Not many sides are more beautiful when on song than Arsenal. On Sunday, Arsene Wenger’s side demolished last week’s league leaders Manchester United in twenty minutes. In the summer, many expected Arsenal to challenge for the title and put on impressive performances. It didn’t happen until Sunday. In fact, the Gunners went into this game at the back of a disappointing loss in the Champions League.
In a tie where Manchester United have usually been victorious, Arsenal were once again expected to not prevail. However, they started the game in such an incredible fashion, racing out of the traps, dominating play with 76.5 percent of the ball in the opening 15 minutes, that the scoreline read 3-0 just after 19 minutes.
The attacking trio of Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil wreaked havoc at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger employed a Barcelona lookalike 4-3-3, with Aaron Ramsey sitting a bit deeper in midfield and Walcott, zil and Sanchez being the flyers up front. Ozil played in the middle but also drifted on the left and right, Sanchez was on the left flank and Walcott was on the right one, but he too drifted centrally and operated as a striker as the Chilean and German created chances for him.
Even though it was Alexis Sanchez who got on the scoresheet twice — he now has five goals in two games after scoring none in the opening six weeks — it was Mesut Ozil’s night. The German has been criticized far too often for being inconsistent and disappearing in “big matches”. The critics are not wrong. This was Ozila s first goal and second assist in 17 matches against Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal’s toughest and “biggest” opponents. Clearly, no one told Ozil Arsenal were playing a big team this time. His ability to pass and use space in his favored number 10 position was on exhibition on Sunday, and it was so beautiful to watch. There have been lots of comparisons between Ozil, Juan Mata and Philippe Coutinho. Yesterday though, he looked like he was in a league of his own, where the only player in the Premier League close to his standards was David Silva. Ozil’s domination and brilliance in the game was on display even after the goals stopped coming. He set up Walcott twice from a distance and the Englishman came close to striking the ball in the net both times.
Arsenal won the midfield battle which in the end, proved to be more decisive than Petr Cech’s stunning save in a one on one situation with Anthony Martial (all the people who said Cech could mean nine points were feeling very smug about the situation). For the Gunners, this was where the match was won. Francis Coquelin displayed his importance to the team and with the help of his midfield partner Santi Cazorla, successfully kept the likes of Mata and Rooney, at bay.
Physicality was another battle, an unlikely one, that Manchester United lost. Alexis Sanchez gave Matteo Darmian — a fine signing by United — a taste of the Premier League. He gave him an absolutely torrid time on Arsenal’s left flank. Sanchez’s imposing physical presence and ability to bully the Italian was as big a factor, if not bigger, than his pace, skills and trickery with the ball. The former Torino player, who has done well so far in the Premier League, didn’t know what hit him. A fact, that is perhaps brilliantly highlighted in the “match events” list.
30 minutes into the match, Matteo Darmian is booked for tripping Alexis Sanchez.
It was a woeful day for Manchester United and Louis van Gaal will have to take plenty of the blame. Why was Morgan Schneiderlin on the bench? Why was he not even brought on in the second half? Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger were completely overrun and it was slightly baffling to see them being positioned further up the pitch, which subsequently left Ozil so much space to prosper.
Wayne Rooney proves to be another dilemma for the side. The England international, as talented as he is or used to be, is not playing well and shouldn’t be a guaranteed starter. Of course, the fact that he is captain and is being paid a ridiculous amount does prove to be a factor here.
It was the first time in the Premier League era that United had conceded three times inside the opening 20 minutes of a game. It was the first time that Arsenal had scored three goals against them in a league match since November 2001.
Arsenal leapfrogged their opponents of the night into the second place. They now have a chance to build on this performance. A lot of title talk has begun again, and it is interesting what Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher had to say after their win.
“Arsenal are never going to win the Champions League with this team, they always get knocked out in the quarter-finals at best, so if they go out earlier it may actually be an advantage for them. It may actually work for them.”
Two defeats in two games — against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos (home) — are not the stats of a Champions League winning side. Not to mention, Arsenal are yet to face Bayern Munich twice. Perhaps the former Liverpool defender does have a point. If Arsenal get out of Europe early, they might have a bigger say in the Premier League title race, which looks open and exciting.
Title talk in October is not a smart move, but Wenger needs to get the side inspired for mounting a title challenge every time; he doesn’t have to look too far back for an emphatic team performance.