Three goals in first 20 minutes leave Louis van Gaal shell-shocked as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil blitz hapless visitors to move up to second
- Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring within six minutes, with Mesut Ozil notching a second moments later
- Sanchez then sent a rocket beyond David De Gea and Arsenal were three goals to the good inside 19 minutes
- It was the first time United had ever conceded three goals in the first 20 minutes of a Premier League match
- Louis van Gaal looked on ashen-faced and made two substitutions at half-time to try and get back into it
What a statement this was from Arsenal. What a comeback. What a riposte.
Arsene Wenger does not need to get tetchy with his critics. He just needs to inspire more performances like this. Arsenal have it in them, as was proved on Sunday. They have a title in them, too, as antagonists such as Jose Mourinho have long suggested. These are fine players, largely. Yes, there are stronger contenders defensively, but few that can elevate the beauty in the game to the heights Arsenal reached in their earliest exchanges with Manchester United.
A goal up after six minutes, two clear a minute later, by the time Alexis Sanchez hit the third with three-quarters of the game remaining, the locals were in rapture. How could this be the same team that lost to Olympiacos at home just five days previously? Up to second place, how could this be the club supposedly teetering on the brink of crisis?
Arsenal were on their way within six minutes as Alexis Sanchez cleverly flicked in at David De Gea’s near post
That swiftly became two just a minute later when Mesut Ozil was afforded too much space in the Manchester United penalty area
Sanchez was in on the act again in the 19th minute, jinking beyond three defenders before sending a blistering effort past De Gea
Sanchez slides on his knees in front of jubilant Arsenal supporters in celebration of his stunning second goal of the afternoon
Arsenal were outstanding, laying down a marker to rival Manchester City’s win over Chelsea by the same margin in August. Yet Chelsea, as has subsequently been revealed, are a team that have lost their way. A few have taken lumps out of them this season. United, by contrast, were league leaders going into this weekend, Louis van Gaal credited with adding defensive steel, even if it has been at the expense of excitement. Arsenal dismantled that theory inside 20 minutes.
This serves as a blueprint, too. The cavalier football Van Gaal has sacrificed makes them less able to chase a game down like they did in the old days. They had 84 minutes to get back at Arsenal here and failed to score. It is hard to imagine that would have happened when Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge.
So go at United hard and early and test that famous back four. United fight-backs no longer strike fear in the heart. Petr Cech had his moments, but nothing that will be long remembered. He made very good saves because he is a very good goalkeeper – the best at this club by some distance – but there was nothing here that the first choice at any elite club would not be expected to stop.
This has been a season that defies logic – from Chelsea’s implosion, to the rise of Leicester City and West Ham’s habit of winning every game they are expected to lose, and vice versa – and this match was no exception. At the end of a week that has seen Wenger mislay his famous cool following criticism of the display and selection against Olympiacos, Arsenal took United apart.
In the first half, at least, one would have estimated 15 places between the teams in Arsenal’s favour. United could not get the ball and, when they did, could do nothing with it. There has been a trade-off this season. United may be dull, it is said, but at least they are tight at the back. In a league of sub-standard defences, that might be enough, as it was for Chelsea in the second half of last season.
Yet Arsenal stunned them with their pace and attacking energy, Mesut Ozil the craftsman, Sanchez and Theo Walcott a front-line as formidable as any seen in this campaign. They settled for three, but could have been five clear by the break. United, with Ashley Young at left back, clearly had some counter-attacking plans of their own. They never got to execute them.
When Arsenal are in this mood, containing them is a full-time job. There were 45 minutes gone when United finally got a chance at goal, Anthony Martial shrugging off Per Mertesacker far too easily before turning to shoot and being thwarted by Cech. But there is no correlation – and you’d be a fool and a madman to make one – between selecting a world-class goalkeeper and being rewarded with world-class saves, and picking his inferior and having the ball dropped over your goal-line.
MATCH FACTS, RATINGS by SAMI MOKBEL, PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCHZONE
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech 7.5; Bellerin 8, Mertesacker 7, Gabriel 7, Monreal 7; Coquelin 8, Cazorla 8; Ramsey 7, Ozil 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75, 6.5); Sanchez 9 (Gibbs 81, 6.5); Walcott 7.5 (Giroud 75, 6.5)
Subs not used: Ospina, Debuchy, Chambers, Campbell
Goals: Sanchez 6, 20; Ozil 7
Manager: Arsene Wenger 8
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea 5, Darmian 3 (Valencia 46, 6.5), Smalling 5, Blind 5, Young 5, Carrick 6, Schweinsteiger 5, Mata 6 (Wilson 82, 6), Rooney 6, Depay 4 (Fellaini 46, 6.5), Martial 6.5
Subs not used: Romero, Jones, McNair, Schneiderlin
Booked: Darmian, Young, Rooney
Manager: Louis van Gaal 5
Ref: A Taylor
David De Gea could only watch on as Sanchez rifled home the third and killed off United’s chances of picking up points
An Arsenal fan goes wild as Sanchez thundered in the third – as others turned to watch the goal back on the big screen
Theo Walcott rushes over to Sanchez to congratulate him as messrs Ozil and Aaron Ramsey celebrate the third
Petr Cech was called into action after the third goal, superbly denying the impressive Anthony Martial when clean through
Cech was flawless again after half-time, too, keeping out Young, then Wayne Rooney and bravely diving at the feet of Bastian Schweinsteiger. Starting him in every big game should be the easiest decision Wenger ever has to make.
Anyway, enough of that unpleasantness. This was a happy, happy day for Wenger and Arsenal, a performance of such wit and ferocity that it had Van Gaal frantically reorganising at half-time, Memphis Depay sacrificed for the physical presence of Marouane Fellaini and Matteo Darmian getting the treatment his display at right-back deserved, replaced by Antonio Valencia.
It gave United a very offensive appearance – three midfielders in the back four, if one includes Daley Blind, but it made scant difference. This was all about Arsenal.
It wasn’t just the quantity of goals, but the quality, too. Every one a belter, starting in the sixth minute with a beautifully-weighted ball inside the line from Aaron Ramsey to Ozil, cutting out Blind entirely. Ozil remains the most infuriating player in the Premier League in many ways, anonymous in some games, a virtuoso the next. This was football’s equivalent of a finely tuned Stradivarius. Reaching the by-line Ozil cut the ball back for Sanchez at the near post, the Chilean adding a theatrical flourish of his own, converting with a wonderful back-heel flick. It was a move that brought Wenger to his feet. He is never happier then when his team turn the physical into art, and they could have performed that goal at the Royal Albert Hall.
Martial was sent through and only tracked by the diminutive Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla before Cech kept him out
Arsene Wenger was heavily criticised after the midweek Champions League defeat but saw his side masterfully pick United apart
Per Mertesacker looks across at his midfield after Cech comfortably collects at United cross from a presentable position
Wayne Rooney struggled to exert much influence and was sent hurtling to the ground in a clash with Cazorla and Ramsey
Arsenal were all over Manchester United and Ramsey might have added a fourth before half-time but spurned the opportunity
Louis van Gaal looked ashen-faced as he watched United capitulate in the opening 20 minutes in north London
Memphis Depay skips by Cazorla but Arsenal enjoyed almost complete dominance throughout the game
England boss Roy Hodgson was his usual jovial self at the Emirates Stadium as he took in the fixture ahead of the international break
The next was no less memorable, beginning instead of ending with a Sanchez back-heel that on this occasion put the excellent Walcott away down the left. He saw Ozil in support and played him in, the German with the time and the calm to side-foot the ball into the left corner of David De Gea’s goal. There were seven minutes gone and, already, the game was slipping from United’s grasp.
Just 13 minutes later, Sanchez took it away from them completely. He collected a pass from Walcott on the left edge of the area and cut inside. Darmian’s challenge was weak, Juan Mata was the wrong side and too concerned with giving a penalty away and Chris Smalling was simply outwitted, before Sanchez struck a quite superb shot, for one of the best goals that will be seen here all season. And the competition, as always, will be fierce.
Indeed, with a little more accuracy, Arsenal’s goal of the season contest could have been held last night. In the 26th minute, Santi Cazorla teed the ball up by dinking a header over his marker, met it on the other side but shot wide – and ten minutes before half-time a lovely Sanchez chip put Ramsey in, but he volleyed over.
Understandably, the second-half saw Arsenal settling, United probing and the numbers – shots at goal, possession – gave a false sense of how close this match was. Whenever United threatened, though, Cech was equal to it and the best chance still fell to Arsenal when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit the bar. Even had United scored, it would have been too late; the game was long gone. If Arsenal could find a way of bottling this elixir, Wenger would never have to answer impertinent questions again.
Rooney could not believe what he’d witnessed as the striker trudged off at the break with Chris Smalling nearby
Central midfielder Francis Coquelin was booked by referee Anthony Taylor for this foul on Rooney
Rooney was clearly irked by the cynical foul on a highly frustrating afternoon for the Red Devils on Sunday
Rooney cut a dejected figure and again looked a shadow of his former self in behind youngster Martial
Antonio Valencia (left) was introduced as a half-time substitute by Van Gaal, replacing Matteo Darmian
Bastian Schweinsteiger tries to work his way beyond Ramsey and the onlooking Walcott but Arsenal were comfortable throughout
Hector Bellerin holds off Ashley Young as Manchester United sought to pressurise the hosts more as the game wore on
Schweinsteiger – who pushed high from the off – was thwarted by Cech as the goalkeeper flew out to prevent the German
Source: Daily Mail