Arsenal rebounded in some style from their Champions League horror show with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Manchester United to leapfrog their great rivals in the Premier League table. In a stunning early assault on a team that came into the weekend top of the standings, Arsenal blew United away with three goals in the first 19 minutes.
It was a thrilling illustration of the type of football Arsenal can produce at their best. Playing with real pace and purpose, Mesut Özil crossed low for Alexis Sánchez to flick in an eye-catching opener in the sixth minute before Özil grabbed his first goal of the season just a minute later with a composed finish. And before the game had even reached its quarter point, Sánchez drilled home the goal of the match with a stunning strike from 20 yards.
All over the pitch, Arsenal were sharper in pace and physicality than their opponents. In midfield, Wayne Rooney, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick were playing at a different pace entirely to their counterparts. And repeatedly Arsenal troubled United down the sides of their defense, with the speed and movement of Theo Walcott a particular cause for concern.
Arsenal may understandably not have been able to maintain that early tempo, but the damage had emphatically been done. A chance created by and for Anthony Martial but saved superbly by Petr Cech just before halftime was United’s sole real hope of turning the contest around. But the teenager was the one United player to come out of the contest with any credit. Louis van Gaal’s changes at halftime, bringing on Antonio Valencia and Marouane Fellaini, failed to build any real pressure on an Arsenal side that comfortably held what they had.
After four successive victories in all competitions, this will have been a rude wakeup call that there is still plenty of work to do if United are to fulfill Van Gaal’s ambitions of going all the way both in the Premier League and Champions League. With their next three matches taking in trips to Everton and CSKA Moscow as well as the visit of league leaders Manchester City, United will have to rebound quickly.
In contrast, Arsenal enter the international break with their faith renewed. However, there must also be a strong feeling of frustration, too. Not for the first time, Arsene Wenger’s side have followed up a costly defeat with a spirited response, prompting the question of why the consistency required to deliver major titles continues to elude them.
There can be no doubt that few teams could handle the way they played in the first 20 minutes on Sunday. Wenger had little cause to celebrate his 19th anniversary in charge of Arsenal following the calamity of their home loss to Olympiakos and subsequent intense questioning of his team selection and his accountability. But against the team that has provided the strongest rivalry during his long tenure, he will have enjoyed few better days.
Arsenal had failed to win any of their last eight Premier League meetings against Manchester United, but by the seventh minute they were already well on their way to improving that record. United were carved open, with Rooney as ineffectual without the ball as with it and Schweinsteiger being asked to press curiously high up the field. When the pressing was easily beaten by Arsenal, they simply scythed their way through.
From Aaron Ramsey’s pass, Özil got round the side of the defense and squared for Sánchez to skillfully beat David de Gea at his near post to open the scoring. And when United were still reeling from that early blow they found themselves two goals behind. This time it was Walcott who set up Özil to place a shot low into the corner of the net.
There was little sense of Van Gaal’s men recovering before the game was effectively put beyond them. Walcott was again involved, this time finding Sánchez, who easily cut inside past Matteo Darmian before dispatching a shot into the top corner of the net for his sixth goal in his last three matches.
The damage could have been even more emphatic, if not for Aaron Ramsey volleying off target when played in behind by Sánchez’s astute through ball. Still, United did have a chance to at least make the second half a contest. Martial skillfully turned Per Mertesacker in the box, but could not beat the outstretched left boot of Cech.
It meant that, not helped by Van Gaal’s changes at the break, the second half was a non-event. Indeed the clearer chances fell the way of Arsenal. Olivier Giroud probably should have found the net after coming off the bench, while another substitute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, dinked a fine late effort against the crossbar. This, though, was a chastening enough 90 minutes for Manchester United on a day that again brought optimism back to the Emirates Stadium.