Arsenal’s title chances shot up from possible to promising on Sunday as they thumped Manchester United in a 3-0 thriller at the Emirates Stadium. But far from simply three points propelling the Gunners up to second in the Premier League table, leapfrogging the Red Devils in the process, the emphatic win produced the most convincing audition yet of their title credentials in what was a champions’ performance from the first minute to the last.
With Chelsea seemingly already out of contention after losing to Southampton on Saturday and plummeting all the way down to 16th place, this could well be Arsenal’s best chance of claiming the English crown since their second-place finish in 2005.
Arsenal’s results in big games have certainly shown significant improvement since the turn of 2015. During the second half of last season, they drew with the Blues and United and beat the Citizens at the Etihad – the Gunners’ first away victory over reigning Premier League champions since 2011.
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Yet, the 2-0 over City wasn’t quite as special as the result on Sunday. Whilst Arsenal went against type to score twice on the break at Eastlands, they dominated Manchester United in all departments for the first half an hour before sitting back, holding shape and letting the Red Devils grow weary with frustration for the remaining 60 minutes.
The twenty-minute goal fest wasn’t the surprising part, although it was Arsenal’s most impressive romping against high quality opposition for some time. It demonstrated the level of attacking quality we’ve all come to expect from the north London outfit and indeed any club should expect from £77million duo Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
But the Gunners have found themselves in such a position before only for their goal lust to take over – sometimes to their benefit, sometimes not. What impressed most about the United win was the pragmatism, restrain and resilience they showed in slowing the game down and letting the visitors keep the ball – as long as they weren’t doing anything too dangerous with it.
It was a ruthless performance that illustrated more than one side to Arsenal, that required patience, discipline and the understanding that controlling possession doesn’t necessarily equate to controlling the match. It was reminiscent of Chelsea’s dominant displays during the early stages of last season where they spent the first half attacking and the second making sure nothing got through – which is precisely why I’ve labelled it a ‘Champions’ performance’.
Don’t get me wrong. This Arsenal side still has a few weaknesses that might catch up with them. But so does every side involved in the title race this year.
Manchester United are depending on a midfielder at centre-back and a 19 year-old up front, whilst Manchester City seem to become dysfunctional whenever one of their big four – Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero – are missing. Chelsea, meanwhile, the club Arsenal have struggled against most in recent years, are already out of the picture after one of the most disastrous starts to a title defence in Premier League history. The Blues may re-emerge as a nuisance in the title race, but they won’t be its ultimate winners.
The real test now comes in December when the sky blue half of Manchester visits the Emirates. City are the bookies’ favourite for the title after adding £152million’s worth of talent to a squad that have already lifted the Premier League trophy twice in the last five years. But if Arsenal produce the same level of ruthlessness, defensive pragmatism and offensive quality they showed against United, I’m sure it will be another title-worthy result and performance.
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