Arsenal 3-0 Manchester United: Blitzkreig

Manchester United's defense.

Seriously though, the boys sure did give us the best possible tonic after that horror show against Olympiacos, didn't they? This was Arsenal football at its finest - deadly counters performed at lightning speed, solid defending when the situation called for it, and top goalkeeping from Petr Cech. All we can ask for, really.

And, let's be honest - it was nice to stuff these bastards for once.

But, let's be careful not to read too much into this, either. It's funny, people always ask after a result like this: "Why can't we do this every game?".  Well, the short answer is that playing at that level is really bloody hard. When Arsenal eviscerate an opponent like this, take a second to notice in the buildup to each goal or chance just how many precision passes were required. By that, I don't just mean the pass itself - the recipient has to make the correct run, the delivery has to be perfect, then the finish has to be there. I realize that sometimes our guys make it look easy, but it's anything but.

That's the thing. When we're sputtering, the common trope is that we're just sideways-passing while 10 center halves sit in the opposing area. Yeah, sometimes that's true. But, just as often you have those instances where our passes are just that millimeter off, someone is late or forgets to make that one run, the defender sticks a hopeful leg out and manages to deflect the pass. All of a sudden, the precision workings of the machine get gummed up just enough to grind it all to a halt.

When it does work, however, how well the opposition plays is almost irrelevant. I've been reading a ton of analysis about how United's selection was wrong, they're too slow, they gave too much space, whatever. But, the whole point of a through-ball is that it advances you up the field in a manner that bypasses the defender entirely. I don't care if it's Usain Bolt, if you time it right, you've beaten that defensive layer. It's a riskier pass than one to feet, of course, but the benefits are there if you connect.

The point is, our boys produced 20 minutes of damn-near perfect football, and I'm not sure there's a team in the world (yes, including Bayern or Barcelona or Madrid) who would have been able to live with it on the day.

I'm so late with this that there's no point recapping the goals, you've all seen it by now. So, I wanted to briefly mention a few unsung heroes on each one.

  • The first goal doesn't happen without Francis Coquelin. The first foray down the right by Mesut Ozil and Hector Bellerin was repelled well by the United defense, but Le Coq was the one who won the ball back from the clearance. He then fed it out to Ozil, and you know the rest. Speaking of, David De Gea got caught cheating pretty bad there - he must not have seen Alexis Sanchez's run inside.
  •  Similarly to the first, the second goal's genesis was from a defensive win. This time, it was Laurent Koscielny who headed out a long ball forward from United, and it went far enough out to reach Santi Cazorla in midfield.
  • Aaron Ramsey was the guy who got the play going for the third, this time winning it along the sideline.

Actually, despite his glaring miss that should have made it 4-0, Ramsey had an OK game. His finishing has been letting him down lately, but on the day his movement and defensive work were on point. Along the same lines, this may have been the most complete performance that Theo Walcott has ever given us. The old trope about defense beginning with the forwards is a true one, and he was brilliant in that regard.

This performance aside, it'll be interesting to see how the Interlull affects the team's performance. The vague threat of an injury to Alexis looms, and maybe there might be a loss of momentum gained from thrashing a title rival. On the other hand, our form is generally a randomizer anyway, so your guess is as good as mine.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Cech 8, Monreal 8, Gabriel 8, Koscielny 8, Bellerin 8, Cazorla 8, Coquelin 8, Alexis 9 (Gibbs N/A), Ozil 9 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Ramsey 7, Walcott 8 (Giroud 7)

Man of the Match: Plenty of people to choose from this time, but despite the two goals from Alexis, I think I have to give it to the overall wizardry of Mesut Ozil. Sticking it to the haters, one performance like this at a time.