MAN UNITED 8, ARSENAL 2
It was an amazing afternoon as Manchester United put eight goals past Arsenal, one of their biggest Barclays Premier League rivals.
Under-fire Gunners manager Arsene Wenger could only watch in disbelief as his team could conceivably have lost by an even bigger margin such was the superiority of the Red Devils.
If United thought their 6-1 victory against Arsenal at Old Trafford 10 years ago would never be surpassed, they were mistaken.
United produced an exhilarating display of attacking football in a game in which they were an incredible 38 attempts at goal – 24 by United and 14 by Arsenal whose attacking play was not their Achilles heel.
It was at the other end of the field where their failings were most transparent as they conceded eight goals for the first time since 1896.
United scored eight for the first time in a Premier League match for the first time since they won 8-1 at Nottingham Forest in their treble winning 1998/99 campaign. This was also their biggest home win since the 9-0 demolition of Ipswich Town in 1995.
And for Wayne Rooney it was also a significant day as he reached 150 career goals for United and his hat trick took him to 152 and ninth place of the list of all-time scorers for the club.
Rooney also has a liking for Arsenal as he later explained his first goal in league football was for Everton against the Gunners and he also got off the mark in the Premier for United against them.
Sir Alex Ferguson could never have envisaged such a convincing victory, even though their opponents were without eight players through injury or suspension while the likes of Fabregas, Nasri, Clichy and Eboue have been sold since last season leaving them with a worryingly weak line up.
Indeed, three of the players involved were playing in npower League One last season – goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (Brentford), Carl Jenkinson (Charlton) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Southampton).
Ferguson said: “When you play Arsenal you always expect a really difficult game but, when you looked at their team, it was much weakened.
“We should win these games, but you still have to do the job and for most of the game we did. We got careless at times and Arsenal had some chances because they still have the quality up front.
“At the end of the day we are very satisfied as we kept our performance level up and it is good to pick up the points.”
Ferguson added United could have scored even more goals, but was glad they didn’t as he showed sympathy for Arsenal.
He added that the criticism Wenger has been receiving has been unfair given his 15 years service to the club.
Ferguson explained: “He has kept his philosophy over the way they play their football and has given Arsenal some fantastic and entertaining players.
“He has always sold well which has helped the Arsenal coffers and people forget these things because we live in a terrible, cynical world and when you lose a few games the judge is out and you see managers being sacked early in the season unfairly.”
United again persisted with youth as Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck kept their places at the expense of Rio Ferdinand, Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs and Javier Hernandez. They were all on the bench.
The low-key opening quarter of the match provided little evidence of the excitement which was to follow.
Midway through the half the match exploded to life when Welbeck broke the deadlock with a goal which owed much to the improvisation of Anderson.
The Brazilian flicked the ball over the Gunners defence. Welbeck had no right to get to the ball as he was outnumbered four to one, but he managed to break clear of three defenders before looping a head over keeper Wojciech Szczesny from six yards.
The pivotal moment of the match came minutes later when Arsenal were awarded a penalty which they missed and United promptly broke away to make it 2-0.
Referee Howard Webb noticed Jonny Evans’ tug at the shirt of Theo Walcott, but Robin van Persie’s spot kick was superbly saved to David De Gea diving full length low to his right. What a confidence lift for the Spaniard who has made an unconvincing start to his career at Old Trafford.
United swiftly doubled their advantage when Armand Traore’s poor headed clearance fell to Ashley Young whose angled 25-yard shot arrowed into the top corner of the net.
It was by no means a one-sided contest. De Gea made a fine double save to deny Andrey Arshavin and van Persie’s follow up.
United lost Welbeck after he pulled up sharply chasing a long ball as he went off immediately with what appeared a serious hamstring injury to be replaced by Javier Hernandez.
Carl Jenkinson was booked for a foul on Young and United exacted further revenge by scoring their third goal from the resulting free kick. Rooney took the kick and played a quick short return pass to Rooney who curled his shot over the wall into the far corner.
Rooney was unplayable and even tried an audacious shot from 10 yards inside his own half which was on target, but caught under the crossbar by Szczesny.
Arsenal pulled a goal back in the third minute of stoppage time when Tomas Rosicky’s pass released Walcott who fired an angled shot through the legs of De Gea into the far corner.
Young and Nani twice and Tom Cleverley all had chances to increase United’s lead in the opening quarter of an hour to the second period, though De Gea also had to pull off a terrific save to deny van Persie.
Midway through the half and Rooney made it 4-1 with an identical goal to his opener as he and Young reworked the same free-kick routine for the benefit of those at the opposite end of Old Trafford.
Rooney turned provider three minutes later with a delightful through ball as Nani’s cheekily chipped Szczesny for United’s fifth goal. Soon after, Rooney also successfully lobbed Szczesny only to be denied by the upright.
Ji-Sung Park had only been on the field two minutes when he made it 5-1 playing a return pass with Young before firing low to the left of the Arsenal keeper.
Arsenal found the net for a second time when Jenkinson headed the ball across the of goal and van Persie fired into the roof of the net from six yards, but their day got worse when Jenkinson was sent off for a second booking for clattering into Hernandez as he burst through on goal.
United scored a seventh goal with nine minutes left when Patrice Evra was tripped by Johan Djourou and Rooney stepped forward to complete a memorable hat trick.
Then in the second minute of stoppage time, Young scored his second and United’s eighth goal as substitute Ryan Giggs played in Young who curled in an exquisite shot into the far corner from the left edge of the box, a fitting finish to a magical display from the Reds.