FT:- 8-2 (Welbeck 22, Young 28,91, Rooney 42, 64, 81(pen), Nani 67, Park 70; Walcott 45+3, Van Persie 73)
Ref:- Howard Webb
Man Utd:- De Gea, Evra(c), Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Smalling, Anderson (Giggs 67), Nani, Ashley Young (Park 67), Cleverley, Rooney, Welbeck (Hernandez 34). Subs Not Used: Lindegaard, Rio Ferdinand, Fabio Da Silva, Berbatov
Bookings:- Evans (26, Foul)
Arsenal:- Szczesny, Koscielny, Djourou, Carl Jenkinson, Traore, Rosicky, Walcott (Lansbury, 83), Ramsey, Arshavin, Coquelin (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 61), Van Persie(c) (Chamakh, 83). Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Miquel, Ozyakup, Sunu
Bookings:- Arshavin (15, Dangerous Play/Foul), Jenkinson (39, Foul & 77, Foul), Djourou (63, Foul)
Sendings-Off:- Jenkinson (77, Second Bookable Offence)
What has traditionally been a relatively tight fixture between two of the Premier League’s most consistent rivals, was here expected to be a comfortable victory for the Manchester side. In the light of Arsenal’s pre-season transfer travails and their recent defensive injury crisis, few pundits were giving Wenger’s makeshift side a chance at Old Trafford. However, I doubt anyone could have predicted the scale of the thrashing that the Gunners were handed by a rampant Utd side, in a thoroughly one-sided match that highlighted everything that Wenger’s footballing philosophy has failed to take into account. The scoreline will not be the real nightmare that Wenger takes away with him from this visit to Old Trafford. What will haunt Wenger, until he does something to rectify the matter, is the fact that Ferguson fielded a Utd side as youthful as Arsenal’s, looking more composed on the ball and possessing the strength-in-depth to cope with defensive issues of their own more than admirably. The fact that Ferguson has been able to mould this fourth-generation Utd side whilst having to contend with the kind of financial restraints that have never been openly forced on Wenger, must now cast some serious doubt on Arsene’s continued reluctance, however admirable, to pay the inflated fees required to capture talents like the former-Blackburn defender Phil Jones. What good is Wenger’s philosophical focus on youth development, if that youth development philosophy leaves him with the ‘raw’, but wholly unformed talents of a Lansbury, or Coquelin, to call upon?
For a game that ended in such a clear rout, the initial twenty minutes of this encounter gave only the vaguest of indications as to what lay in store for Wenger and his ‘boys’. The early pressure was certainly Utd’s, but Arsenal were offering an intermittent threat, particularly through the inspired running of Walcott and the patient probing of Tomas Rosicky (delivering another balanced performance to indicate his return to form). The youthful debutant Francis Coquelin, looked disciplined and cultured in the holding-midfield role, but behind him Traore and Jenkinson appeared to be a serious vulnerability, that Young and Nani looked in just the mood to exploit. It was the rightback Carl Jenkinson who had a game to forget, as, apart from a piece of determined running to supply the assist for Van Persie’s goal, the youngster was frequently caught out-of-position, particularly by the speed in which Utd switched flanks. By the time he was sent off in the 77th minute, for yet another clueless mauling of a Utd player who had broken clear of the defence (in this case Hernandez), he cut a ruined and dejected figure, yet another ‘prospect’ being asked to do far too much, far too soon.
It was on 22 minutes that the highly influential Anderson, possibly Utd’s most improved player thus far this season, dinked a wonderfully subtle ball into the confusion that represented Arsenal’s defence (just why three players were patrolling the exact same spot in the penalty area escapes me) allowing Danny Welbeck to push his head on to the uncleared pass and nod it past the livid Szczesny. With all this uncertainty at the back, Arsenal were now allowing Smalling and Evra to charge forward in support of an already lethal array of Utd attacking talent. Yet on the 25th minute the ever-alert Walcott managed to drift behind Jonny Evans in the Utd penalty area and the clumsiness of the Northern Irish defensive deputy allowed Walcott to wrangle a penalty opportunity for the Gunners. What followed was a three-minute spell which did more than anything to decide the outcome of this match. Robin Van Persie, Arsenal’s captain, stepped up to take the spot-kick and managed to hit a tame shot toward the bottom left corner of the goal, which De Gea turned around the post easily, earning himself his first Old Trafford roar of approval in the process. The timidity of Van Persie’s shot seemed to totally embody the nervousness and anxiety that has been at the heart of much of Arsenal’s play since their failure to capture the League Cup in March.
Immediately after this missed opportunity Rooney managed to turn Jenkinson inside out before laying the ball off to Ashley Young who curled a sublime goal into the top left-hand corner. From that moment onwards, with the exception of a ten minute spell at the start of the second half, Utd were in near total control of the match. The embarrassment, that Wenger’s side felt, was further ratcheted up when Welbeck pulled up with a serious looking thigh injury, only to be replaced with the lively Hernandez. Throughout the match the superior nature of Ferguson’s squad was there for all to see, replacing Anderson with Giggs and Nani with Park Ji-Sung, as opposed to Wenger’s replacement of his captain Van Persie with the lifeless Chamakh and the influential Walcott with Lansbury.
Rosicky and Walcott continued to try to keep Arsenal heads in the game, but all of their good work was being undermined by the ineptitude of the backline, allied with a truly comic turn by Arshavin. The increasingly enigmatic and peripheral Russian seemed to be out to entertain the Utd fans with a convincing impersonation of Paul Scholes’ defensive efforts, and quite how he managed to see out ninety minutes after a series of ridiculous tackles, particularly the studs-up clip on Jones’ ankle after fifteen minutes, can only be answered by the referee, Howard Webb (having one of his better games).
Before half-time Rooney capitalised on another piece of woeful defending by Jenkinson, who bundled Young off the ball and received a booking in the process, by firing home a well worked freekick from about 25 yards out. Rooney’s growing influence upon the game would see him reprise this trick with similar results in the second-half, as well as dispatching a penalty opportunity, after Walcott’s clumsy challenge in the box to complete his hat-trick. At 3-0 it seemed the match was already all but over, yet Walcott provided a brief glimmer of hope when he capitalised on a beautifully threaded pass from Rosicky and smashed a shot under De Gea (reawakening fears about the Spaniard’s positioning).
Once Nani had posted Utd’s fifth goal, so laughably easy that Wenger noticeably cringed in the dugout, it was abundantly clear that the Manchester clubs would be sharing the top spots, at this early stage of the Premier League season, come the end of the weekend. It seemed that by bringing Park and Giggs into the fray Ferguson was sensing the opportunity of adding to Utd’s goal difference in a bid to outdo Man City’s earlier 5-1 thrashing of Spurs. Jenkinson’s sending off opened up more space in which Utd’s frightening array of attacking talents could revel. With Park adding a seventh after Rooney’s penalty and Van Persie’s consolation goal, it was left to Ashley Young to score another glorious strike in stoppage time that lifted Utd’s goal difference above that of their city rivals. Young was another player that Wenger had balked at paying 20 million pounds for. Unless Wenger can bring himself to break with this unwillingness to spend double-digit sums of money on proven quality, then afternoon’s like this one could become a far more frequent occurrence.
My MOM :- Wayne Rooney – Although Anderson was the dominant creative force in the first half and Young scored two spectacular goals, as well as providing a constant threat down the flank, Rooney ran the show in the second half, looking as composed and hungry as he has ever been. Both freekicks were superbly executed, whilst the vision that he showed to put both Nani and Park in on goal demonstrate what a key role he will play in a successful United season.
And Another Thing…:- Now I’m well aware of cross-racial colour-blindness, but was I alone in thinking that when Coquelin was being switched for Oxlade-Chamberlain, I was actually seeing a bit of split-screen Hollywood wizardry at work?