at De Gea and Gallic curses filling the north London sky. The goals will return for him, they have done in the past but even if they do, it’s hard to see him usurping Walcott with the England international in this sort of form.
The international break arrives at a bad time for Arsenal. Even though the fixture list kind on the return to Premier League duty, the wins over Leicester and United had brought confidence back, as well as good performances. Some momentum will inevitably be lost with the players off representing their country.
It’s interesting that Wenger noted Alexis has left to join his country when it was evident to all that playing internationals ought to be the last thing on his mind. There is a fine line between a love of football, wanting to play all the time and being reined in, preventing longer-term damage being done to a niggling injury. The groin problem he left the pitch complaining of may be something and nothing; Arsène will be praying it is the latter.