LONDON — Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-0 on Sunday at the Emirates, as the Gunners ran riot after scoring three times in the opening 19 minutes.
[ MORE: Alexis’ stunner extends Gunners lead ]
Two stunning goals from Alexis Sanchez and another from the brilliant Mesut Ozil did the damage early on and the Gunners eased to victory as they moved into second place in the Premier League standings.
[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]
Here’s a snippet of what we learned from Arsenal’s big win and United’s demoralizing defeat.
GUNNERS BACK, WITH A BANG
Much was written and said in the week about Arsene Wenger‘s side losing 3-2 to Olympiakos in the UEFA Champions League to leave their European dreams hanging by a thread. Not least about his decision to start David Opsina in place of Petr Cech. Wenger was close to walking out of his pre-match press conference on Friday as he was asked repeatedly about that decision and became a rather surely customer. Wenger’s mood will have been much different after the opening 19 minutes at the Emirates on Sunday as his side led United 3-0 with three flowing moves finished off ruthlessly. That’s not something you can usually say about the Gunners. They came racing out of the traps, dominating play with 76.5 percent of the ball in the opening 15 minutes. Sanchez and Ozil (more on the latter further down) were especially majestic, with the Chilean now scoring five times in his last two PL games as he’s finally recovered from his involvement in the Copa America over the summer which delayed his return to preseason for the Gunners. With Walcot running behind United’s defense, Sanchez and Ozil floated wide and cut inside to create havoc. Francis Coquelin‘s importance as a key cog in the Wenger machine cannot be underestimated, with the French midfielder nipping balls back to launch counter attacks and pushing high to engage United’s veteran central midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteieger and Michael Carrick. Plus Cech’s return in goal saw him save from Anthony Martial at the end of the first half, plus he denied Wayne Rooney and Schweinsteieger in the second half. His importance to Arsenal also can’t be underestimated.
A word must also go to Walcott. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet, the 26-year-old finally seems to have established himself as Arsenal’s first-choice central striker ahead of Olivier Giroud. He set up Ozil for his strike and was influential in stretching United’s dumbstruck defensive unit. In the second half he used his blistering pace to close down an opponent and the home fans rose to their feet to chant “THEO, THEO!” in a salute to his supreme workrate. Walcott was rewarded with a lucrative long-term deal over the summer and after almost 10 years with the Gunners, he’s finally turning into the player who can carry the weight of expectation on his shoulders. Going into the international break, Arsenal is now two points behind first-place Manchester City and with a kind fixture list on the horizon (trips to Watford, Swansea, West Brom and Norwich, plus home games against Tottenham and Everton), they look poised to battle with City for top spot between now and the festive period. The Gunners may be struggling in Europe, but they’ve rebounded well in the PL.
UNITED’S MAKESHIFT DEFENSE FOUND OUT
Just seven minutes into Sunday’s clash between “two title contenders,” Manchester United were found out. Specifically their makeshift backline. The Gunners ripped through United’s defense in the first half, with Sanchez scoring twice and Ozil’s strike sandwiched in-between. Arsenal’s front three of Sanchez, Walcott and Ozil tore United apart as Matteo Darmian‘s lack of pace was exposed — he was taken off by Louis Van Gaal at half time — on two of the opening three goals, plus Daley Blind let Ozil slide past him too easily to set up Sanchez for the first.
Playing a winger in Ashley Young at left back and a central midfielder in Blind at center back was always going to be found out eventually. In truth, this was United’s first big test of the season and van Gaal’s men failed miserably. Before their capitulation at Arsenal, the only game they had played against a team likely to finish in the top six was an under-strength Liverpool at home. United won that 3-1 but like most of their other wins this season, they looked far from convincing. Forwards Rooney, Memphis Depay and Martial had days to forget, but United’s biggest issue is at the back. With Luke Shaw out injured, Marcos Rojo not fancied, the same could be said for Phil Jones and LVG’s failure to bring in a top class center back in the transfer window (ahem, Nicolas Otamendi) United”s defense is devoid of pace and was unable to cope with the movement of Arsenal’s front line. We all know the Gunners can click and blow teams apart when everything slots into place, but this was a combination of United being poor and Arsenal being very, very good. United’s next three PL games will truly test their resolve and their quality, with a Manchester derby at Old Trafford against City sandwiched in-between two tough trips to Everton and high-flying Crystal Palace. If Louis van Gaal’s side can
OZIL CAN ORCHESTRATE BIG GAME SUCCESS
With a deft flick early in the game to help set up an Arsenal attack, you got the sense that Ozil was in the right frame of mind on Sunday. When the enigmatic German international is on, he can rip teams apart. Central to Arsenal’s stunning opening 19 minute spell which yielded three goals, Ozil raced clear of Blind and clipped in a perfect ball to Sanchez to flick home the first. Moments later he then applied the coolest of finishes after Walcott set him up to make it 2-0 with seven minutes on the clock. The criticism of Ozil has often been that he can’t do it in the big games and he’s certainly struggled to consistently provide the goods in big moments in the past. In truth, like most of Arsenal’s players, he drifted through the second half but Ozil did the damage early and orchestrated a ruthless shaming of United’s defensive frailties.
Since his $60 million move from Real Madrid in September 2013, Ozil has both frustrated and excited Arsenal fans and neutrals. More often than not, the former. However, when he is allowed time on the ball and is ready to put on a show, Ozil is world class. There are few players able to see four or five plays ahead, but he’s one of them. When he’s tuned in he can destroy teams. Ask United, they found that out on Sunday as the one thing Wenger will crave from Ozil is more consistency from his talismanic playmaker. If he does, Ozil interchanging with the pace of Sanchez and Walcott is a frightening proposition for any PL defense to face. Going forward, this has to be Arsenal’s first-choice three in attack and if they click the way they did early on Sunday, talk of winning the title will swiftly return to the red half of north London.