As Alexis Sanchez smashed in Arsenal’s third goal after 19 minutes against Manchester United on Sunday, there must have been people wondering what all the fuss was about!
If Arsenal’s defeat to Olympiakos was them at their worst then their 3-0 triumph against United was them at their very best.
Arsenal ripped United apart in the first 20 minutes with a scintillating display of attacking football lead by Sanchez, Özil and Walcott who were conducted by Santi Cazorla.
With the game all but over barring an Arsenal capitulation, Arsenal then sat back and instead absorbed the United pressure well and limited them to a handful of chances which were well saved by Petr Cech anyway.
In contrast, against Olympiakos Arsenal conceded three terribly soft goals. The second came thanks to a calamitous error by David Ospina and the third came only seconds after Arsenal had scored to make it 2-2.
It was a reminder of the defensive fragility Arsenal are capable of and brought back memories of recent European woes at home to Monaco and Anderlecht.
The team were rightly criticised for their performance but perhaps not to the same intensity as Arsene Wenger who came under severe scrutiny for deciding to start Ospina over Petr Cech.
The wide-spread criticism culminated in a tense pre-match press conference on Friday where Wenger threatened to walk out if the subject was not dropped by reporters.
With Wenger labelled stubborn and more questions raised about this future, with his side branded easy to play against and leaderless, all concerned needed a reaction on Sunday against United and they duly delivered.
Wenger is often criticised for his transfer policy, perhaps being too selective and only spending money on those who he truly believes are better than what he already has at his disposal. Two examples of these type of signings, Özil and Sanchez, were at the forefront of Arsenal’s early dismantling of United’s defence.
For the first, the ball was worked brilliantly before Özil slipped the ball across for Sanchez to score with an outrageously cheeky flick at the near post. Moments later, Özil slotted home the second in calm fashion after more good play before Sanchez lashed home the third in not too dissimilar fashion to a goal he scored in Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Liverpool at the Emirates last season.
Both that fixture and Sunday’s versus United are examples of what Arsenal can do on their day. They can tear teams apart with their pace and vision. However, the Olympiakos game was a prime example of the other side of Arsenal, the hideous Hyde to Sunday’s beautiful Dr Jekyll.
Arsene Wenger will not be criticised after Sunday’s game. He’ll be praised for the way his side played and the way in which he tweaked his tactics in the second half so his side could see the game out. He should be praised for the signing of Gabriel who looks a solid centre half but escapes the limelight that the likes of Özil and Sanchez get.
His side will also be praised as they go second in the league. They’ve bounced back from the disappointment of losing to Chelsea with two impressive victories against Leicester and now United. Add to that their 2-1 victory over Spurs in the Capital One Cup and the picture looks good for Arsenal.
However, they will need this domestic form to continue as they look set to head out of the Champions League at the group stage unless they can pull off a miracle in their two games against Bayern Munich to resurrect a disastrous campaign.
If Arsenal are to stand any chance of having a successful season, Arsene Wenger and his players need to make sure they banish the bad that they showed against Olympiakos and instead reproduce the quality of Sunday’s performance more consistently.
It’s time for the real Arsenal to now stand up and be counted.