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Arsenal hit rock bottom in Old Trafford humiliation

Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2

Welbeck 22, Young 28, 90+1, Rooney 41, 64, 82 pen, Nani 67, Park 70; Walcott 45+3, van Persie 74 (van Persie missed pen 27, Jenkinson sent off 77)

Manchester United overwhelmed an injury-ravaged Arsenal side which was let down by its senior players as much as its inexperienced youngsters, inflicting the heaviest defeat of Arsène Wenger‘s tenure on a day when his team lacked nous as much as it did ability.

Arsenal’s debilitating catalogue of injuries and suspensions was worsened by the absence of both Thomas Vermaelen (who had failed to recover from a knock in the mid-week win over Udinese) and Bacary Sagna (illness). With midfield options limited by injuries to Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby and the suspension of Alex Song, Wenger gave a league debut to 20-year old midfielder Francis Coquelin, whose previous first team experience was limited to three appearances in the Carling Cup. One of the least experienced Arsenal XIs for several years lined up as follows:

Szczęsny

Jenkinson– Djourou – Koscielny – Traoré

Coquelin – Rosický

Ramsey

Walcott – van Persie – Arshavin

Last season’s matches saw both Arsenal and United win 1-0 at home, with United also winning an FA Cup encounter 2-0 at Old Trafford.

Shades of 2001

Djourou's overall contribution was less than impressive (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

The pattern of the game was established early on. Arsenal set up with a high line hoping an energetic pressing game would compensate for their lack of experience, while United moved the ball with pace and purpose. Danny Welbeck had the best early chance, springing Arsenal’s offside trap with ease before dragging a shot wide. It looked to be only a matter of time before United breached the visitors’ makeshift defences.

That Welbeck should provide the opener came as little surprise, but Arsenal did not help themselves with some catastrophic defending from the most experienced member of their back four. Anderson chipped a delicate ball into the box for Welbeck, who appeared well marked by Johan Djourou. The Swiss defender dithered, allowed the ball to bounce, and then was then easily outmuscled by the United striker, who needed to do little more than miss Wojciech Szczęsny with his point-blank header.

Five minutes later Arsenal were given a golden chance to level things up. The visitors’ rare bright moments had largely come courtesy of Theo Walcott‘s pace, and as the winger raced into the penalty area he was bundled over by Jonny Evans. Robin van Persie struck the spot-kick tentatively and David de Gea flung himself low to his right to turn the ball away.

90 seconds later Ashley Young punished the miss, cutting inside from the left before curling a beautiful shot from the edge of the area beyond the reach of Szczęsny into the top corner.

Walcott scored Arsenal's first league goal of the season (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Arsenal kept trying. De Gea had to be alert to parry first Andrey Arshavin‘s long-range effort and then van Persie’s follow-up. But in truth they posed more of a threat to themselves than United. Arshavin was fortunate not to receive a second booking – or even a straight red – for a studs-up tackle, and then Carl Jenkinson tangled with Welbeck one-on one and might have received more than a yellow card from a less lenient referee.

If Jenkinson was fortunate to escape lightly, Wayne Rooney extracted maximum punishment, lifting the resultant free kick over the wall into the top left-hand corner. Arguably Szczęsny’s footwork might have been better, but that should take nothing away from a fine strike which marked the England striker’s 150th goal for United.

With Arsenal fans fearing a repeat of the 6-1 humiliation meted out at Old Trafford in 2001, Walcott restored a modicum of pride in the third minute of added-on time, taking Tomáš Rosický‘s slide rule pass and firing a first-time shot between De Gea’s legs.

It left Arsenal with a slim but tangible hope. But if anything 3-1 at half-time was extremely generous to the visitors.

From bad to worse

Cheered on vociferously and constantly by their travelling supporters, Arsenal at least came out for the second half with visible purpose. Twice in the first ten minutes they squandered chances to reduce the deficit to a single goal. There was nothing wrong with van Persie’s first-time volley from Rosický’s intelligent chip, which was well saved by De Gea. But Arshavin should have done better after jinking into the box before missing the target from just ten yards.

Van Persie's goal did nothing to stop United's goal barrage (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

The threatened comeback was short-lived, however, as United moved up a gear again. Only a combination of Szczęsny’s reflexes and plain good fortune prevented a fourth, but it was merely a case of delaying the inevitable opening of the floodgates. It took United just six minutes to double their goal tally. First Rooney wrong-footed Szczęsny to score his second free kick goal of the day. Arsenal heads immediately dropped, and Nani found himself well onside to chip the Polish keeper as Djourou charged blindly upfield before Park Ji-Sung made it six with a low drive.

Even van Persie’s six-yard volley to make it 6-2 was not enough to stem the flow. Jenkinson was sent off for a second yellow card after preventing substitute Javier Hernández from running clean through. Walcott’s clip on Patrice Evra allowed Rooney to complete his hat-trick from the spot. And then Young applied the coup de grâce with a carbon copy of his first goal in injury time. It was only the second time in Arsenal’s history that they had conceded eight times in a league match – the other occasion was against Loughborough in 1896.

Never has the final whistle come as such a blessed relief, or an international break been so gratefully welcomed. Humilation is the only word to describe this performance, with the 8-2 scoreline in no way flattering United. After the euphoria of Wednesday’s Champions League qualification, this was a stark reminder of the rebuilding job that now faces Arsenal.

Post-match reaction and analysis

Arsène Wenger admitted his pain after the match:

Of course it hurts, it’s humiliating, but you could see that we had not recovered physically in the second half from Wednesday night. We were short in some areas, that is for sure. They have class and they punished us. We tried desperately to get back but we opened ourselves up and were punished.

And he admitted that he was keen to bring in reinforcements before the transfer window closes on Wednesday evening:

I am very open if we can find the right players. We have the money to sign players. If we find players who can strengthen our team then we will do it. But I am not the only one to work on the case, we have 20 people who are working on that.

We are close to signing a striker at the moment but we are still looking for a midfielder and a defender.

It is difficult to know where to start after a performance which fully merited this one-sided result. Arsenal’s defending – from front to back – was naive at best, if not utterly unprofessional. Time and again Young and Nani had space behind the visitors’ midfield to look up and run full-tilt at the overworked and overmatched full back pairing of Jenkinson and Armand Traoré, who received little support as they repeatedly faced one-on-ones and even two-on-ones throughout the game. The central defensive partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Djourou provided little leadership to their youthful colleagues. The latter had an awful game: too tentative and physically weak on Welbeck’s opener, on a different wavelength to his teammates with his belated attempt to play Nani offside for his goal, and then backing too far into his own box and not picking up Park on the sixth goal. For an experienced international defender – he has been capped 27 times by Switzerland, one of Europe’s better defensive nations –  to repeatedly commit so many basic errors is unforgivable, and for all the good performances he has shown in the past, he makes too many physical and mental errors to ever be considered a top defender.

Worse than that, though, the back four were left horribly exposed, with the midfield providing a minimal screen. Coquelin, unsurprisingly, looked out of his depth, and neither Rosický nor Aaron Ramsey were able to assert themselves against United’s midfield pairing of Anderson and Tom Cleverley. Arshavin was also particularly guilty of shunning his defensive duties, should count himself lucky not to have been sent off, and displayed horribly indifferent body language throughout the game.

Tactically, Arsenal got it all wrong too. Playing a high line was difficult enough against the cunning of Rooney and the pace of Welbeck, but the lack of consistent pressure from all ten outfield players rendered that strategy suicidal.

The defensive organisation fell apart after the first two goals. Someone – either Djourou or Koscielny – needed to take charge. Neither did. As a result, it’s unfair to blame the youngsters at full back. They were found wanting, but did what they could against two of the finest wide players in the Premier League and were let down badly by their teammates.

It’s also easy to wonder ‘what if?’ about van Persie’s indecisive penalty. Would it have been a different game at 1-1? Of course. Did Arsenal ever look like they possessed the wherewithal to escape with what would have been an extremely good point? Not even close.

No one is under any illusion as to what is required now. Arsenal – through the actions (or lack thereof) of Wenger and the board – have painted themselves into a corner where they face having to pay over the odds for much-needed reinforcements in the 72 hours before the transfer window shuts. As I’ve said before it is not just the starting XI which needs strengthening, but also the second-string squad. That was never more obvious than today. Yes, Arsenal were missing a host of players who would otherwise have started, but United were without several key players, including Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and three-quarters of their back four. And yes, the average age of Arsenal’s starting line-up was a youthful 23 – but so was United’s.

There were many reasons for Arsenal’s abject performance here. But no excuses. Wenger must start repairing the psychological damage to the current squad – although he will lose many of them to international duty for the next 10 days – and the board have to ensure as many gaps as possible are plugged before the transfer window shuts on Wednesday. We will see how successful that patch-up job is when domestic competition resumes in two weeks’ time against Swansea at the Emirates. A failure to seal a first league win of the season there could have catastrophic consequences.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

9 Responses to Arsenal hit rock bottom in Old Trafford humiliation

  1. mrshev says:

    I am literally speechless.

    I thought it would be a tight game but United would edge it. But 8-2 is a proper, old fashioned drubbing. Whatever reinforcements are bought in (if any!) getting this to move on from this result needs to be top of Wenger’s ‘to do’ list.

    I want Wenger to stay because he is a great manager, but time is running out (transfer window wise) and I worry that if he doesn’t sign the right players then the pressure of the situation might be too much for him and he’ll leave. Maybe of his own volition.

    But you have to praise Man Utd today – they were merciless.

    • Tim says:

      I was certainly fearful of a bit of a drubbing before the game, especially after seeing the starting line-up, but I had something more like 3-0 in mind. What was most depressing was the lack of leadership from senior players. Van Persie was too isolated from things to really give his teammates a kick up the backside, but Arshavin, Djourou and Rosicky – Walcott, even – should have shown some gumption. Instead they all crawled into their shells, and the way shoulders seemed to drop after the fourth goal was as depressing as Wednesday night’s attitude was uplifting.

      Wenger is still the man for the job in the short-term, but I think he needs to relent and bring in a sergeant-major type to do his shouting for him and really shake up the players – Steve Bould, say. But it is really up to the board now to bring in the players we need over the next three days.

      But yes, United were utterly clinical today. In terms of attitude and application, they are everything we aspire to be.

  2. rainbiscuit says:

    I thought Coquelin did a decent job. Wenger should not have taken him off
    Djourou – terrible.
    Arshavin and Walcott were very poor at tracking back
    The decision to play a high line was a bad one.
    Only Walcott had a decent game.
    I will be happy if we do not get relegated.

  3. Sheree says:

    Ouch, didn’t watch the match but guessed from a brief glimpse of an interview with Sir Alex that the Red Devils had emerged victorious. While I’m no great fan of Manchester United, I do applaud their attitude. The way they grind out wins from games they could just as easily lose and how, if given the opportunity, they really turn the screw.

    • Tim says:

      They were ruthless, as you would expect any champion team to be. Sadly, too many players in our team just lay down and gave up once it got to 4-1. That lack of pride – more than the result itself – was the most disappointing aspect of the game for me.

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