After heavy banter and criticism coming their way after a defeat in the Champion’s League, Arsenal responded to the world of football with a thumping victory over Manchester United; a result that had been unseen for over 3 seasons in the Premier League. Alexis Sanchez converted a Mesut Ozil pass with a quick backheel, while Mesut Ozil himself converted a quick pass from Theo Walcott due to a swift and efficiently exploited counter attack by the Gunners.
Sanchez then hit in a whooping 18 yard volley past De Gea to take his tally to 6 goals in 8 appearances for the Gunners, thanks again to a quick pass from Walcott. Arsenal scored all three goals in the first 19 minutes, with the first and the second goal coming within a span of 74 seconds. Later on, Anthony Martial was denied a superb chance to bring one back for the Red Devils, by Petr Cech’s exceptional presence of mind.
For the Gunners, Aaron Ramsey had the chance of increasing arsenal’s tally with a 4th, but an ambitious volley on his right foot landed past the goalpost into the stadium’s advertisement hoardings. United came back moderately stronger in the second half, but it was far too late to rip the Gunners of a well deserved victory, especially as Arsenal defended with exceptional discipline and harmony off the ball. Of the many spectacular things that worked out for the Gunners, here are a few that need special mention;
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil have shown exactly why they are world class players
Many fans and football pundits have sporadically questioned whether Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil can deliver; not because they are not world class players, but whether they are in a position to take a greater responsibility over Arsenal’s campaign as 2 of the best players in the squad. Their performance against United has certainly left none of us in doubt that if they are to play like this they can lift the performance of the entire team. Apart from his goal, Mesut Ozil had a part to play in almost every major situation that unfolded in this game. His movement off the ball, the urgency with which he closed down United’s defense, his presence of mind in the opponent’s half and on the counters, were all without doubt par excellence. Alexis, needless to say, was as determined as ever , cutting in from the flank and swapping places with Walcott and Ozil from time to time.
Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin created a compact midfield
Santi Cazorla was at the heart of Arsenal’s overall exceptional performance. Evident from what happened in the game, the gunners had one strategy in the middle of the park; stay compact off the ball and exploit any space made available by United’s midfield: Consequently, Cazorla’s movement in the middle of the park was very precisely calculated, perhaps rehearsed a dozen times in training, while Coquelin kept his game simple and was available, i.e equidistant while defending from the 2 centre backs and Cazorla. Cazorla and Coquelin’s distance from each other was never excessive, and this allowed Cazorla to exploit, or create from deep on every chance of a counter. Up front, Ozil, Walcott, Alexis and Ramsey did not miss any such chance made available to them by their midfield duo.
Arsenal defended with diligence, attention and exceptional teamwork.
Unlike several previous encounters against big teams, Arsenal did not have a leaky defense, and even in moments where things could have gone wrong, Petr Cech stood strong, proving to the world exactly why he was brought in from Chelsea. Every player took immense defensive responsibility off the ball, whether it be in their own half, or in open play. Theo Walcott won the ball hands on Francis Coquelin- style in the first half, proving how determined Arsenal were to exploit, dominate and consistently keep Man United at bay.
The first 20 minutes are the most crucial
After an appalling defeat against Liverpool about one and a half seasons ago at Anfield, where the Reds scored a number of goals in the first 20 minutes, catching Arsenal in a moment of of disarray and panic, Per Mertesacker in a post match interview explained how delivering on tactics and staying focused in the first 20 minutes is always ‘crucial’. One can only imagine that the maximum damage can be caused if one is caught off guard in the first 20 minutes, and the psychological impact a goal or 2 can have, can become irreversible. Scoring early can only be an advantage, wherein any team that does so can later on stay off the ball ,let their opponents enjoy possession and defend diligently. This did happen in some capacity in this game as well, though it would be unfair to say that Arsenal ‘only defended’ in once they had scored the 3 goals. Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain came on and were nothing short of a threat on counters; till the very last minute, where Chamberlain almost scored in the 92nd minute.
Theo Walcott played like a true No. 9
Although he did not get on the score sheet, the English international was a constant threat. It was his presence of mind up front and on the flanks that allowed Ozil and Alexis to hit the net and in addition take advantage of certain situations. Moreover, Wenger admitted in the post-match conference that this was possibly Walcott’s best performance as a no.9.
Overall, this was possibly Arsenal’s best performance as a team since their FA cup triumph over Aston Villa. One can only hope that Arsenal play with this degree of commitment, harmony and desire every game, especially as they soon face Bundesliga Champions Bayern Munich. For now, Arsenal are second in the league and Arsenal fans can only be happy with what they have seen.