Happiness is a cigar called thrashing Manchester United
If I was a footballer at Arsenal I'd like to think I might have learned something from yesterday. For the first time since we hammered Villa at Wembley the Arsenal team played brilliantly. It was a performance based on pressing the opposition, high up the pitch, and winning the ball in attacking areas. Closing down the opponent in possession and then springing forward with the pace of Walcott and Alexis (and sometimes Bellerin) along with the passing of Ozil and the non-stop running of Ramsey was something Manchester United, like Villa at Wembley, simply couldn't handle. Arsenal were too good in every part of the pitch and it was all down to a basic work rate and desire to win that blew the opposition away. Don't get in to any idea that United were playing poorly (though they aren't a very good side, that is certainly true) as they weren't allowed to play due to Arsenal's total dominance. Given that this is clearly the way to play if you want to win games then surely Arsenal's players must realise this is how they have to go from now on, regardless of the opposition.
I've been saying for ages that Manchester United are there to be taken apart. The briefest of glances at the defence they have been putting on the pitch would tell you that you simply need to attack them properly. It strikes me that most of the Premier League managers have been setting up their team to play against the reputation of Ferguson's Manchester United rather than the reality of Van Gaal's version. Take out David De Gea and there isn't a single player in their team that I would want at Arsenal (Martial may go on to be a star but nobody in England had really heard of him four weeks ago). This Manchester United squad is weak - they brought on James Wilson and Marouane "the foul" Fellaini to try and turn the game. An Arsenal bench so lacking in quality would have been the talk of the media had we just been done 3-0 in that way. As for the way in which Rooney, Schweinsteiger and Fellaini fouled their way around the Arsenal team throughout the game, that was just underlining the fact that Anthony Taylor is yet another incompetent joke employed to referee at the top level.
Back to Arsenal, it's fair to say we would have beaten almost anyone yesterday with that first-half display. The movement of the front three was outstanding, as was the quality and pace of the passing. I've often criticised Ozil, as regular readers are all too aware, but he was huge in the opening minutes of the match yesterday. I felt he pretty much disappeared thereafter, the odd moment of sublime skill apart, but a goal and an assist in any game makes some of it forgiveable. For me Aaron Ramsey was outstanding, totally tireless in his pursuit of the ball. I know others thought he actually didn't play well, but from where I was sitting he played his best game in months. He should have had a goal of his own that would have made it 4-0 before half-time but, again, with a performance like that I can forgive him a miss every now and again.
I felt that Theo Walcott played one of his best ever games for Arsenal yesterday. He was strong, good on the ball, and he had a fabulous work-rate. When you see Theo flying in to a sliding tackle on the halfway line and coming out with the ball, setting up another counter-attack, then you can see the improvement in his all round game. Is he the answer up front? I still say no, but the game is not just about scoring goals and he was brilliant against Manchester United.
What more can you say about Alexis? His finish for the first goal was the touch of a World Class player, totally aware of his position around the goal and confident of his own ability. His second goal was just breath-taking. I don't know how this little man can generate such ferocious power when he shoots at goal. He has scored some screamers since he arrived at Arsenal, not least in the FA Cup Final, but yesterday was right up there with his best. When you leave the best goalkeeper in the World grasping at thin air like that you know you've hit the ball well. I only hope now that the injury he limped off with is dealt with responsibly by the Chile national team over the next week or so. Alexis is so important to Arsenal. When he plays well we look so much better. He tormented Darmian yesterday to such an extent that I reckon he was begging Van Gaal to take him off at half-time so that he could get away from our man.
At the back we were rarely troubled. Coquelin and Cazorla dominated the middle of the pitch (some fantastic tackles from Coquelin throughout the game) while the defence was very solid. Petr Cech showed on the stroke of half-time what it means to have one of the best in your goal - the save from Martial was massive in that it kept the score at 3-0 going in to the second-half. I'm sure our players would have panicked had United got one back. We could have been punished a couple of times for giving the ball away cheaply in our own half, and that must be stamped out, but Mertesacker and Gabriel pretty much had Martial and Rooney in their pockets. The improvement in Hector Bellerin's game was there for all to see as he dealt with the physical threat of Rooney and Fellaini on more than one occasion, while Nacho Monreal continued to cement his position as our left-back - how is he not back in the Spain squad? United actually reminded me of Arsenal at our worst in the second-half as they were allowed lots of possession but hardly ever threatened to create a proper chance.
It was a complete and dominant Arsenal performance, everything that the Olympiacos game wasn't. That being the case I was disgusted to see how empty large swathes of the stands were with a few minutes to go. What exactly do you people want? The players went out there yesterday, properly set up to play by the Manager, and put it all in for the shirt. It was everything, surely, that a supporter wants to see from Arsenal. More than that, we were destroying Manchester United. We could, and should, have put four or five at least in their net. And yet thousands left early. Didn't the players deserve your appreciation? Sadly it sums up the sort of people that continue to populate the Emirates Stadium.