Shots fired at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal announced their title challenge with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Manchester United.
Arsenal got off to a quick start in the first half thanks to the dynamic duo of Alexis and Özil. Arsenal piled pressure on United in the first three minutes with three consecutive corners. The early pressure broke United’s defense, Ramsey played a through ball for Özil who got to the bye line and picked out the run of Alexis with a delightful little cross. Sanchez still had some work to do but in his current form he made a backheel goal look easy.
Özil added a second goal minutes later with a nifty one-two move with Theo Walcott. The German World Cup winner played a neat little ball into Walcott who held up the ball deep in the United penalty box despite pressure from several United defenders. Walcott then slid the ball to Özil at the top of the box and the Arsenal playmaker just passed the ball into the corner to make the match 2-0. It was Özil’s first goal for Arsenal since the 4-1 win over Liverpool in April.
Next up was Alexis Sanchez and it was yet another stunning strike to add to his highlight reel for this season. Similar to the goal against Leicester, Alexis picked the ball up on the left, dribbled past several defenders and fired a rocket past the helpless de Gea.
The score was 3-0 and it was the first time Arsenal scored three league goals against United since the 3-1 win in November 2001. That was the season Arsenal won Arsene Wenger’s second League title.
From that point on, Arsenal looked to hit United on the counter and play settled into a familiar pattern of United passing the ball around in circles, Arsenal winning it back, Arsenal springing the counter attack, and United fouling. Ashley Young got the first yellow of the game, breaking up a counter attack spearheaded by Ramsey. Darmian got the second yellow for a foul on Alexis on yet another counter.
Ramsey Spurned a glorious chance when Alexis picked him out at the far post with a lobbed cross. Ramsey was wide open but hit the first time volley well over the bar. It was a huge let off and probably should have made the game 4-0.
You knew United would get back into the match and as the first half came to a close Anthony Martial shucked Mertesacker to the ground, pivoted around the penalty spot, and took a left footed shot wide open in front of goal. Petr Cech rescued Arsenal, making an impressive save from point blank range.
Seconds later, Ramsey dawdled on the ball on the edge of his own 18 yard box and had his pocket picked easily. It was the kind of brain fart which could have really hurt Arsenal but the ball fell to Wayne Rooney who fizzed his cross to no one.
The first half ended with a foul on Alexis by Bastian Schweinstiger. The Emirates crowd roared their approval at the Arsenal for a powerful and controlled first half display.
United changed their lineup at half time, bringing on Fellaini and Valencia. The thought here was to 1) foul more and 2) peg Alexis back into his own half.
Coquelin got Arsenal’s first yellow card when he stopped a Rooney counter. Then Arsenal collected the ball from the ensuing free kick and broke quickly, forcing Michael Carrick to foul Ramsey from behind. Referee Anthony Taylor refused to give a yellow card to the United man because, well, no one knows why. He gave Rooney a yellow card a minute later when the United captain fouled Özil on the break, just as if to prove that he still had them in his pocket.
Thus was the flow of the second half: Arsenal playing compact, hitting United on the counter, getting fouled. United are well known for their patient build up play this season under van Gaal but today they went from patient to downright tedious as they passed the ball around in circles for 60 minutes.
United had their first shot of the second half after a spell of pressure led to several corners. Coquelin powered out header after header but one eventually fell to Wayne Rooney outside the box. The United captain had a shot but it was saved well, low and to Cech’s right.
United had another good chance when Bastian Schweinstiger was played through clean with Cech, 8 yards out. Cech was quick off his line and bravely smothered the shot. If goalkeepers save points, this was Cech’s chance to save Arsenal and he did well, claiming crosses and smothering the shots that came his way.
In the 73rd minute Wenger made what is now his customary change, hauling off Walcott and Özil in exchange for Giroud and Oxlade-Chamberlain. It’s a smart move because it provides Arsenal with a big man to clear the ball to and two speedy wingers to threaten on the counter. It also works because Ramsey is moved to the Özil role and he provides both an attacking and defending balance up front.
Arsene took Alexis off and brought on Gibbs in the 80th minute to give the Chilean a short break ahead of the long international (non) break.
While United toiled and worked to get shots off, Giroud had a late chance for Arsenal. Arsenal broke pressure with a pulsing counter down the right. Ox set up Giroud on the penalty spot but the Frenchman shot straight at de Gea. Anywhere else would have been a 4th goal. And then almost at the death Ox had another chance to make it 4-0 when he was played in down the wings but his cheeky chip hit the crossbar.
At the final whistle, Arsenal supporters were all smiles as their team not only scored three goals agaainst United but kept the clean sheet. Cech celebrated with Mertesacker at the end and they deserved the clean sheet for their performance.