Manchester United inflicted the worst defeat of the Arsene Wenger era as they recorded an 8-2 win against an inexperienced and frail Arsenal side. Wayne Rooney did the damage with a hattrick, Ashley Young grabbed a brace, while Park Ji-Sung and Danny Welbeck piled on the misery for the Gunners. Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott did get on the scoreline, but a missed penalty by the Dutchman at 1-0 down proved incredibly costly.
Where to start? Well let’s be honest, we knew this was going to be an uphill struggle the moment the team news was confirmed.
Without the departed Fabregas and Nasri, with Wilshere, Diaby, Song, Vermaelen and Gibbs injured, Gervinho, Frimpong and Song suspended and Sagna taken ill, Arsene Wenger had little choice but to raid the Academy for a few youngsters to make up the numbers.
Wojciech Szczesny retained his place in goal, in front of him Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou took up the centre-back positions flanked by Armand Traore and Carl Jenkinson on the left and right of respectively. In midfield Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey were joined by young Frenchman Francis Coquelin. Up front we looked relatively strong with Andrey Arshavin and Theo Walcott wide of Robin Van Persie. On the bench, the recognisable Fabianski and Chamakh were joined by Ignasi Miquel , Henri Lansbury, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Alex Chamberlain and Gilles Sunu.
The opening exchanges proved nervy, but relatively controlled. United had a couple of wayward efforts on goal from Danny Welbeck, but for the most part Wenger’s boys kept the ball well enough and moved forward with pace.
Ramsey was more imposing than he had been against Liverpool and Rosicky’s experience proved useful as he talked Coquelin through the first 15 minutes. The Frenchman, in tough circumstances, did well. Having spent last season on loan in Ligue 1 with Lorient, he was snappy in the tackle, decisive in his passing and showed more discipline in his positioning than Frimpong had done a week earlier.
It became apparent very early on that United were more than happy to slow the game down and then use their pace on the wings to penetrate down the flanks. They created little to start, although they impressed with their pressing of our defence.
On 22 minutes United scored and it was the softest of goals to concede. A ball into the box by Evra was cleared by Koscielny but when Anderson returned it with a dinked chip to the six yard box, Johan Djourou allowed the ball to bounce and Welbeck headed in from close range. It was poor from the Swiss, left Szczesny completely exposed and saw him glared at with rage by Koscielny.
In the build-up to the goal, Jenkinson and Walcott had exchanged angry words about the room Evra was finding down the United left. Whatever they said to each other it didn’t seem to solve the problem as the Frenchman immediately found himself free again moments after the restart. We looked shaky.
Five minutes later, and pretty much out of the blue, Howard Webb awarded Arsenal a penalty. Walcott was pulled down in the box by Jonny Evans and Robin van Persie stepped up to take the spot kick. He missed with a tepid effort which David de Gea tipped around the post. In tough circumstances you need your experienced players to step up; the Dutchman on this occasion did not. You sensed, as with Wednesday’s spot kick miss by Udinese, that it might be a defining moment.
As expected our fears were proved correct. Ashley Young went up the other end and curled in a superb effort from 25 yards out. There we were 2-0 down and not playing that badly, but confidence being pummelled all the same. The travelling fans looked dejected.
On the half hour Arshavin hit a low shot which caused de Gea all sorts of problems, Van Persie did well to react quickly to the rebound but again he couldn’t beat the Spaniard. As was the pattern of the game, United counter-attacked immediately and nearly scored a third after a Rooney cross was headed goalwards by Welbeck.
For some reason Andrey Arshavin decided it was his day to be the Arsenal hard man. He was booked after 15 minutes for a bad challenge on Phil Jones and followed it up with a further foul on Young which could easily have seen him red carded. It’s a pity his efficiency in the foul wasn’t matched by efficiency in the final third – too often the ‘final product’, of which Arsene Wenger speaks so often, was lacking from the Russian.
Jenkinson continued to be given a torrid time by Ashley Young and it was little surprise that the Charlton acquisition got his positioning wrong on 40 minutes and resorted to dragging down the England winger. It earned him a booking, but the punishment didn’t stop with a card. Wayne Rooney took the resulting free-kick from the edge of the box and nonchalantly clipped it in the top corner to make it 3-0. It was lambs to the slaughter stuff and the United fans sang, “You’re going down, going down, going down.” As the minutes ticked to half-time it felt like we might well be.
Three seconds before the end of the allotted injury-time Theo Walcott scored our first league goal of the season. Put through by Tomas Rosicky he slid a tidy finish between de Gea’s legs to make it 3-1. You wanted to think it gave us something to build on, but you also sensed it was a mere consolation. Did you celebrate? I didn’t. Although, I did afford myself a wry smile when Twitter was awakened by tweets proclaiming a 4-3 comeback.
On any other day you suspect Arsene Wenger might have subbed Arshavin at half-time, but with a dearth of options on the bench the Russian reappeared to continue his testing of Howard Webb’s surprising leniency.
Szczesny was forced into an early save from an Ashley Young strike as United started again at full steam. Then on 52 minutes Robin van Persie had a chance to further reduce the deficit. Tomas Rosicky played a delightful floated ball to the striker who volleyed low towards the corner. Only a smart save from de Gea stopped the captain’s effort. The Arsenal fans were in full voice, superbly singing their way through the pain.
Arshavin then found his way into the box having skipped free of Phil Jones; he seemed destined to score, but dragged his shot wide under pressure from Evans. The Gunners were showing real heart, but without the necessary cutting edge in front of goal. United for their part continued to prove dangerous and had three gilt edge chances to hit a fourth.
On the hour Alex ‘the Ox’ Chamberlain came on for his Arsenal debut. The 17-year-old, who featured against the Red Devils for Southampton in last season’s FA Cup, replaced Francis Coquelin in the centre of the park. Unfortunately, it was a bit too much of an ask for him to score a hattrick.
In the 64th minute, Rooney finally killed the game off. Earning a free-kick from a Djourou foul, he again took responsibility for the set piece, wrong-footed Szczesny (again) and curled past the Pole for a second time. Four goals conceded, three from unstoppable long distance efforts. It wasn’t Arsenal’s day.
The fifth wasn’t long coming. Nani found himself completely free in the middle of the box from a pass by Rooney and the Portuguese winger had all the time in the world to lob over Szczesny. It was nearly six when Rooney hit the post on 69 minutes. It was six when substitute Park tucked home as the ball stayed in play. Jesus. 20 minutes to go and we were being slaughtered. If you’re still reading at this point; fair play.
Surprisingly, we actually bagged another goal. Robin van Persie going some way to atoning for his penalty miss by lashing home from three yards out. 6-2 and the first time we’d scored twice at Old Trafford in the Premier League era. I apologise for rolling out such a crappy stat at a time like this.
Carl Jenkinson then got sent off for bringing down substitute Javier Hernandez. Our third game of the season, our fourth red card. We couldn’t even scream blue murder at referee Howard; he had to give it and was nice enough to only flash a second yellow rather than a straight red. Theo Walcott went back to right-back…and promptly gave away a penalty. Rooney scored to seal his hattrick and take the score to 7-2. “Sacked in the morning,” the United fans sang at Wenger. We all know he won’t be, but he will be under pressure to make sure this never happens again.
Van Persie and Walcott were taken out of the firing line and Lansbury and Chamakh came on to play out the last seven minutes. In injury-time Ashley Young scored a carbon-copy of his first by crashing home another great curled effort to make it 8-2.
Thankfully, Howard Webb ended the nightmare by blowing for full time straight after the re-start.
It was Arsenal’s worst defeat in 115 years, when we conceded eight to Loughborough in 1896. Its two victories in 14 matches in the Premier League. It’s the worst run of form since Arsene Wenger took over in 1996. We’ve taken one point from the first three games of this season and we look to be in trouble.
It can only get better. It has to get better.
A quick tip of the cap to the travelling Arsenal fans who sang their hearts out throughout; you did us proud.