Arsenal 2 Manchester United 0
Arsenal: Xhaka (54'), Welbeck (57')
Man of the match: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
LONDON // It has been a long time coming for Arsene Wenger.
After 12 attempts across six different seasons, Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Manchester United on Sunday was the first time the Frenchman has beaten Jose Mourinho in the Premier League.
More importantly, it kept his side’s top-four hopes alive while doing significant damage to his opponents’ chances of finishing in the Uefa Champions League qualification spots.
Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck were the scorers here, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain providing two assists in the same top-flight encounter for the first time in his career. This was another accomplished performance from the England international, who has performed admirably in an unfamiliar role in the last few weeks.
■ Liverpool: Familiar story after goalless draw with Southampton
■ 'I don't care': Antonio Conte tells Chelsea to go for the kill
■ Manchester City: Past and present combine in rout of Crystal Palace
Arsenal are still not entirely convincing in their new 3-4-2-1 setup, and there were moments — particularly in the first half — when their defensive unit looked shaky and vulnerable. Wenger is certainly not the most hands-on manager around, and his team are still not as cohesive as many of their rivals despite the recent change in shape, but Oxlade-Chamberlain’s displays at wingback have undoubtedly been a major positive.
United lined up in a 4-3-3 configuration at the Emirates Stadium and dominated the ball early on. In the opening 10 minutes, they had a 69 per cent share of possession. Yet it soon became clear that their game plan was a reactive one based on sitting deep and counter-attacking, with nominal wide attackers Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata tasked with tracking Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs’ forward runs.
That meant the visitors’ shape often resembled more of a 6-3-1, which in turn persuaded Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to drop into midfield and pull the strings from deep. Oxlade-Chamberlain was therefore relied upon to maintain attacking width on the right, while his energetic running on the flank ensured he was always available as a passing option without being caught out at the other end of the field.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s hands rather than his feet provided the first of his assists. His throw-in found an unmarked Xhaka, whose speculative shot took a deflection off Ander Herrera and looped over David de Gea.
His second, a delightful first-time cross to pick out Welbeck six yards out, was much more impressive. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s deliveries were consistently excellent, and he deserved for one of them to result in a goal.
There has been talk at times this season that the former Southampton man could be sold this summer — Liverpool are one of the clubs supposedly monitoring his situation — but Arsenal must surely seek to keep hold of a player who has been a rare bright spot for much of 2017.
There has been considerable debate about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s best position ever since he moved to the Emirates, with Wenger deploying him out wide and in central midfield in previous campaigns.
He is now demonstrating his versatility and quality as a wingback, and was integral to a vital victory for his team and his manager.
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport