Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal: Remembering Arsène Wenger’s Darkest Hour as Gunners Manager

​Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much of a better place Manchester United started the 2010s in than they finished them; Sir Alex Ferguson was at the helm, and another two Premier League titles would come before his eventual retirement in 2013. 

One of their finest hours before the inevitable post-Fergie era slump was their 8-2 thrashing of Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal side in 2011.

Let’s set the scene. 

It’s a sunny afternoon on the 27 August, and the Barclays Premier League is just booting back up as the summer winds down. United had won their first two games of the season, but next faced a visit from a long time rival. Arsenal, however, had drawn with Newcastle and lost to Liverpool thus far, and needed a win at Old Trafford to get their season up and running.

A nightmare first half for Wenger’s depleted side followed, who had failed to properly replace the departed Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. On the stroke of half time, United were 3-1 up thanks to Danny Welbeck, new boy Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney, while Robin van Persie had a penalty saved for the Gunners.

Van Persie would eventually get his goal with 15 minutes left to play, but the damage was already done. Rooney completed a wonderful hat-trick, Young bagged another superb effort, and goals from Nani and Park Ji-sung further twisted the knife into the hearts of the Gunners. 

Full time: Manchester United eight, Arsenal two. 

Marvel in Manchester, but nothing more a long trip home down the M6 for Arsenal fans.


Key Talking Point​

Almost nine years on, that haunting defeat remains Arsenal’s worst since 1896. So, exactly what went wrong on that day?

There were already problems mounting at the Emirates as the Gunners headed into the 2011/12 season. ​Cesc Fabregas was sold back to his boyhood club Barcelona, while Samir Nasri had completed a move to Manchester City.

It took Arsenal until deadline day in summer 2011 to bolster a squad that seriously lacked any firepower. After Carl Jenkinson’s £1m move to the Emirates, Arsenal completed late moves for Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta, Andre Santos, Park Chu-young and Yossi Benayoun. 

With Wenger’s squad in serious transition, the captaincy fell to forward Robin van Persie, whose role at the club became a lot more important all of a sudden. Without his 30 Premier League goals that season, Arsenal could’ve been in a seriously worrying position. 

He failed to pull the Gunners to a win in either of their opening two games however, and continued to struggle at Old Trafford when a then 20-year-old David de Gea – who hadn’t made a great start to the season either – saved his penalty kick in the first half.

If Van Persie couldn’t do it for Arsenal at Old Trafford, then who could? Theo Walcott tried to pull the game back with a goal in injury-time of the first half, but an Arsenal side who were particularly depleted due to injuries, suspensions, and a questionable summer transfer window, looked all over the place.

Carl Jenkinson would ultimately receive his marching orders with a second yellow card after a challenge on Javier Hernandez, and Arsenal’s defence fell to pieces as United continued the punishment throughout the second half, putting another five goals past keeper Wojciech Szczesny before the full-time whistle blew.

Arsenal Player Ratings

Starting XI: Szczesny (5); Jenkinson (2), Djourou (3), Koscielny (4), Traore (3); Ramsey (6), Coquelin (5); Walcott (6), Rosicky (5), Arshavin (4); van Persie (5).

Substitutes: Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), ​Chamakh (4), Lansbury (4).

Robin van Persie

A first-half penalty was the perfect chance for the new Arsenal club captain to take a hold of the game and pull his side back into it, but he failed to convert. While David de Gea did well to get down to his right to make the save, especially after a nervy beginning at the Red Devils, Van Persie should have done much better.

And despite him grabbing a goal later on in the game, he looked uninterested and mentally drained throughout. A few chances here and there were fluffed, and he didn’t offer enough as an attacking outlet when his side probably needed him to grab a hold of the game.

Tough day at the office. 

Remember he was the best player for Arsenal…the best…that’s how bad the rest were. 

Manchester United

Key Talking Point

Before the thrashing of Arsenal, an air of uncertainty fell around Manchester United fans that wouldn’t quite go away.

Noisy neighbours ​Manchester City were starting to show serious title-challenging form, and Sir Alex was slowly having to blood in younger talent such as David de Gea, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, among others. Edwin van der Sar and Paul Scholes had retired (although the latter would return for a brief stint later in the season), as had Gary Neville, while Nemanja Vidic was struggling with injuries. 

Wins in their first two games and a Charity Shield win over City, despite concerns about De Gea, kept the top of the table close early doors. However, with Roberto Mancini’s Citizens making light work of ​Tottenham Hotspur in a 5-1 thrashing, United needed to respond.

Despite what the final score tells you, United were incredibly fortunate to head into the interval 3-1 up. After Danny Welbeck’s headed opener 22 minutes in, the forward was forced off with a hamstring injury. To make matters worse, a young Jonny Evans conceded a penalty as Theo Walcott got the better of him. Albeit soft, it showed that United needed to be wary of Arsenal’s attack, as their defence was seriously lacking experience.

Suddenly, the penalty was saved and United would quickly find themselves 2-0 up, with new signing Ashley Young scoring a beautiful curling effort from the edge of the box. Add a Wayne Rooney free kick to that and United had capitalised on a wasteful and shaky Arsenal side.

No prizes for guessing that Sir Alex Ferguson would’ve had a lot to say in that United dressing room at half time. There was no chance he was going to let Arsenal back into the game, which was evident as Rooney bagged another two, Nani chipped Szczesny in cheeky fashion, and Young and Park Ji-sung also got in on the demolition.

United’s attack was relentless, and Arsenal’s shoddy defence was ripped apart. Suddenly, it was apparent the title was headed for a two-horse race based in Manchester.

Manchester United Player Ratings

Starting XI: De Gea (7); Smalling (8), Evans (7), Jones (7), Evra (7); Nani (7), Anderson (8), Cleverley (8), Young (9); Welbeck (7), Rooney (10).

Substitutes: Hernandez (6), Park (8), Giggs (6).

Wayne Rooney

His sixth hat-trick, and his 150th goal for the club both on the same day, Wayne Rooney completely ran the show at Old Trafford.

Rooney’s intelligence in front of goal was highlighted in this bout, as he punished young Arsenal keeper Szczesny twice with the same free-kick routine. The first he put in one corner, then the second went the other way, but he used his body and the set-up well to trick the Polish shot-stopper. 

His third goal came in the form of a penalty, which you’d expect Rooney to score because, well, it’s Rooney and he was amazing.

Long range, 12 yards out, in the air, Rooney could do it all.

Things That Aged Worst

While on the surface an 8-2 victory over a club as big as Arsenal is impressive as ever, on paper this Manchester United side was poor. Really poor. 

There are very few, if any, managers in world football who can coach a side comprised of Anderson, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to make Arsenal look like League Two opposition, let alone win a Premier League with them. Sir Alex Ferguson is a genius to say the least, but perhaps his genius blinded him in seeing the limits of many of his players in the latter stages of his Manchester United career.

Those names mentioned above, combined with a squad which still had a bunch of players who were once great but were now over the hill, made the job that David Moyes took in 2013 even harder than it already promised to be.

Chris Smalling has finally found himself playing football away from United, albeit only on loan, while Phil Jones is still in the first-team squad​…somehow. Oh, and Cleverley and Anderson proved to be nowhere near good enough for Manchester United.

Danny Welbeck actually signed for Arsenal ahead of the 2014/15 season, but injuries have ultimately destroyed what could’ve been a decent career at the Emirates.

Things That Aged Best

For ​Arsenal, no matter how crushing this defeat was, their season would pick up. They finished third, miraculously – even if third place was 19 points off second and first.

They managed a 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers, and beat north London rivals Tottenham in a 5-2 thriller, in a season where there were serious changes of the guard. 

New signings Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta would end up being pretty decent signings both on and off the pitch in the long term, with both new working for the club as academy manager and first team head coach respectively.

Players You Completely Forgot Existed

We could probably have dedicated this entire piece to both squads who played in this game, as both Manchester United and Arsenal had a fascinating bunch on the books – to say the least.​

While Van Persie and Walcott were on the score sheet for the Gunners, Andrey Arshavin provided another attacking option in the game. Now aged 38 and retired, the Russian forward last played in 2018, but will forever be remembered for his man of the match performance against ​Liverpool in 2009, where he scored four goals in one game.

We’ll limit ourselves to just one more, before it gets out of hand. Anderson: the ‘midfield magician’ of ​Manchester United at one point, who also won the Golden Boy once upon a time. After a promising start with United however, his career quickly spiralled downward after leaving United. The Portuguese midfielder headed to Brazil, where he is most famously remembered for being pictured needing an oxygen mask after 36 minutes of play during a game in 2015.

What Happened Next?

As we mentioned above, the battle for the Premier League quickly turned into a two-horse race between the red and blue side of Manchester.

Both teams finished the season on 89 points, but Manchester City stunned the world and edged Manchester United off the top on goal difference, winning their first ever Premier League title, and denying Sir Alex Ferguson of what would’ve been his 20th English league title.

Arsenal striker Robin van Persie would leave the Emirates at the end of the 11/12 season and join Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson signed the forward ahead of what proved to be his final season in charge, and relied on him to take United to the top once more.

Van Persie netted 26 Premier League goals for United in the 2012/13 campaign as they once again won the Premier League, allowing Sir Alex Ferguson to bow out in style. The Dutchman received a guard of honour in front of Arsenal fans at the Emirates, as he was crowned a Premier League winner with their long time rivals.


Why did Arsenal sign Carl Jenkinson?

What did Arsene Wenger say in the dressing room at half time, for his team to go out and concede another five goals?

Why couldn’t Ashley Young score more goals like that for Manchester United before departing in January?​


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