Manchester United Delight at Old Trafford as Arsenal Get Annihilated
A Premier League player recently said top-flight football in England is like a chess game. At Old Trafford on Sunday, Manchester United proved they're the grandmasters after a historic 8-2 annihilation of Arsenal.
And like a chess grandmaster, Sir Alex Ferguson's strategy was spot on, with his obedient mercenaries carrying out his every command with callous perfection.
Hat-trick hero Wayne Rooney played like a king, as did Nani, Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and virtually all of the United team, who were seemingly trying their best to out-do rivals Manchester City, after they beat Tottenham Hotspur, 5-1, earlier in the day.
In a game that will go down as one of the greatest in Premier League history, here's how Manchester United obliterated Arsenal, 8-2, and left the Gunners looking like complete amateurs.
On a day where the Manchester United attack got almost all of the praise, the key to their victory started from the back.
Any time Arsenal got forward, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Co. remained rigidly disciplined, man-marking the Robin Van Persie, Theo Walcott, etc. and cutting off supply in the final third, leaving the Gunners with virtually no options.
The defence man-marked while the closing down came from Anderson and the midfield.
It was a tactic that worked almost to perfection, with the Gunners blazing six shots wide and seeing another six blocked, as the likes of Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin were frequently forced to try their luck from a distance.
It was a perfect way to stifle Arsenal, a team who much prefer tiki-taka football, absorbing pressure from defenders before finding an opening.
But unfortunately for Arsene Wenger, et al, the door was firmly slammed shut at Old Trafford.
Whenever the ball was in Manchester United's own third, rarely did goalkeeper David De Gea or his defence clear it up-field quickly.
United often played the ball around the backline or to a midfielder like Anderson dropping deep, settling the pace down and waiting for a winger or striker to make a defence-splitting run before playing a long ball over the top.
The patient build-up followed by a quick pass frequently caught Arsenal's defence unawares, as proved by United's third goal for example when Ashley Young was found with a long ball, leaving Carl Jenkinson lagging behind and ultimately conceding the free-kick that led to Wayne Rooney's first goal.
It was another tactic perfectly executed by United, who showed how long balls should be played, and one that was very well thought-out by Sir Alex, as it completely negated Arsenal's stronger presence in central midfield.
Part of what made Manchester United so good in defence and attack against Arsenal was Sir Alex Ferguson's brilliant utilisation of his full-backs.
When United attacked from the right, Chris Smalling was given license to get forward, while Patrice Evra would remain firmly in defence, and vice versa when United attacked from the left.
Not only that, but when a fullback did roam up the pitch, the winger on that flank would cut inside and add more presence in the penalty area, dragging the opposition full-back out of position and disorientating their defence, as proved by Danny Welbeck's opener for the Red Devils.
It was a clever move by the manager, giving United extra options in the final third and enough cover in their own third, and was carried out perfectly by Smalling and Evra.
Virtually all of Manchester United's attacks came from the wing against Arsenal.
While United are a team who naturally focus on wing play anyway, Sir Alex seemed to order his players not to attack through the middle at all, despite the Gunners' inexperienced central midfield.
In the end, it was a stroke of genius. Logic would say that United should play it through the middle and give young Francis Coquelin as hard a time as possible.
But, by playing the ball past him and making him a virtual spectator, United were more dangerous in attack.
They focused their play where they outnumbered Arsenal, i.e. on the wings, meaning they could get forward quicker, drag opponents out of position, and therefore open up central gaps in the final third for the strikers and in-cutting wingers to exploit, with Ashley Young's sensational first goal a prime example.
And lastly, possibly the most crucial tactic which made Manchester United such a free-scoring side against Arsenal was the freedom up front granted by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Unlike Arsenal, who tried to keep to their tiki-taka style philosophy, United were allowed to do what they wanted in the final third, with a mixture of long shots, runs past the last defender and intricate give-and-go plays.
It most certainly paid dividends, and was the reason why the Red Devils' won the free-kicks and penalties which led to Rooney's goals, and why Young was able to score two beautiful long-range strikes, as well as being the reason why Nani and Ji-Sung Park split the defence to get themselves on the scoresheet too.
Another clever move by a clever coach, who used his skill and knowledge to outmanoeuvre his opponent.