It’s amazing how much of a difference one win can make. Suddenly the season doesn’t look beyond salvation, the players don’t look beyond caring and the formation doesn’t look like a stop-gap solution.
However what I think made this win stand out was: a) we’ve beaten a top six side b) this side is spearheaded by Mourinho. Yes, he did rotate it, most notably in defence, but it was still a team chock-full of quality players.
Let’s start at the beginning, though.
Changes to the team
Fair to say I got my pre-game selection spectacularly wrong. No Mustafi or Gabriel as part of the back three (thankfully my prayers regarding Holding were heard), no Bellerin or Elneny, with Ox and Monreal in the wrong positions. To be fair I didn’t think Xhaka would make it and was fairly surprised Mustafi was omitted altogether.
I’m still of the opinion Monreal is a better wing-back back than Gibbs, hopefully after Mustafi becomes available we’ll see the Spaniard out wide and Shkodran as part of the back three. Another conundrum Wenger will have to crack is who replaces Xhaka. It appears the Swiss aggravated his injury yesterday, and I’m not at all sure it should be a straight swap for Coquelin. We all know how incompatible the Frenchman is with Ramsey.
It would be a huge blow to lose Xhaka though. Fingers crossed he’ll recover if not for Wednesday, then at least for our visit to Mordor on Saturday.
Ox shines again
Oxlade-Chamberlain seems to have cemented the wing-back position and have no qualms about it. He was arguably our best player yesterday, bagging two assists. Opta reliably informs us the Englishman’s total for the season is now seven – which is more than in previous five seasons combined. Alex’s cross for Welbeck’s goal was a thing of beauty, my second favourite moment of his, right behind leaving Rooney on his arse.
Jokes aside, Ox was a positive force once again, creating chances, assisting and showing willingness to take players on, something Alexis lacked yesterday. He looks a player gaining in confidence and the task of securing his services for the next season becomes ever more important.
Aaron has always been an attacking-minded player, but I liked the efficiency of the Welshman’s forward runs yesterday. At times he was playing higher than Mesut Ozil, and Aaron’s presence around the box made life difficult for United.
He was denied a goal with a good save from De Gea, but contributed beyond that in the final third. Aaron’s decision-making remains a bit off, as does his inability to quickly recycle possession, however it is the first time in a while I can turn a blind eye to both.
Cech stands tall when it matters
With the scores still level, United had two big chances to go ahead. First came about when Mourinho’s side worked the ball down the left to release Martial one-on-one from a tight angle. Second stemmed from a rare defensive mistake made by Rob Holding. A miscommunication between Rob, Kos and Cech allowed Rooney to pounce on a loose pass.
In both instances Cech came to the rescue. His save from Wayne Rooney was especially impressive, as the angle was less tight compared to Martial’s chance. These were hugely important saves at a time the game could have gone either way, so kudos to our goalkeeper. Cech has showed marked improvement in the last two games.
The last word
The win allows us to get within touching distance of United. If we win our game in hand on Wednesday, we’ll move to fifth place. With Liverpool dropping points against Southampton, we might yet be able to catch Klopp’s men.
Our run-in is still hugely taxing though. It’s Southampton and Stoke away, notoriously difficult places for the Gunners, followed by Sunderland and Everton at home. The Black Cats have already confirmed relegation, which makes them dangerous in a way: they have nothing more to lose and can play with freedom. Everton are just below us in the table, and have Koeman in charge, who has become a pain for Arsene Wenger in recent years.
But for at least a day or two we can just put it out of our minds and enjoy beating United and their despicable and pathetic manager. It might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one of the things really hard not to cherish.
I’ll be back with you for the visit to St. Mary’s.