Arsenal 3 Manchester United 0: Pundits who said Arsenal are in crisis and Manchester United have the best defence in England should be feeling fairly foolish today. Arsene Wenger’s side ran Louis van Gaal’s men ragged with three early goals in a wholly one-sided match and replaced them in second place in the embryonic Premier League table.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was pleased with the way his players responded to their Champions League humbling at home to Olympiacos last week and said: “I have managed many strong teams and never had one that played 60 games at the same level. You have to accept that, we are human beings.
“It shows the group is very united and they knew we needed a strong response. We started strong and pressed very high. We didn’t give them any chances to score and that was vital. We surprised them with our start.”
His United counterpart Louis Van Gaal did not disagree and added: “I was surprised and amazed by the start. When you give Arsenal so much space, you will lose.
“The players are all in an emotional moment, as we have lost in a way you can not lose when you are top of the league. The worse thing is that everyone is going away [on international duty] and I can not build up their confidence to win the next match.”
Van Gaal also defended his team selection after setting United up to defend deep and get at Arsenal on the counter-attack and there was no evidence of anyone, on or off the pitch, able to change tactics after they conceded three in the opening 19 minutes.
With Alexis Sanchez on a different level to the United defence, and Mesut Ozil looking to dominate the game in a rare show of consistent authority, there seemed to be no way back into the match for the visitors, despite such a long way to go.
Arsenal were at it from the start, camped inside the United half for each of the opening five minutes before Sanchez scored in the sixth-minute. After a winning challenge from Francis Coquelin, Ozil and Aaron Ramsey combined to dissect the United defence on the right before the former Real Madrid midfielder found ex-Barcelona man Sanchez at the near post, where he converted with a fancy back flick past a helpless David De Gea.
In United’s defence, this was Arsenal at their best and their second goal, a minute later, was almost as good. The superb Sanchez set Theo Walcott clear and the in-form England striker had the presence of mind to cut back to Ozil, who side-footed a left-footed shot that deceived a rooted De Gea in the United goal.
But there was no defending the United defence just over 10 minutes later when Sanchez was allowed to dribble along the edge of their penalty area before unleashing a right-footed shot that beat De Gea with swerve and speed.
Arsenal had won just one of their previous 13 Premier League matches against United, losing eight of them.
Walcott, who had another good game as he kept Olivier Giroud on the bench again, said: “This game will send out a message to the Premier League that we are ready to have a go this season. That first half we were unbelievable, no-one could have dealt with us, it was the best football I have ever been involved in.”
Wenger had recalled goalkeeper Petr Cech after David Ospina’s midweek own goal in the Champions League, with Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal added to their defence at the expense of the injured Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs. The most the recalled men at the back saw of the ball before half-time, though, was in the warm-up.
And United betrayed their frustration, as stand-in left back Ashley Young and struggling right-back Darmian both picked up deserved bookings from referee Anthony Taylor.
The super-hyped Anthony Martial then had a great opportunity to pull one back with their first shot of the match on the stroke of half-time, but Cech was alert to the danger and saved well.
Surely Van Gaal would make changes for the second half with his whole midfield completely overrun? The Dutchman duly made two switches, with Antonio Valencia replacing the dazed and confused Darmian and Marouane Fellaini coming on for the ineffective Memphis Depay.
United stopped two Arsenal counters with cynical fouls from fit again Michael Carrick and skipper Wayne Rooney. Only the United captain was shown a yellow card, though.
Rooney’s next contribution was to force Cech into a rare save. Strangely, in the context of the match, that made it four United shots to Arsenal’s three, but there was still no sense Wenger’s men would blow it midway through the second half.
United were too ponderous on the ball to really make Arsenal sweat and the only downside for Wenger was when Sanchez limped off with some sort of groin strain.
Maybe he will be given the forthcoming international break to recover before fixtures resume at Watford in a couple of weeks. Van Gaal has a whole bunch of battered egos to restore before they resume with a trip to Everton.
Cech 7; Bellerin 6, Mertesacker 6, Gabriel 6, Monreal 6; Coquelin 7, Cazorla 6; Ramsey 6, Ozil 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75, 6), Sanchez 9 (Gibbs 81, 6); Walcott 7 (Giroud 75, 5).
Ospina, Debuchy, Chambers, Campbell.
De Gea 6; Darmian 3 (Valencia 45, 6), Smalling 6, Blind 5, Young 4; Carrick 5, Schweinsteiger 5; Mata 5 (Wilson 82, 5), Rooney 5, Memphis 4 (Fellaini 45, 6); Martial 6.
Romero, Jones, Schneiderlin, McNair.
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