Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal. A scoreline – and a match – that still feels surreal to think about. The football world was a somewhat different place in 2011 than it is now. United were the defending Premier League champions coming into the 2011–12 season. Arsenal, while not necessarily title contenders, were stiff opposition and always finished in the top 4. The two sides had developed a healthy rivalry over the years as they competed for top honours. A few heated fixtures between the two sides also helped matters. Therefore, when the two sides faced off at the start of the season, anticipation for another good game was high.
Instead, what fans got was a match that many people remember for all the wrong reasons. After 10 years of the match, let’s see how it all unfolded.
It is worth noting again that Arsenal were not title contenders at the time. Nevertheless, before the match, then-United manager Sir Alex Ferguson hit out at Arsene Wenger’s recent trophyless run.
Ferguson said that he would never again allow such wasteful running to be seen at the club. The Gunners last won the FA Cup in 2005 but have since dropped down the table as trophy challengers.
Ferguson also added that he was sympathetic to Wenger’s plight, the manager having lost two key players in Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the same summer. He also said that with a little more investment Arsenal would be competitive again.
Yet the battle lines had already been drawn and United were the heavy favourites. They won their first two Premier League games of the season while Arsenal drew one and lost the other.
To make matters worse for Wenger, he had not spent much money on new incoming transfers. This is despite losing key players in the same year.
United’s victory was most expected after the match. However, it is fair to say that no one expected what actually happened.
Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal – Fun for United, but a nightmare for the Gunners
The match began with Arsenal naming a significantly changed playing XI due to suspension. United, on the other hand, named an unchanged XI from last week’s win. As it turns out, Arsenal’s disjointed defense came back to haunt them.
The first goal was scored in generally accepted Arsenal style. A cross from Anderson saw Danny Welbeck sprinting forward and met it with his head. Amazingly, no one had picked up the striker. 1-0 United.
Arsenal could equalize the score only 5 minutes after the penalty was awarded. However, Robin van Persie’s effort was saved by David de Gea.
The second goal was again due to a defensive mishap. Armand Traoré, deputizing for Kieran Gibbs on the left, only had the ball out to Ashley Young. Young shifted the ball to his right foot and unleashed a trademark curler from the left. 2-0 United.
Wayne Rooney scored the third with a cleverly worked free-kick. Rooney passed the ball to Young, who trapped it and thus changed the angle of the shot. Rooney then curled it around the wall to make it 3–0.
Theo Walcott would pull one back for Arsenal before the break, meaning the scoreline at half-time was 3–1 to United. However, it was in the second half when things really went south for the Gunners.
Rooney scored his second with the exact same free-kick routine and then set up the fifth, finding Nani unmarked to chip past Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczecny. 5-1 was bad enough, but it didn’t end there.
Park Ji-sung came on as a substitute and added the sixth before Van Persie scored the second goal for Arsenal. It didn’t matter though, as Young and Rooney scored again.
In the end, the scoreline was simple – Manchester United 8–2 Arsenal.
The result put a lot of heat on Wenger, who had already disillusioned a small but vocal part of the fan base. Feeling the sting of defeat, he went out and strengthened the squad.
Five new signings arrived. Mikel Arteta was signed from Everton, and Yossi Benayoun was loaned from Chelsea. Per Mertesacker arrived from Werder Bremen, as did Park Chu-young from Monaco. Left-back Andre Santos was also signed from Fenerbahçe.
However, it would be two more years before Arsenal finally ended their trophy drought. United, meanwhile, would win another Premier League title in 2013 – with Van Persie being their leading goal-scorer, no less.
But the result of this particular match still stings for Arsenal fans, and understandably so. Meanwhile, United fans voted the match as their greatest Premier League match in a 2017 Sky Sports poll. Ouch.