Arsenal finally look like a team capable of winning games in a defensive manner.
The Gunners secured a hard fought 2-1 victory at Old Trafford on Monday evening, and the performance hinted at a bright future for Arsenal.
There is no longer a sense of frailty about the club, and they easily went toe-to-toe with the physicality of Marouane Fellaini in the United midfield. The close-knit play was still evident in the final third, but there was a newfound solidity in the Gunners ranks that has not characterised them for a long time.
The presence of Francis Coquelin has heavily influenced this new approach that should make the Gunners a much tougher opponent for strong teams in the future, although it is a number of other players who have been the real stars of this stylistic tweak.
The so-called ‘creative’ players in the Arsenal midfield have managed to add a defensive side to their game, without removing their attacking efficiency. Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez completed an incredibly high 11 tackles between them, despite their average position sitting them high in the middle third of the pitch, while also weighing in with their fair share of clearances and interceptions.
Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud also provided a number of defensive actions, but it was the impact of the three playmakers that was so impressive. They pressed high up the pitch and frequently caused problems to the United defensive line, who were not naturally gifted on the ball.
This represents a major improvement from head coach Arsene Wenger, who has been derided in the past for his inability to adapt to new tactical systems. Following Arsenal’s defeat to Monaco, the coach was ridiculed for not utilising a high-pressing system and, although it cost him in that tie, he learned from his mistakes and reaped the rewards at Old Trafford.
The performance on Monday may have been the Gunners best of the season, and their adaptation suggests that things are on the up for Arsenal. It remains to be seen whether Wenger can continue to adapt his squad to upcoming situations, but his tactical decisions have created a new-look team who now look like a competitive squad of potential title challengers.