Matches at the Emirates between Arsenal and Manchester have been usually fraught with nerves, particularly with the Gunners having such a bad run of form against them recently. No league wins since May 2011, only four league wins in the past decade and some. What used to be title-deciding match between two top teams in the early noughties, gradually became a stroll in he park in the recent past for the Mancs.
And even when Manchester United were not dominating the league or even playing particularly well, they still found a way to defeat the Arsenal, be it by the London team capitulating, shoddy refereeing or just pure dumb luck.
But this match was one in which everything came together for the home team. From the get go, the Arsenal players seemed the hungrier, the more talented and the more determined to correct the mistakes from the last home match in the Champions League. Even when the chances fell their way, oh were they clinical.
The start to the match was even more frightening than that against Napoli in the Champions League a few seasons ago where a frontline of Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud harassed and harangued a good Italian team. If that was harassment, this was pure terrorism. The first 20 minutes of the match was a sheer blur of Arsenal players closing down, tackling and generally having their way with the Manchester United midfield and defence.
Every single Arsenal player on show was terrific on the day, playing probably the best football the team has probably played since the Invincible days. Aaron Ramsey, playing on the right of the attack was being his usual self, closing down the opposing down impressively. When he broke into the United penalty box with the ball, his cross arrived at the feet of Alexis Sanchez when he had evaded his marker and gone past the near post. For a second there, it seemed the attack had broke and the Chilean would be forced to retreat with the ball or lay off a pass. But this is Alexis Sanchez. A deft back heel flick later, David De Gea was left floundering as the ball rolled into the net for the first goal of the game.
Alexis Sanchez was to score the last goal of the game and the match was only 20 minutes old. The ball broke to the utterly impressive Theo Walcott playing in the centre forward position (playing probably his best match for the Arsenal). He controlled the ball and turned in one swift move and found the free Chilean on the left. By the time he advanced into the box, there were four Manchester United defenders surrounding him. But no matter, they could do little to stop him rifling a fierce shot past the United keeper for his second of the game. The people of Tocopilla, Chile, we of the Arsenal thank you!
In between the two goals from the Chilean, Mesut Özil had produced two moments of sheer genius. First, he shrugged off Darmian (i think) like he wasn’t even there and pulled the ball down from the sky delicately onto his left foot. Second, when Walcott broke forward into the United box with speed and found him with a pass instead of shooting from a tight angle, the German calmly stroked the ball home. Oh, the sheer insouciance of that finish.
The Arsenal team couldn’t possibly keep up the tempo of play all through the match and even when they dropped off there was still enough to hold the opposition at arms length. As good as the first half attacking display was, the second half defensive play was beautiful to behold. Even when the Manchester United coach made both personnel and tactical changes at the start of the second half, the Arsenal back line stood firm. The captain on the day, Per Mertesacker, was particularly impressive imperious, his telescopic legs seemed to connect with every ball slung into the Arsenal box. And for the few that got past him and his partner Gabriel, the safe Petr Cech was on hand to deny the away team.
Even then, the Arsenal team had a few opportunities to extend the lead and deepen the misery of the Mancunians; Özil and then the substitute Giroud shooting straight at the Man Utd goalkeeper. Another substitute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain even had time to chip the keeper, with only the crossbar denying him a goal.
It was without a doubt the best performance by the Gunners this season and a perfect riposte for the not too palatable results in the Champions League. Every single played to the abilities that the coach has been trying to convince us that they possess. This coming a week after an excellent performance against the form team of Leicester City in the Premier League. Maybe this is a pointer to where the club’s treasures might lie this season.
If only we could play like this more often