Spurs showed Arsenal how to blow a team away - so why can't they repeat Manchester United display more often?

It was impressive to see Arsenal play this way, with focus, character and balance, not least because that has been so lacking from so many of their recent performances

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The Independent Football

This time for Arsenal the boots were on the other feet. Last Sunday at Tottenham they were blown away by a surge of energy at the start of the second half, and had no way back in a game they lost 2-0.

But here at the Emirates they did the same thing to Manchester United. Even the timing of the goals, separated by three minutes roughly 10 minutes after the restart, was almost exactly the same as at White Hart Lane last week.

It was impressive to see Arsenal play this way, with focus, character and balance, not least because that has been so lacking from so many of their recent performances. This was, with not much competition, their best display in months. It was better than their unlikely FA Cup semi-final defeat of Manchester City, which owed more to digging in, staying in the game, and waiting for City to let them in.

Even the back three system, which looked alien to many of the Arsenal players last week, worked perfectly well here. Of course the simple and obvious difference is that Manchester United, even at their best, are nowhere near the level of Tottenham. That much is proved by looking at the league table. And this was nowhere near United at full pelt, with Jose Mourinho resting his best players.

And yet you can only beat the opposition in front of you and here Arsenal did just that. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was excellent again. He dominated the right wing, played the perfect cross for Danny Welbeck’s header and never gave Matteo Darmian a second of rest. He may prefer playing in the middle – all players do – but at wing-back he has the perfect opportunity to showcase his strengths, his athleticism and his delivery.

Aaron Ramsey gave his best performance of the season too, in a midfield anchored by Granit Xhaka. It has been another frustrating year for Ramsey, who has struggled with muscle injuries and with a broken toe, but he gives Arsenal something that no-one else does. Three times in the first half he stretched United with those clever runs in behind he makes and with a bit of luck he would have ended up with a goal or an assist. It was not to be but he clearly unsettled United and looked as dangerous as he has done all season.

Mesut Ozil, too, enjoyed one of those days when he makes playing elite football look like the easiest thing in the world. Darmian tried to man-mark him but his movement was too good, too clever and by the second half United could not lay a finger on him.

And then there was Danny Welbeck, another man who has had a frustrating season, ruined by a knee injury picked up at the end of last season. Here he showed again why Arsenal’s best team has him in it. For all of Olivier Giroud’s strengths, Welbeck is more athletic and more dangerous and his brilliant header, just after Xhaka’s goal, was enough to kill the game.

What would Arsenal’s season have looked like if Ramsey, Ozil and Welbeck had played this well all year? Surely better than this, still scrambling around in sixth place, hoping for a collapse if they are to get into the top four. Even if Arsenal win their last four league games in the next two weeks they will need Liverpool or Manchester City to drop points if they are going to make it into fourth.

If Arsenal do make it from here it would be some achievement, even given the poverty of the competition around them. It would not make the case for Wenger staying, but it would show they are not in abject freefall, that they are not totally rotten, and that there is something worth defending in their squad here and in their approach.

But when you see Arsenal play well it is impossible not to wonder why they do not do it more often. Because there have been more bad games than good ones in the last few weeks and they are always capable of abandoning ship disastrously, as they did at West Bromwich Albion or Crystal Palace. Maybe those games have skewed expectations because when Arsenal play competently it now feels like a welcome surprise, and it certainly shouldn’t. 

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