Barely have I finished watching the last replay of Sanchez’s delicious near-post heel flick, that the picture disappeared from my screen. Despite me watching a regular broadcast (yes, I made it in time) and not a stream from some website. I was calm for two reasons: I know such a thing sometimes happens and I was dead sure I won’t miss a goal because we have only just tucked one in.
But when the blackout ended, the first thing I saw was Mesut doing the goat celebration. I thought “Surely not…?” yet I knew there could only be one reason for Ozil to do that. Replays showed he did indeed score our second goal, a calm side-footed finish from inside the box. 74 seconds elapsed between the opener and Ozil’s strike.
United, shell-shocked from the storm they’ve just experienced, tried to get back into the game. Just when it seemed they really could be getting a foothold, Bellerin’s throw-in found Ramsey, the Welshman fooled Young, fed Theo and the Englishman’s turn enabled him to find an unmarked Sanchez on the edge of the box. The Chilean breezed past Darmian and smashed the ball under the bar in a manner highly reminiscent of his Liverpool goal. 3-0. There was no going back from that. It was a knock-out punch.
We could have twisted the knife further still, after Sanchez’s weighed cross found Ramsey, only for Aaron to put his effort wide from point-blank range. However, goals and moments aside, I found a lot of other things to enjoy about our performance.
Is Scott Parker’s image popping up in your heads? I hope not, because it would be an insult to what our players have demonstrated on Sunday from the very first seconds.
For the entirety of the first 45 minutes we played with hunger, desire and purpose. We were highly clinical too, scoring from all three shots on target. After the game Walcott shed some light on how the team turned the fortunes around in the space of three days:
“We spoke to each other and we wanted to do that for the fans especially. This was also for the manager”.
So the players got together, realised midweek was not good enough and decided to put things right and do it quickly. Given how much stick Wenger has taken and how he went out of his way to protect the players, I’m really happy they returned the favour in such an emphatic way.
The noticeable change from Olympiakos was not only the pre-game mentality, but rather how we translated it to our performance on the pitch, fighting to the death in 50/50s, recovering the ball in insane positions (like Coquelin for the first) and being quicker to scoop up each and every second ball. Well done, lads.
Our number 1 goalkeeper (give him the actual number 1 shirt already) was a mere spectator in the opening 44 minutes. However, when the 45th minute came, he pulled off a massive save. Carrick found Martial in the box, the Frenchman turned on the spot, getting rid of Mertesacker in the process and took a shot with his left. Luckily for us, Cech stuck out a leg to parry.
He was a bit busier in the second half, saving from an early Young shot, batting away Rooney’s fierce low drive, before throwing himself under Schweinsteiger feet. However, Petr rose to the occasion, clocked 5 saves and looked dead calm on crosses (claiming 4 of those). Round of applause for Petr, were it for his late first-half save, the mood could have been very different indeed going into the break.
I admit I was worried about Big Per, about how he would cope with the pace of Martial. I needn’t have worried: like Cech between the sticks, Per was calm and assured, marking Martial closely and relying on his enormous experience in reading the game to snuff out trouble. Gabriel worked more with Rooney, while Mert did his job against Martial and he did it well. His numbers in full:
- 4 ball recoveries
- ¾ tackles
- 4 interceptions
- 8/10 clearances
- 2/2 aerial duels
- 2/2 headed clearances
Needless to say most of these actions occurred in his central zone, with one particularly tasty tackle coming at just the moment to dispossess Martial in the 33rd minute, after Rooney wasn’t flagged offside in the build-up.
I think I owe an apology to our little Spaniard. I was doubtful he was the man to run circles round the slow pairing of Carrick and Schweinsteiger, however it was just what Santi did. He was one of our top passers with a 89% passing accuracy (49/55), completed 5 out 7 attempted dribbles and had such a complete defensive performance Adrian Clarke singled him out in his usual breakdown.
The Spaniard looked influential, calm with the ball at his feet and, most importantly, very tidy in possession. A performance to remind all of us (myself included) why you shouldn’t write Santi off whoever the opponent and disregarding the circumstances.
The triumvirate of Alexis, Walcott and Ozil (with a sprinkle of Ramsey to it)
These were probably our top performers yesterday. Alexis finished the game with two goals to his name, Ozil with a goal and an assist and Walcott with two assists.
Each of them was gorgeous in his own right, but all three were no less gorgeous collectively and that got me buzzing. They really understand each others’ movement, weak and strong points and all worked tirelessly to bring the best out of one another. The result we can all see: Ozil capped off a great performance with a sublime goal, Sanchez once again exploded into life with one of his crackers from outside the box and Theo displayed surprising upper body strength and workrate. Afterwards Arsene commented Theo’s outing in this way:
“I must say Walcott had a hugely committed performance today in a hugely convincing way. He didn’t score but I like to praise the strikers when they don’t score and contribute and give assists. He was involved in two goals – Ozil’s and Alexis’ [second] one. He did really fight today and showed he can fight, commit and protect the ball as well. He is gaining some aspects of his game as a centre forward and they are improving”.
Walcott looks to have truly established himself as first-choice and if his game continues to develop in such leaps in bounds, really, who would begrudge him that?
A couple of words on Ramsey. He looks to be the glue holding this magnificent trio together. He didn’t have an assist to his name, not even a chance created and the only chance he had himself Aaron put horribly wide and yet he was integral. He sliced United’s defense apart and fed Ozil for the first, he turned Ashley Young inside out in the build-up for the third, he completed a whooping 43 out of 46 attempted passes (93% accuracy) and he also put in an almighty defensive shift.
It’s clear Arsene Wenger doesn’t even consider not starting Ramsey in most cases and on these rare occasions Aaron doesn’t (mostly due to fatigue), the Welshman is the first player to enter the fray should we need a midfield boost. He is held in high regard by Arsene and after such performances I’m not even sure I mind.
I could have written another 1200 words on this game. I haven’t even touched on how Bellerin upped his defensive game, how much of a beast Gabriel is, how Monreal turned in another quality performance, how Coquelin was great once more…
But I don’t need to do this. You know it all without me, you’ve seen it just like I did. So I’ll say one more thing only: Sunday’s 3-0 win over Manchester United equals our best ever result against them: a 3-0 win in 1998. I’ve written before the game how tight the games between these two usually are, so what we saw was a historic achievement. Savour it. As will I.