Arsenal have at last laid the ghost of the Etihad Stadium, January 2015 to rest. After 29 failed attempts – a few near misses but plenty more routs and humblings at the hands of superior opposition – the Gunners return to north London after a trip to a ‘big six’ side with a win and three more points to their name.

Arsenal’s problem with that win at Manchester City nearly six years ago was not the result so much as the method by which it was obtained. Arsene Wenger’s side did that most un-Wenger of things on that cold night — they accepted that their opponents were the superior club. If they were to get a win they would have to do so without much of the ball, preying on their opponents’ weaknesses and perhaps stealing the winner off a set piece.

It worked but you would not put it forward as a sustainable model for a side that wished to seriously rival the likes of City, Chelsea and lately Liverpool. More often than not if you play dead, it can be a struggle to rouse yourself and find a way to victory.

Mikel Arteta’s recent results feel rather more like a new way. The 3-1 loss at Liverpool was disappointing but perhaps all the more so because the visiting side had their chances to turn the tide against the champions. In retrospect Arsenal played it too safe for too long against Manchester City but there were moments when their attack put pressure on Pep Guardiola’s defense.

And so to this victory at Old Trafford, the end of the run and a sign that Arsenal can turn up at the home of a direct rival and impose their will. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might have insisted that neither team deserved to win but by most measures the visitors outperformed their hosts.

Arsenal players celebrate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s winning goal
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Arsenal led on expected goals (a metric that assesses the quality of chances created) by 1.07 to 0.39, registering seven shots to United’s five and creating the game’s best chances. For the first 80 minutes the Gunners won the possession battle and ensured the match played out in the home team’s half, particularly in a first half where the energetic pressing led by Alexandre Lacazette forced Bruno Fernandes to drop between the centre-backs and ping balls up to Marcus Rashford’s head.

This was an Arsenal playing with an aggression that is atypical of this team, one defined by their new signings Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhaes. With a combined six Premier League games before the visit to Old Trafford they simply should not be dominating games in the way they did tonight.

Indeed even Arteta has been taken aback by the speed with which they’ve adapted to the top flight. Asked whether he had expected so much so soon, he rather succinctly replied “well no” before expanding on his assessment of the $90 million summer signings.

“I know how tough this league is and you cannot compare it to any other league in the world,” Arteta told CBS Sports, “but we try to pick certain characteristics in the profile of players that we want to find for our club.

“I want to minimize the risk by looking and looking and making sure that they can contribute to what we’re trying to do.”

Partey moved to north London because he believed Arsenal offered him a chance to show off facets of his game Diego Simeone refused to unleash at Atletico Madrid. Some saw the Ghanaian as a rather limited player who might only offer an improved shield to his new side’s defense. He has done that – no player recovered possession more frequently than the 11 times he did – but even early in his English career he is showing a greater repertoire.

Indeed as he barreled past defenders on the dribble, spread play out to the flanks with his passing and threw himself into tackles with abandon, it was hard to shake the sense that this was the archetype of an all-action midfielder that Paul Pogba has so struggled to bring to reality. This was no one-man midfield either — Mohamed Elneny excelled as a diligent presser, but Partey’s ability to do everything else allowed many of his other teammates to focus on what they do best.

The Ghanaian probably merited the man of the match prize but if one player pushed him closest it was Gabriel. Booked in the 28th minute for the sort of foul on a fast-charging Marcus Rashford that he had no choice but to make, the young Brazilian spent most of the game walking something of a tight rope. Aside from one similarly cynical foul on Mason Greenwood there was not a moment where you thought he might pick up the second yellow.

Gabriel radiates authority but he does not shy away from imposing his will on opposing attackers. Against two forwards in Greenwood and Rashford who could spin him in an instant and charge down on goal, the 22-year-old though nothing of chasing them up the pitch to ensure they did not have a moment to relax in possession.

Aggression was a word that shone through in Arteta’s post-match press conference, where twice he relayed the message that he wanted his side “to be really aggressive and press them high”. This was not about Arsenal retreating into their shell and hoping that fortune would shine on them.

On this occasion Arsenal made their own luck.

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