By Richard Clarke at Old Trafford
Arsenal suffered a painful 8-2 defeat at Manchester United on Sunday.
Arsène Wenger took his side to Old Trafford troubled by suspensions and injuries. And they would take their toll as the visitors were overwhelmed by Sir Alex Ferguson’s team on a difficult afternoon for everyone associated with the red-and-white half of North London.
Danny Welbeck started the scoring then, after Robin van Persie’s penalty was saved, Ashley Young contributed the first of two cracking curlers. Wayne Rooney grabbed a dead-ball hat-trick (two free-kicks and a penalty). Between that treble, Ji-Sung Park and Nani added goals while Theo Walcott and Van Persie briefly reduced the arrears.
This was a blow for Arsenal’s aspirations this term but, despite the flak that will come the team’s way, after three games nothing should be written off.
Certainly the constant songs from the travelling supporters throughout the second half suggests they still have faith in their side despite this difficult, difficult afternoon.
Arsenal had been hit hard ahead of the toughest trip of their domestic campaign. Gervinho, Alex Song and Emmanuel Frimpong were all banned. Meanwhile, following that rousing victory at Udinese in midweek, Thomas Vermaelen had picked up a thigh injury while Bacary Sagna had fallen ill.
Wenger had had given Premier League debuts to teenagers Carl Jenkinson, Frimpong and Ignasi Miquel in their opening two games.
This afternoon, Francis Coquelin, 20, was given his top-flight bow in central midfield. In addition, left-back Armand Traore started his first Premier League game for Arsenal since May 2010.
In all, there were six players 22 or younger in the Arsenal team. The average age of Manchester United side was, in fact, younger but they had considerably more experience.
On paper this was going to a huge test for Wenger’s side and Manchester United started like they meant business.
In the opening minutes, Chris Smalling got beyond Traore on the right and cut the ball back for Tom Cleverley who cracked a shot wide.
Then Young’s ball sent Welbeck clear and he drifted his shot wide when he should have hit the target.
The home side were in control but their failure to convert early opportunities saw Arsenal grow in confidence. But the best the visitors had to show for it was a drive from Tomas Rosicky, which was deflected wide.
However, it must be said that by the time Manchester United took the lead, they had taken on an ominous quality. They were finding space all too easily around the Arsenal area and attacking with incisiveness.
In the 21st minute, one such move broke down and the ball fell to Anderson outside the area. The Brazilian lifted a pass over the Arsenal backline and, as the visitors retreated, Welbeck stole in to nudge home a header.
Arsenal needed an immediate response and should have got one when Jonny Evans needlessly hauled back Walcott when he was going nowhere in the area.
Referee Howard Webb pointed to the spot but Van Persie’s spot-kick was not his best. David De Gea dived low to his right to turn the ball aside.
Within seconds, Manchester United would make Arsenal pay. Young picked up the ball in the left-hand channel with little on but produced a sumptuous curling effort that found the net via the inside of the far post with Szczesny left groping the air.
It would be a long way back from here.
On the half-hour Andrey Arshavin started the journey by drilling a low shot towards goal. De Gea was down late and pushed the ball out to Van Persie on the left. The Dutchman drove in a first-time shot but the keeper diverted the ball away.
Welbeck sent a diving header wide from Rooney’s deep cross to the far post and, four minutes from the break, the home side got their third. Jenkinson clumsily brought down Young a couple of yards outside the area on the left-hand side. Rooney stepped up to take it and curled a right-footed effort into the top corner. A wonderful finish.
Arsenal needed something. Anything. And Walcott provided it in injury time by latching onto Rosicky’s cute throughball and drilling a shot through De Gea.
The goal changed the equation just a little and, even though Young might have ended the argument in the opening moments of the second half, the visitors were the better team after the restart.
Rosicky drifted a pass to Van Persie on the edge of the area. His volley was finding the corner before De Gea thrust out his left-hand to make an excellent save.
Then Arshavin muscled his way past Phil Jones to go clear momentarily. But the Russian dragged his shot when he should have hit the target at least.
However those efforts only seemed to spur on Manchester United. Szczesny saved point-blank from Young on two occasions then Cleverley played a one-two only to scuff his effort straight into the arms of the keeper.
And, in the 64th minute, the home side grabbed a fourth when Rooney curled home a free-kick with Szczesny, this time, flat-footed.
Their resistance broken, Manchester United added a couple in quick succession. Rooney fed Nani, who beat the offside trap and chipped his shot over the keeper.
The game won, Ferguson brought on Ryan Giggs and Park, two players who have hurt Arsenal in the past. The Korean immediately got involved by trickling a low shot in to the far corner.
Arsenal were now playing for pride and a little was restored when Jenkinson’s header found Van Persie at the far post. The Dutchman drove the ball high past De Gea.
With 13 minutes left, Jenkinson bundled over Javier Hernandez as the Mexican went clear. Having been booked already the Englishman’s dismissal was sadly inevitable.
This time Rooney’s free-kick wandered just wide.
However the Englishman’s hat-trick was not far away. Walcott was adjudged to have brought down Patrice Evra in the area and Rooney completed a dead-ball treble.
Ramsey curled an effort just wide and Hernandez nearly turned in Park’s low cross at the near post.
In injury time, Young completed the scoring with a carbon copy of his first.
It was the final act of a sobering day for Arsenal.
* A word for the travelling fans, who sang throughout the second half when their side were struggling. They did their Club proud.
- Jenkinson Yellow Card Red Card
- Djourou Yellow Card
- Coquelin 62
- Walcott 83 Goal!
- Arshavin Yellow Card
- van Persie 83 Goal!
- Lansbury 83
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 62
- Chamakh 83
- De Gea
- Evans Yellow Card
- Nani 68 Goal!
- Anderson 68
- Young Goal! Goal! Yellow Card
- Rooney Goal! Goal! Goal!
- Welbeck 34 Goal!
- Da Silva
- Giggs 68
- Park 68 Goal!
- Hernandez 34