Football

Manchester United should be worried about Arsenal, not Southampton

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Manchester United were abysmal in the defeat to Southampton at Old Trafford on Sunday night in the Premier League and Ronald Koeman's side received lots of well-deserved praise, but Louis van Gaal should not be worrying too much about the south coast side - the other side playing on Sunday are the real threat.

The Saints put in a stupendous defensive display to hold out against the many attacking options at the Red Devils disposal and were resolute in holding out under some heavy pressure applied by the home side after Dusan Tadic's 69th minute strike.

Victory for Southampton lifted them above Manchester United to third in the Premier League table, sparking a raft of opinions claiming the victory was proof that Koeman's men were the real deal and finishing in the top four, getting themselves Champions League football for next season.

While they deserve all the praise they are receiving for the way in which they have sustained their early season form half way through the season, especially after having sold most of their star players from what was a surprisingly good showing last season, Southampton will eventually fall away.

Arsenal's straightforward victory over Stoke City was arguably the most crucial game of the Premier League weekend for a number of reasons, not least because of the events that took place in the Britannia Stadium five weeks previous.

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Arsene Wenger's team put in a display of despicable cowardice in the Potteries, succumbing to a bit of physical confrontation with barely a whimper and going in at half-time 3-0 down. That the game finished 3-2 after couple of second half goals means little, the Gunners got precisely what they deserved.

Then the New Year's Day showing at Southampton a couple of weeks afterwards was almost as disappointing in another way. Failing to rise to the challenge of a side also aiming for the top four in even the most basic way was embarrassing.

Wenger's men were rocking and needed to turn things around very quickly if they were not going to sink out of the race of the Champions League spots completely. An FA Cup win against a depleted Hull City was a timely little boost, but Stoke's arrival was crucial.

Dignified Response Required

The Potters' record at Emirates Stadium is as bad as it can get, they've lost every time they have gone there, so a win for the north London side was always likely to be the case. However, the nature of the win was very crucial to how the next few weeks, and so the second half of the season, may pan out.

Memories of the mauling they got in Stoke could have had an inhibiting effect on the Arsenal performance, while Hughes' side should have been buoyed by it still because of how recently it took place. Their record at the Emirates is awful, but a very impressive win over the hosts was fresh in the memory.

As it happened the Gunners cruised to a 3-0 victory in the most impressively controlled performance they have put in for quite a long time. Olivier Giroud was deployed to provide a physical test for Stoke and did so with gusto, perhaps nearly crossing the line a couple of times.

All About Appearance

Arsenal's passing was crisp, slick and their opponents could barely get near them - they were in complete control. Solidity was restored at the back and even long-ball tactics hardly troubled Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.

Added to the nature of the win was the return of Mesut Özil to action after three months out injured, finally being able to link up with Sanchez and another making his way back from a long-term absence, Theo Walcott.

Aaron Ramsey was on the bench after returning to training and suddenly things look a little bit more promising all round. With fluidity returning to the midfield and more options becoming available in attack, Wenger will soon finally have a full compliment to chose from - only Mathieu Debuchy's dislocated shoulder out a dampener on things.

Manchester City are the opponents next Sunday and how Wenger's men perform at the Etihad Stadium is more important than the actual result. Defeat is the probable outcome but, like the victory over Stoke, the nature of it is key.

After away hammerings to close rivals last season, a good performance will go some way to continue restoring belief for the remainder of this.

Manchester United may be concerned after falling behind Southampton at the weekend, but an Arsenal side looking more confident and key players return is a great threat to Louis van Gaal's hopes of success this season.

That defeat was a long time coming for the Red Devils, and arguably should have been handed to them at Emirates Stadium earlier in the season, and a reaction is required. Arsenal could soon be leading the charge of clubs leaving United in their wake.

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Topics:
Arsenal
Premier League
Manchester United
Southampton
Football

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