Friday, October 9, 2015

Arsenal 3 Manchester United 0

Just four days after suffering a shock 3-2 defeat to Olympiakos on  home turf, Arsenal needed to answer their critics with a convincing performance and they did just that by beating their old foes, Manchester United, by three clear goals. It was a superb all-round display. They put right everything they did wrong on Tuesday night.

Arsene Wenger made four changes from the side who started in the devastating loss that made Arsenal's progress into the knock-out stage extremely difficult. Petr Cech came in for David Ospina, naturally, after the Colombian goalkeeper's howler that gave away an easy second goal to the Greek Champions. Per Mertesacker started in place of injured Laurant Koscielny to form a central defensive partnership with Gabriel. Nacho Monreal was restored in the left-back position, while Kieran Gibbs returned to the bench. Aaron Ramsey replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Tomas Rosicky, Danny Welbeck, and Jack Wilshere are long-term absentees, while Mikel Arteta (dead leg) and Mathieu Flamini (hamstring) joined them in the treatment room after last weekend's trip to Leicester.

To our surprise, Arsenal went into the game as odds-on favourites, albeit slightly. Manchester United were fresh from their 2-1 victory over Wolfsburg on Wednesday night, starting the weekend as Premier League leaders. We had a poor track record against them, too, failing to beat David Moyes' men at home who were dubbed as the worst-ever Man U side two years ago. One encouraging fact was that Arsenal have always bounced back from disappointments without fail. Mark Lawrenson cited the fact as an underlying basis for his 2-0 prediction in favour of the north London club. That said, we, the Arsenal supporters, were not in a very confident mood prior to the game.

Arsenal started the game with the high tempo, passing with pace and pressing high on the pitch. It did not take them very long to be rewarded for their dominance. The first goal came in the 7th minute in the shape of Alexis' flick at the near post, which was followed by Mesut Özil's first-touch shot and Alexis' sublime strike. The Gunners were 3-0 up in the opening 20 minutes. Aaron Ramsey could have made it an even more embarrassing scoreline for Man U when he had an easy opportunity to break his duck this season. However, the game looked truly beyond the Manchester club's reach when Petr Cech made a crucial save with his left foot to deny Anthony Martial's point-blank-range effort just before half time.

In the second half, Arsenal conceded possession to the visitors and spent long periods on back foot, hence their overall possession of a rather miserly 38%. However, the hosts looked more likely to score every time when they attacked on the break. Giroud had a great chance on one of those occasions, but he made a wrong decision to go on his own with his weaker right foot. Fellow substitute, the Ox did a little better than him to hit the crossbar in stoppage time.

Some Gooners might be disappointed that their team did not press forward to add to their goal tally, but we think that keeping a clean sheet was more important for the team's confidence after their defensive weakness was brutally exposed on Tuesday night.

In this game, the whole team were quick to get back into the defensive shape once they had lost possession. The Gunners were accused of the lack of willingness to defend on Tuesday night, even by the opposition striker. Some of the players, including Özil and Cazorla, were also criticised for their lack of desire. As Theo Walcott praised the team, the Gunners showed their desire and commitment for this fixture.

All in all, this was a completely contrasting display to Tuesday night. Even Arsene Wenger was applauded for his selection and tactics. Choosing Cech in goal was no-brainer and probably in his plan even before the Tuesday fixture. However, picking in-form Theo ahead of Giroud and opting for counter-attacking football at home was refreshing. Fortunately, Man United played into our hands by being forced into playing possession football, which was not helped at all by Louis Van Gaal's decision to play two over-thirty midfielders in the shape of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger and leave Morgan Schneiderlin on the bench. LVG's tactics were further questioned during the game as he deployed Marouane Fellaini in a playmaker role rather than up front after the Belgian replaced Memphis Depay at half time. The game was Wenger's tactical victory over LVG, too.

After demolishing the Manchester giants in a convincing way and moving up to second in the table just 2 points behind the league leaders, Manchester City, there was obviously more optimistic atmosphere among Arsenal supporters. We know our team lacks consistency, but who else isn't? The reigning champions Chelsea have been struggling for form ever since the beginning of the season, while the current league leaders had suffered back-to-back defeats before hitting six this weekend. Man U had been getting results without a convincing performance and have now been found out. Nobody is consistent at the moment. The title is still wide open, not surprisingly as the season is only 8 games-old. This day's display proved that at least we can challenge for the title, given there will be no more injuries.

It was a great result ahead of the international break and an ideal occasion to put things right after the disastrous European night. Hopefully, we can build on this day's performance when our players have come back from international duty.

Players ratings

Cech: 8
He had little to do for most of the first half, but made one vital save at the end of the first half. It was a quality save as well. No lapse of concentration after a long spell of inactivity is the difference between Cech and Szczesny. He made further important saves in the second half when our defenders were beaten. Hopefully, Wenger has realised that the Czech international should not be dropped in the future, whenever he is fit to play.

Bellerin: 8

Provided width, going forward, but his defensive contribution was especially notable in this game. He won 2 aerial battles of his with brave headers.

Mertesacker: 8
Made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 10 clearances. Beaten by Martial on a couple of occasions, but made a last-man tackle.

Gabriel: 8
Solid display. Encouraging as we might have to do without Koscielny for the next couple of weeks.

Monreal: 8
Marshalled the right-hand-side of the Man U attack very well. Joined Alexis in attack to torment Darmian in the first half, who was withdrawn at half time.

Coquelin: 8
Made 5 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 3 clearances. Assured performance, apart from a rash challenge on Rooney, which saw him booked.

Cazorla: 8
Made 55 passes, including 1 key pass, with a 89.1% accuracy. Worked very hard on his defensive duties.

Ramsey: 7
Good defensive contribution with 4 tackles and 5 interceptions, but he should have buried his chance. Arguably our only underperforming player on the day when the team produced a superb all-round performance. Yet to reach the height he achieved two seasons ago. Has missed quite a few goal scoring chances recently.

Özil: 9
Not asserting himself in big games was one of criticisms against him, but he was instrumental to this day's victory. Scored a goal and set up another.

Sanchez: 9
Scored 2 goals. Hope his groin injury is not too serious. 

Walcott: 9
Although he did not score, he set up 2 goals for his team-mates. Worked extremely hard.


Giroud: 6
Replaced Walcott in the 74th minute. He should have done better when he had a glorious chance to score.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Came off the bench to replace Ozil. He nearly set up a goal for Giroud and was unlucky not to score when his shot hit the crossbar.

Gibbs:  N/A
Replaced Alexis, who had a groin problem, in the 80th minute to see out the victory.

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