Arsenal 3-0 United
After great disappointment in the Champions League on Tuesday night, Arsenal needed to produce a much improved performance against Manchester United on Sunday. They had let the fans down with their tepid display in Europe’s top competition but against United each and every player in a red and white shirt responded in the perfect manner as the Gunners ran riot.
Right from the very first whistle, Arsenal were a team transformed.Their play was full of intensity, hunger and desire as they pressed United high up the pitch, got right in their faces and gave them absolutely no time on the ball as they hunted the ball in packs. Theo Walcott seemed inspired by Alexis Sanchez’s work rate as the Englishman chased and harried United’s defenders time and time again, helping the Gunners to win back possession high up the pitch, while also making several unselfish runs behind the United defence, creating space for his attacking midfielders to operate.
Mesut Ozil was another player who came to life in this game. The German international has been criticised for his lack of influence in the big games since signing for the club, but on Sunday he too was a man transformed. Ozil combined beautifully with Sanchez and Walcott to orchestrate attack after attack as the Gunners attacking triumvirate cut United apart time and time again. At the end of the game Ozil could safely say he had influenced this game, coming off the pitch with an assist and a goal to his name.
In this form, Arsenal were simply irresistible and United couldn’t cope with the sheer intensity of the Gunners pressing. After only 6 minutes United had crumbled. Bellerin easily won a foot race with Ashley Young to get to the ball first on the by-line, but soon possession appeared to have been lost. Francis Coquelin, as ever, showed great desire to keep the move alive and was there to steal the ball back from United. Ramsey picked up the loose ball, played it into the box towards Ozil, who cut back and crossed low across the box. The rest was pure magic from Sanchez. The Chilean has lit up the Emirates on several occasions since his move from Barcelona and he is a real box office player, a player that gets supporters up off their seats whenever he has the ball at his feet. On Sunday he was at his mesmeric best. As the ball from Ozil approached him Sanchez audaciously flicked it into the back of the net with De Gea completely bamboozled, to score one of the goals of the season.
The Emirates erupted with noise as it had done when Sanchez had scored during the mid-week Champions League game. On that occasion Olympiakos scored less than a minute later and on this occasion a goal was also scored virtually straight from the kick-off, however this time it was an Arsenal goal. As the Gunners attacked with supreme pace once more, another deft flick from Sanchez released the ball to Ozil who played Walcott through inside the box. The Englishman cut inside and showed great composure to pick out Ozil, for the German to coolly and calmly pass the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
Arsenal supporters couldn’t believe their eyes, their side were playing unbelievable football and it was about to get better too. With 20 minutes gone Sanchez picked the ball up on the edge of the box, cut inside Darmian and bulldozed his way through the Italian’s attempted challenge before unleashing a thunderbolt of a shot right into the top corner. The Gunners had just been sensational and could have made it four when Sanchez picked out Ramsey but the Welshman’s volley flew high and wide despite him being completely unmarked and having only the goalkeeper to beat.
From this point on Arsenal were able to sit back, allowing United to have the ball and attempting to hit them on the counter if they could. The visitors really had nothing to offer going forward at all. Cech did pull off an excellent save towards the end of the first half, but Arsenal were comfortable and really should have added to the score line. As the game entered the final stages, Ozil and Giroud missed identical chances, firing straight at De Gea when a shot aimed either side of the goalkeeper would have resulted in a goal, then with seconds of the game left, Oxlade-Chamberlain almost put the perfect seal on the match. The young Englishman delightfully clipped the ball over the on rushing De Gea but unfortunately rather than seeing the ball bounce into the net, Oxlade-Chamberlain ended up with his head in his hands as his effort cruelly came back off the crossbar.
Arsene Wenger could take great pride in his side’s performance on Sunday. The manager had taken a great deal of criticism for the team’s inept display against Olympiakos and therefore it was only fair that he should take credit for the dismantling of a side many had suggested were ready to mount a serious title challenge. It is Arsenal who are now being talked about in those terms, having been derided as a team of also rans during the week. The players cannot read too much into the press’s opinion of them and must simply now put this result behind them and focus on the next game. When they play like they did against United, starting the match on the front foot and taking the game to the opposition with great intensity, Arsenal can beat any side. Therefore it is really a question of consistency. In the space of a week we have seen the best and worst of the Gunners and Wenger as well as the players must ensure that more often than not the team produces performances on a par with that against United. This season’s title challenge is shaping up to be as open as it has been for many years and therefore in many ways the title is there for the taking. At the end of the season, it will be the team that has been the most consistent who will be lifting the league trophy. The question is, are Arsenal up for the challenge?