Unai Emery’s Arsenal produced an assured performance against one of their fiercest rivals, Manchester United, to leapfrog them into Champions League places. The win for Arsenal came on the back of a horrible midweek defeat against French team Rennes, whereas Manchester United had produced one of the greatest comebacks in the Champions League by defeating Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 to enter the last eight in the competition.
But Sunday was Arsenal’s day. The win, all the more special because it came with a clean sheet — something Arsenal have had trouble keeping this season — means the Gunners have now played all their big-six rivals home and away. While Arsenal’s away performances against their rivals have not improved under Emery, it is the home form in the big games where a stark difference is visible from the bygone Arsene Wenger era. In five matches against the big-six teams this season, Arsenal managed to get 10 points, more than they managed in any season over the entirety of the last decade, according to Sky Sports.
There have been valid criticisms of the new manager, especially as Arsenal fans are still coming to grips with his over-cautious approach in matches against relatively smaller teams, but there is little doubt that Emery excels when it comes to delivering tactical masterclasses against the big teams. As Gary Neville noted in the post-game review, there is something tangibly different about the atmosphere at the Emirates, and that is precisely down to the change in mentality that Emery has been able to impose on his team, and by extension on the Emirates faithful.
Year-on-year performance changes in the Premier League pic.twitter.com/mCZdaMWXGM
— Nick Harris (@sportingintel) March 10, 2019
Arsenal points against top six opposition last season – 6
Arsenal points against top six opposition so far this season – 12
Clear improvement by Emery in an area they've struggled for years… pic.twitter.com/3Si8ywDWN9
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) March 10, 2019
Arsenal’s combative win against Manchester United not only put them back in the Champions League places, but it has also meant that Arsenal has now reduced the gap to their derby rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, to only one point. Just 16 days ago, Arsenal were 10 points behind the Spurs, but now they have pulled their rivals back into the scrap for the top four positions in the Premier League.
There are still eight games to go in the Premier League, and with only three points separating four teams, there is every chance that any of the four teams — Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, and Manchester United — can grab the remaining two Champions League places. But if Unai Emery doesn’t lead Arsenal back into the Champions League, it would be a big surprise, and the Gunners know it. That’s why, at the end of the game on Sunday, Arsenal fans couldn’t resist singing the “We are coming for you, Tottenham Hotspur” with such gusto.
That was a game we had to win, and we had to show real character to do it.
Whatever you think of Emery, he has almost immediately made us competitive in big games. I love it.
— gunnerblog (@gunnerblog) March 10, 2019