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Posted: 28/08/2011
By Michael Strevens
Category: 2011-12

Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal

The Short Report

Most Gooners would have feared the worst when they saw the starting line-up at Old Trafford, but who could have predicted this capitulation? Arsene Wenger now has three days to bring in the players who can save our season and possibly his Arsenal career.

The AL Report

Three games played and we are still looking for our first three points of the season. More than that, we will need to find a way from recovering from an utterly humiliating day in which our very worst fears came true. This is the season when we celebrate our 125th anniversary, but we reached another hugely unwelcome landmark today, conceding eight goals for the first time since 1896.

Securing Champions League qualification last week was a huge boost for the club, but getting any kind of result at Old Trafford was always going to be a tough task. Few would have given any chance of getting a result here even with a full-strength side. The fact we turned up to the champions’ back yard with what must have been one of the weakest line-ups in living memory did not bode well at all.

Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen’s late withdrawals meant that we were missing seven players who could have expected to start as well as long-term absentee Abou Diaby. Francis Coquelin, fresh from a season on loan at Lorient, was given his league debut in the defensive midfield role and asked to protect a sorely inexperienced back-four. In fact, the front three were the only part of the team that didn’t have a Carling Cup look about it.

United dominated possession in the opening exchanges, but we held our own in the first twenty minutes or so, limiting them to half-chances. However, it was clear that our midfield were engaged in a damage limitation exercise and their main job would be one of containment rather than creativity.

Our resistance was broken on 22 minutes in farcical circumstances. Carl Jenkinson and Theo Walcott clashed moments before Danny Welbeck scored the first goal. Anderson scooped it over Johan Djourou who let the ball bounce in front of him before being outmuscled by Welback, allowing him nod it past a helpless Wojciech Szczesny Despite the severely weakened defence; it was an unforgivably soft goal to give away.

Yet somehow, we were given a lifeline less than five minutes later when Jonny Evans grappled with Theo Walcott in the box. Perhaps sensing our desperation, Howard Webb pointed to the spot for an unusually generous decision. Sadly, Robin van Persie’s shot was weak and easily saved by David De Gea. Not only did we fluff a great chance to get back into the game, but we gave a nervous keeper a huge confidence boost.

United soon doubled their lead when Armand Traore’s headed clearance fell to Ashley Young on the edge of the box. The summer signing from Aston Villa curled a glorious shot past Szczesny and our heads began to drop.

De Gea saved brilliantly from van Persie and Andrey Arshavin. When the lively Danny Welback pulled up with a hamstring injury, United cruelly illustrated the depth of their squad compared to ours, by sending on Javier Hernandez.

Wayne Rooney, so often our tormentor over the last decade, hammered a free kick past Szczesny on 40 minutes. The keeper got his fingertips to it, but could only watch as it nestled into the back of the net.

Just as the United fans started taunting us with chants of ‘Going Down’, we grabbed an improbable goal on the stroke of half-time. Tomas Rosicky’s excellent pass eluded van Persie, but fell to Walcott, who tucked it past De Gea for our first league goal of the season. It gave us the smallest glimmer of hope going into the break.

Whatever the boss said at half time had little effect. De Gea made a smart save from a van Persie volley, and Arshavin dragged it wide, but it was all United. Our away support, were truly outstanding, belting out ‘We love you Arsenal, we do’ as we continued to get pummelled by the rampant champions.

Szczesny made tremendous saves from Tom Cleverly and Nani before we replaced Coquelin with Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain. These were desperate circumstances for him to make his Arsenal debut, but they were about to get a whole lot worse.

Rooney scored his second free kick of the game. If Szczesny was unlucky not to save his first goal, he could do absolutely nothing with this one and was left completely stranded. Nani added the fifth with a nonchalant chip and Rooney hit the post as we began to completely disintegrate at the back.

Park Ji-Sung got his obligatory goal against us, making the scoreline 6-1 to bring back the ghost of Igors Stepanovs and that dreadful afternoon in 2001.

Van Persie volleyed home Jenkinson’s cross for the tiniest of consolations, but sadly the young full-back ensured that we kept at least one record 100% in tact this season.

He was dismissed after bringing down Hernandez on the edge of the box, bringing to an end to what was a traumatic afternoon for the youngster. He was so impressive in mid-week, but was left utterly exposed today and the fact we had to throw him into a game of this importance says everything about where we are at the moment.

Rooney completed his hat-trick from the spot with ten minutes to go. Emergency right-back Walcott brought down Patrice Evra and Szczesny was unable to repeat his penalty heroics from mid-week. Ashley Young lashed home an eighth in stoppage time to ensure that this was the most humiliating day in Arsene Wenger’s fifteen years at Arsenal.

Next up: a more than welcome international break, during which we have to bring in reinforcements and hope some of the walking wounded are able to recover.

Man of the Match

On a day that we suffered one of heaviest defeats of our history, it is hard to think who stood out as our man of the match, so I’m going to give it to the away fans. As our situation became ever more desperate, it only served to increase their resolve to support the team. Their chants came through loud and clear and they kept going long after the players had given up.

Player Focus

Andrey Arshavin has long been criticised for his lack of effort when things are going against us and today only proved that he is not someone to rely on when the chips are down. Lucky to stay on the pitch in the first half after some reckless challenges, his miserable afternoon was summed up by a dragging a shot wide when he could have passed to a better placed van Persie at 3-1. It is hard to see where he fits in once Gervinho comes back from suspension.

Moan of the Match

Where do you start? You could bemoan the shambolic defending, the complete absence of team spirit or even the severely weakened team we were forced to send out in the first place, but one moment stands out. We were given a golden chance to get back into the game when we won the penalty shortly after going a goal down, but Van Persie’s effort was feeble. He stroked it to De Gea’s right without any conviction. Instead of exploiting the opposition’s weakness, we only made it stronger by giving him a huge confidence boost.

The Final Word

After such a great night in Italy, we find ourselves back to square one - probably worse. Wenger will have no time to lick his wounds as he tries to bring in players who can make a difference over the next 72 hours – even if today was the worst possible advert for anyone thinking of joining us. It shouldn’t have come to this of course, but there is no point moaning about it now – we are where we are.

All we can do is stick together over the next couple of weeks and hope we are in much better shape by the time Swansea come to the Emirates.

Follow me on Twitter: @Mike_N5

Image by Sean Mac Entee via Flickr (reproduced using a Creative Commons License).

Category

2011-12 | Match Reports

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