Ten Thoughts: Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United

Photo: Getty Images

Whatever the circumstances, Arsenal defeating Manchester United in a match of association football will always be a top-5 joy in my life. Sod off, Roy Keane. Do one, Peter Schmeichel. Arrivederci, David Beckham. Have some of that, Ruud van Nistelrooy, you cheating bastard. Eat it, Ryan Giggs. Up your hole, Paul Scholes. In your face, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Tell your story walking, Alex Ferguson (and fuck your "Sir", while I'm at it).

1. I will not entertain any talk about the manager today. There's plenty of time for that later on, but today Arsenal defeated Manchester United in a match of association football.

2. Regular readers might recall that I'm a bit of a Football Manager addict, and have been for eons. Both domestically and abroad, I have quite the range of obscure football knowledge (ladies, form an orderly line). But, United made so many changes coming into this thing, I had NO IDEA who their right back was. Literally none. He could have won a competition for all I knew. We actually were talking about this at O'Hanlon's after the match. John, our Preview by Numbers man here at this parish, reckoned he sent in 5000 box tops of some cereal. I thought it might have been a seat raffle thing. Either way, if you knew who or what a "Axel Tuanzebe" was before kickoff today, then more power to your superior football knowledge. Me, I'd have believed you if you told me he was Ludacris' character in Fast and the Furious or something.

The Wikipedia machine tells me he's a homegrown product of their academy, which would be a nice story if it were anything other than Jose Mourinho's tedious play at mind games. Towards the end, "Scott McTominay" came on as a sub. What a state their club is in - they used to bring on Solskjaer, now they're throwing on a fetus who probably should be turning out for Queen of the South. Unreal.

3. I haven't said this a lot this season, but I was late getting to the pub, so I missed the first ten minutes or so. I'm officially not ruling out this shit season being the direct result of my punctual pub attendance this season.

I'm so so so so so so so very sorry.

4. As for us, Rob Holding was preferred to Gabriel in central defense, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs retained their places at wingback, and Danny Welbeck got a start up top. I thought that it gave us a good balance, though of course there's the usual caveats about Ox being a natural midfielder, etc.

To their credit though, United largely kept us at arm's length for the entirety of the first half. David De Gea saved smartly from an Aaron Ramsey rasper just as I was walking into the pub, but other than that I don't remember any other gilt-edged chances. The first 45 was a bitty old thing, come to think of it, and I'm sure that is exactly how Mourinho liked it.

Still, as much as I joke about the United debutants, this was still an opponent with quality players. Their first-choice center-half pairing was on the field in Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, Juan Mata is no slouch, and Michael Carrick is still effective in the midfield engine room. Henrik Mkhitaryan is still dangerous on his day. De Gea is one of the best 5-6 in the world in his position.

Especially given our own recent troubles, we still did decently well to get into the interval scoreless.

5. Speaking of, we can thank Petr Cech (again) for getting us there. Holding, under no pressure whatsoever, played a preposterously under-hit backpass to the keeper, allowing Wayne Rooney to steal in and go 1-v-1 on Cech. Our man came out to cut the angle brilliantly, and it was timed to perfection to allow him to smother the chance. It not only spared our young defender's blushes, it also arguably changed the complexion of the match. If they score there, I'm not so sure we come away from this with any points, let alone all three.

It should also be said that he dominated his area well, one first-half cross in particular springing to mind. He was able to muscle his way through a forest of bodies to get a good punch on it, sending it clear of danger.

I'm going to keep saying this every week until it sinks in - it's almost like Petr Cech is still really bloody fucking good at this and he hasn't at any point whatsoever been the problem this season.

6. The goals, once they came, did so out of nowhere. Up until then, the match was like one of those old pull-cord lawnmowers (kids, ask your parents) where you had to pull the cord for ages and ages to get the damn thing fired up, only in this case after 56 minutes the engine went into turbo mode, sending the blades hurtling crazily down the street and....

Okay, that metaphor got away from me there a bit.

The point is, United must have felt that they were a significant part of the way through the hard work of coming away from the Emirates with a draw, a result that would have been more than sufficient for their purposes. Then, they blinked, and they were 2-0 down. Football, bloody hell.

It's a bit weird to me that the idea of "throw it on net and see what happens" isn't as much of a cliche in football as it is in ice hockey, as Granit Xhaka's opener was the platonic ideal of why said cliche exists. I can't say I get why United chose to stand so far off of him, as he was the only one of our starting XI who has ever shown the inclination to shoot from distance. They did though, and Xhaka dutifully let fly. The shot hit the otherwise-excellent Ander Herrera in the back, looped well up into the air, and arced over De Gea's dive on its way into the net.

I feel like we so rarely get the rub of the green like that, but there you go.

A few minutes later, the Spaniard was fishing the ball out of his net once again. Oxlade-Chamberlain made himself a yard on the right-hand side, and sent in a ferocious whipped cross. Welbeck did well to drift off into the space between Smalling and Jones, and he planted an unstoppable header past De Gea. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

7. United, if they were being honest with themselves, probably knew that there wasn't a way back from that. Rooney's 1-v-1 in the first half was their chance, really. I've seen it happen so often where a match can (and often does) turn on that one sliding-doors moment, and they tend to be obvious when they come around.

Look, the Xhaka goal was a little lucky, but the real difference is that Welbeck put away his chance, and Rooney didn't. End of.

8. The statistic that everyone was on about ad nauseum beforehand was Arsene Wenger's P12 W0 L5 D7 record against Mourinho in competitive fixtures. Now that we can change that 0 to a 1, here's a statistic that may be more relevant now (hat tip to Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian for pointing this out in his minute-by-minute).

This season, Manchester United do not have a goal in any away fixture, league and cup, against us, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. I mean, it wasn't all that long ago where playing United at home was a scary proposition, even at your home ground. Now? It's not that different from playing Everton.

Oh, and since we're talking statistics, let's also take a second to revel in the fact that this result ends United's 25-match unbeaten run. While they weren't at a number high enough to make us all start worrying about 49, it was a number high enough where it was at least in the back of my mind just a little bit. Of course, it was laughable when dim bulbs like the Guardian's Jamie Jackson were seriously intimating that this rabble in United shirts were anything like the Invincibles, but it makes it that much sweeter that it was the original name brand that put paid to their pretensions of matching it.

Bye, Felicia.

9. While the luster is very much off the United name compared to vintages of the recent past, this is still a good win over a big enough opponent to hopefully get the team's mental state back on track. The North London Derby still hurts, but now over the fullness of the last month, our record isn't all that bad. Both Manchester clubs have been sent packing, and we continue to get more comfortable with the new formation.

I haven't wavered from the idea that Chelsea at Wembley is going to be a much different and more daunting challenge, but results like this will make us better equipped to take it on. Again, I believe that Abramovich's band of mercenaries go in as the favorites, but there's no way I'm writing off the possibility of us pulling off an upset. The FA Cup IS our competition, after all.

10. The win in this proverbial six-pointer makes the table look a lot more interesting and a bit more hopeful than it did when I woke up this morning:

Southampton on Wednesday is not going to be a walkover in any sense, but a victory there will make a few people in the greater Manchester area hear serious footsteps. We'd vault over United into 5th, on 66 points. City would be just three in front of us, Liverpool only four (and we have a game in hand on them still).

The title and St. Totteringham's are both gone, of course, but the Champions League is somehow still visible on the horizon. If we somehow derp our way into 3rd or 4th and win the FA Cup, then grudgingly I'd have to say that this was a semi-successful season...an outcome that I frankly didn't think was possible a week or two ago.

There's quite a lot to play for still, and I hope that we as supporters can stop with the circular firing squad nonsense long enough to get behind them in that quest. There'll be, as I mentioned before, plenty of time to worry about the other stuff after matters at Wembley have been decided.

Arsenal defeated Manchester United in a contest of association football. Today was a good day.

Man of the Match: Aaron Ramsey (I couldn't fit it into the ten thoughts above, but he was neat and tidy in possession all day and tested De Gea a few times...hopefully this is a platform for him to really kick on from here and get back to the form that we know he's capable of.)