Arsenal rampant vs. Man United as Alexis Sanchez scores twice in 3-0 win
LONDON -- Three thoughts from Arsenal's stunning 3-0 win over Manchester United on Sunday at the Emirates ...
1. Vintage Arsenal hammer slow Man United
Sunday saw a perfect start and a vintage performance from a classic Arsenal situation, all of it reducing Manchester United to a rabble in a way not really seen under Louis van Gaal for a sensational 3-0 win. Not for the first time, Arsene Wenger's side responded to a minor crisis with a major result, but they have never really done so with this kind of brutality or assurance.
It was a world away from the doubt of the 3-2 midweek defeat to Olympiakos as a sluggish United just withered in the face of Arsenal's sheer force. It was also as if all of Wenger's anger at Friday's news conference and all of the frustration of the past few days were distilled into this divine first 20 minutes.
That is quite a turnaround, but not just from the Olympiakos game. The last few years of this fixture have been defined by United applying a distinctive counterattacking template and picking a predictable Arsenal off with ease. On Sunday, it was Wenger who so perceptively spotted something predictable about United and ensured his team so easily pulled Van Gaal's side apart.
The tempo and trend was set straight away as Arsenal allowed the visitors the false security of feeling their way out of defence with some prosaic passing, before snapping into them and forcing United back with admirable vigour. It wasn't long until the home side were ahead and United were completely overwhelmed.
Within four minutes, Arsenal's intense pressing had brought the opening goal, Alexis Sanchez inventively flicking home Mesut Ozil's low cross. That was divine, but there was more to come, and oh so quickly. Ozil himself guided the ball past a flat-footed David De Gea just a minute later before the exceptional Sanchez then thrashed in the goal of the game by brushing off two United challenges and powering the ball into the top corner after 20 minutes.
United just couldn't cope with Arsenal's pace or, more worryingly given the supposed characters of the two sides, their power. That raises a serious question over how badly Van Gaal got his approach wrong here, given the much-discussed history of this fixture, but Wenger got it very right.
Arsenal did to someone else what is so often done to them in such games. Despite all that, there was the slight feeling that a comeback may have been possible had Anthony Martial scored on his chance just before halftime. That's the value of Petr Cech, who was well-placed to push the shot away.
That's also the value of a start like this. The match was won before United even realised they were in one, and Arsenal again realised what should be their true potential under this manager.
2. Man United's costly lack of control
The 3-0 win was an undeniably astounding end result, but there were elements of it from Manchester United's play that were not so surprising. One of the oddities of their season has been how often Van Gaal's side has looked on the brink of buckling in a match (most notably the recent 3-2 win at Southampton) only to just about come through.
They so regularly had "control," as Van Gaal would say, but never really true command. They always looked like it would take just a little more intensity and energy for it all to cave in. Here, Arsenal offered an awful lot of intensity and energy and United absolutely buckled as the prosaic nature of Van Gaal's possession met much more than its match in Arsenal's pace and power.
There were a number of conspicuous contrasts in this game that helped contribute to this chasm of a final score line. United were so slow with the ball and thereby left so much space behind the back four; Arsenal were so quick in response and admirably rushed to fill that same space. From there, they began to batter Van Gaal's side and cut them apart, an approach almost personified by the way two challenges so meekly bounced off the thunderous Sanchez before he powered in his third goal.
It was not the only physical encounter won by Arsenal players. Hector Bellerin had the measure of Memphis, Aaron Ramsey barrelled over Wayne Rooney, Per Mertesacker marshalled Anthony Martial and there was even the sensational sight of Theo Walcott standing up to Bastian Schweinsteiger in the middle of the pitch.
It was in keeping with how United's slow midfield never got to grips with the game, and Arsenal proceeded to level them. In that regard, it's remarkable that Van Gaal didn't very quickly bring in Morgan Schneiderlin or that Rooney survived a woeful first half hour. Instead, Van Gaal didn't really react at all. He just watched on as Arsenal continuously weaved through his team.
It all added up to one woeful performance from United but one that just might have been coming. It's still difficult to know which way their season is going: Will they mount a proper title challenge or simply land among the Champions League places?
3. Alexis Sanchez makes the difference
These are the kind of starts a team can be capable of when you have a player who can finish like Alexis Sanchez. That was the difference between the teams, the main difference between this game and others and it could yet prove a difference in Arsenal's season.
After all, Wenger's side have started in a similar vein to this in other big games. In the infamous 6-0 defeat to Chelsea, for example, Olivier Giroud had the first chance of the game but squandered before Arsenal suffered the kind of clinical onslaught United did here. This time, though, Wenger had a finisher in form.
Sanchez has now scored six goals in his last three games, the same total he managed in his previous 22. The transformation was so visible and it could play a part in transforming Arsenal. One of their big problems since the sale of Robin van Persie to United in 2012 was that they have not had someone who has hit more than 16 goals in the league; they certainly lacked someone dependable in the big games like this.
Sanchez looked like he could be their version of that in the first few months of last season, only to trail off form. Now he seems to have recovered it, and it has reinvigorated Arsenal. Had Sanchez not been in this kind of mood, his side might not have gone ahead early, the thrust might have evaporated and we might have seen the game settle into its usual pattern.
Instead, he finished, and Arsenal so quickly finished off United. The hope for Wenger is it's the start of something new.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.