Football Features

The teams from Man Utd 8-2 Arsenal then and now: ‘I started to take the p***… the manager had to take me off’

By Ben Green

'I started to take the p***... the manager had to take me off'

Published: 15:20, 22 January 2023

“I’d 8-2 to be an Arsenal fan” is a phrase forever imprinted in the annals of football lore.

At the start of the 2011/12 season, Arsene Wenger took his Arsenal side to Old Trafford for a Premier League encounter with Manchester United — but the Gunners returned to north London battered, bloodied and humiliated by Sir Alex Ferguson’s title winners.

Having lost to Liverpool the previous week, drawn with Newcastle the week before that, and watched Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leave in the 2011 summer window without adequately replacing them, this capitulation completed one of the worst months in Arsenal’s history.

Not since Erik ten Hag pitched up, Marcus Rashford rediscovered his groove and Antony brought a Samba silk to the North West have the Red Devils looked capable of such goalscoring prowess. But, back when ‘Fergie’ was at the helm, anything seemed possible.

In 2011/12 United had won their opening two league games over West Brom and Tottenham, with Wayne Rooney scoring in both fixtures. This wasn’t a vintage United side by any measure, but Ferguson knew how to coax a world-class performance out of any player.

Rivals Manchester City had produced a 5-1 win at Spurs which no one now remembers, thanks to eight goals, a hat-trick from the unstoppable Rooney and a resounding thrashing that represented Arsenal’s worst defeat since 1896.

This was a seriously ridiculous game. Wenger had been forced to send out a makeshift side — but, even in hindsight, it doesn’t look that bad. However, that self-destruct button certainly does look appealing when you’re penned in, down to 10 men and thoroughly on the back foot.

Well, that temptation proved too much. Wenger’s team had failed to score in either of their opening two games, but August 28 was to represent one of the nadirs of his career and certainly of his rivalry with Sir Alex.

Danny Welbeck headed in from Anderson’s pass to open the scoring before Van Persie saw his penalty saved by David De Gea. Ashley Young then curled in a wonder-goal to rub it in. Rooney and Theo Walcott traded strikes to leave the score 3-1 at half-time and, in theory, leave Arsenal with a chance.

A comeback, though, was nothing forthcoming. Rooney worked a free-kick with Young to make it 4-1 and begin the siege in which Nani chipped in a fifth, Park Ji-sung scored a sixth, Carl Jenkinson was sent off, Rooney completed his hat-trick and Young scored a second of his own.

Van Persie’s consolation in the midst of the mayhem meant absolutely nothing as Arsenal were sent packing in shambolic fashion. But where are all of the players who featured that day now?

Man Utd

Goalkeeper: David de Gea

De Gea was in his first season with the club in 2011, one which was littered with small mistakes that gave United fans the jitters. The Spaniard (looking a lot less like the Grinch now) refined his game and appeared to get over his propensity for a clanger, but in recent seasons those blunders have crept back in to a degree, best summed up by Gary Neville, who bestowed upon him the moniker ‘poppadom hands’ a few years back.

In the build-up to the match at Old Trafford, a 20-year-old De Gea came in for some flak after producing errors in his first two games for the club, but he quickly silenced those critics by denying Van Persie from the spot and pulling off a string of impressive saves. There has to be question marks over his handling of Walcott’s goal, though. No goalkeeper should be beaten from that angle. The nutmeg only adds to the insult.

Right-back: Chris Smalling

The rise of Smalling during his formative years was quite astounding really. The versatile defender went from non-league football to the Premier League champions via Fulham in just three years and immediately impressed during his early showings.

Despite standing at 6ft4in, Ferguson initially deployed the young defender at right-back, and even experimented with him in midfield. At the time Ferguson said: “In training sessions, he shows ability and versatility. He’s played in midfield in training. He’s an all-round player.

“I think his time will come as centre back but while he’s playing so well at the moment, there’s no reason to change. He’s bringing good defensive stability to us and his pace has been a great bonus so we’ll just carry on.”

Against the Gunners he was stationed at right-back and tasked with marking Andrey Arshavin. Not the easiest of battles. But one he passed with distinction.

Centre-back: Phil Jones

“Jones, arguably the way he is looking, could be our best ever player.”

No, those were not the ramblings of a delusional Man Utd fan to his Liverpool colleague after the Red Devils signed Jones from Blackburn in 2011. Believe it or not, that soundbite was from ‘Fergie’ himself.

Fresh from being proclaimed ‘Superman’ at Ewood Park, Jones joined Man Utd to much fanfare and with the potential to succeed one of Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic. Oh, what fools we were!

A lot has changed in the proceedings 12 years. But, at the time Jones formed a solid enough partnership with Jonny Evans and even earned a 7/10 in the Guardian‘s player ratings at the time. “Composed in possession and completely dominated Van Persie.” Are we talking about the same Jones here?

Centre-back: Jonny Evans

At this point the average age of United’s squad is less than 21 years old, and yet Ferguson had his defence playing like a battle-hardened Italian backline versed in the art of ‘Catenaccio’. Despite the youthfulness of United’s rearguard, Evans was the only academy product, but his performance wasn’t quite as formidable as the club’s fledgling imports.

A careless shove on Walcott forced the England international to the ground and prompted Howard Webb to point to the spot. His blushes were spared by De Gea’s save, but Walcott would get the last laugh in this individual on-field duel, netting Arsenal’s opener later that half with Evans not quite quick enough to get across.

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Left-back: Patrice Evra

Before the uncooked chicken, “I Love This Game” and a completely random stint at West Ham, Evra was arguably the best left-back in the world in his heyday at Man Utd. The French defender was a reliable performer for United over eight years, helping them win five league titles and one Champions League trophy.

Known for his buccaneering exploits and zest on the flanks, this game was Evra in microcosm. Despite leading Arsenal 6-2 at the time and there being only 10 minutes left, Evra was still galloping forward, and he won his side a late penalty after tumbling upon contact with Walcott. Rooney duly stepped up and earned the match ball.

The social media sensation has since relived that historic day and trolled the club on two separate occasions. First, hilariously questioning Walcott’s celebration to Walcott himself when reminiscing about the now Southampton winger’s peak years.

And secondly when asked by the UTD podcast which team he enjoyed beating the most. No prizes for guessing the answer here. He gushed: “Oh, Arsenal!

“Arsenal… I remember when Van Persie came. He said: ‘Come on Patrice, come on, you have to motivate everyone, it’s an important game.’ I was like, ‘Robin, don’t worry, those are my kids – we’re going to win easy’ and we won!

“You remember, I think it was after the Champions League, I made that comment when we won 3-1 at the Emirates [in 2009].

“We scored that great goal in counter-attack with Ji-sung Park, Rooney and Ronaldo, and the French journalists after the game were really like: ‘Oh, the result doesn’t reflect the philosophy of the game.’

“I was like: ‘Are you serious? I just feel like today was 11 men and against 11 babies.’ After that it was in the paper. ‘Patrice is calling Arsenal babies!’

“But it’s just the feeling… I respect so much this club, but it was just my feeling when I played against them – I know I’m going to win. I’ll be honest with you, I played against this player, and after 34 minutes they were asking: ‘Patrice, can we swap shirts at half-time?’ So I was like: I’ve already won the game.”

Right-wing: Nani

The second-best Portuguese winger to turn out for United, Nani showed bursts of brilliance during his eight years at the club, and one such burst was in this game. Fans will have fond memories of that Puskas-worthy chip at the Emirates. You know the one. Where Nani went full FIFA Street mode and turned Arsenal’s defenders into a who’s who of Bambi impressionists. Relive the glory below…

Well as it goes, this wasn’t Nani’s first dink against the Gunners. As if getting battered away from home wasn’t enough, the Portuguese ace raced through on goal to make it 5-1 by caressing the ball very nonchalantly over Wojciech Szczesny. The cheek!

Nani may be winding down his career in Australia with Melbourne Victory, but we think he might have a shot of this year’s Mr. Olympia once he quits all this football malarkey…

Centre-midfield: Tom Cleverley

Your eyes do not deceive you, my friend. Yes, Man Utd really pulled this off with Jones and Cleverley. Someone get ‘Fergie’ a Nobel Prize for goodness sake! Before that infamous and quite unsavoury petition to get Cleverley banned from the England set-up, which Roy Hodgson rightfully condemned, the 33-year-old was cutting his teeth as a promising midfield maestro under the watchful eye of Ferguson.

There was nothing fancy about Cleverley’s performance against Arsenal, and that was the beauty of it. Those with more creative juices were allowed to flourish up the pitch, but only because the tenacity and legs of Cleverley allowed them to do so. This wasn’t the emergence of Roy Keane 2.0 or a vintage Paul Scholes masterclass, but it was a tidy and mature showing in the centre of the pitch.

Centre-midfield: Anderson

Well that’s about as makeshift as it gets. The Golden Boy and Man Utd cult hero was supposed to revolutionise Ferguson’s midfield, but injury problems and inconsistent performances hampered his progress. When the Brazilian was in his pomp, though, there were few better. Unfortunately for Arsenal, they caught Anderson on one of his good days, and the Old Trafford crowd were treated to some Selecao silk.

Too much of it, in fact, as the Brazilian, who assisted the first goal, later revealed Ferguson hooked him for taking the Mickey out of the Gunners.

“I don’t think I saw one of our players make a mistake that day,” the Samba star said.

“After we’d scored five, I started to take the p*** with the ball.

“The manager had to take me off.”

Left-wing: Ashley Young

Possibly one of the best tribute acts to Arjen Robben. Young could have been mistaken for the Dutchman’s long-lost, right-footed brother and not just because of the hair (or lack thereof). Having signed from Aston Villa that summer, Young took to the Old Trafford turf like a duck to water, curling two sumptuous strikes into the back of the net, after cutting in on his favoured foot in trademark Robben style.

But wait, it gets even better. Young clinched a hat-trick of assists as well, meaning he was directly involved in five of the eight goals. Not bad!

Striker: Danny Welbeck

The teenage forward was making considerable noise in the North West during his embryonic years and encouraged Ferguson to give him a start against his age-old adversaries. The decision worked a treat as the England international broke the deadlock and set United on course for the ensuing rout.

Striker: Wayne Rooney

Remember when Rooney was a world-beater? Well, this game was the start of his most prolific season in the Premier League. Newly haired and carefree, he scored 27 times for United to get them oh-so-close to another league title. Three of those came in this meeting. Rooney just loved a goal against the Gunners. He netted 15 in total against Arsenal, more than any over club across his career. 

Man Utd substitutes

Park Ji-sung: The South Korean was Fergie’s favourite, and he came off the bench to pour salt into Arsenal’s wounds with a goal here. He retired in 2014 after playing for QPR and PSV Eindhoven briefly.

Ryan Giggs: Went on to become assistant manager and briefly caretaker following David Moyes’ sacking. Also picked up an assist against Arsenal.

Javier Hernandez:  No surprise to see Chicarito left on the bench. A loan move to Real Madrid was followed by a permanent one to Bayer Leverkusen, where he scored for fun. The Mexican, now at LA Galaxy after spells at West Ham and Sevilla, drew the foul which saw Jenkinson sent off.


Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny

The Polish goalkeeper escaped the lion’s share of the blame because, frankly, he was thrown into the Red Devils’ den with little to no protection.

Since the mauling, he slipped down the pecking order and enjoyed himself a little more throughout a two-season loan spell at Roma. He joined Juventus for £14m in the summer of 2017 and is now first-choice between the sticks for the Italian champions.

Speaking later that season Szczesny insisted Arsenal were not carrying any baggage from the defeat, saying: “We lost badly to United earlier in the season but there are no scars from that game.” I’m sure the boys over at AFTV would have something to say about that.

Right-back: Carl Jenkinson

The then teenage right-back was dismissed in the second half against United after being regularly tormented by both Young and Nani.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that losing 8-2 and getting sent off would be Jenkinson’s most humiliating moment, but you’d be wrong…

No, Jenkinson’s darkest hour was in a 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth for West Ham in 2015. The right-back conceded a penalty, committed an error leading to a goal and even topped it off by getting sent off. It took David Luiz’s disasterclass against Man City five years later to match that stat.

Centre-back: Laurent Koscielny

The horror show did not prove to be a blow to the Frenchman’s development as he was perhaps the only player to become a real hit in north London. The writing was perhaps on the wall for Wenger, though, as Koscielny later revealed his teammates harboured huge doubts about the manager following this game. He even did so with a great mayonnaise analogy.

“The start of the season was catastrophic,” Koscielny told France Football. “We lost key players from our system. There was late recruitment of new players and the mayonnaise needed time to ‘take’.

“There was the thrashing at Old Trafford. The whole world buried us. But you don’t lose your football like that.

“It can happen that a small grain of sand jams the engine and after that you start to doubt your own qualities, the club, the coach and everything else. We needed to sort that out. Everyone got down to doing just that, the coach, the club.”

Centre-back: Johan Djourou

The Switzerland international was one of several experiments in the centre of defence that ultimately failed for Wenger. He was all at sea from minute one. Welbeck’s opener was a particular highlight. First Djourou attempts to protect the ball for Szczesny to collect, and when it becomes apparent the Pole is too far away from the ball, Welbeck shoulders the Arsenal centre-back, who collapses to the canvas, and neatly tucks home. Things did not improve.

Left-back: Armand Traore

The Frenchman obviously didn’t enjoy the game too much, joining QPR two days later. Traore came in for flak aplenty as he was caught smirking as he trudged off the field, but he later revealed that he was injured and his mind was on a transfer away from Gunners that he thought was off after this woeful showing.

Traore told Standard Sport: “I thought that game had cost me my move. I was thinking ‘nightmare, I am going to stay at Arsenal’.

“I know people think all those Arsenal players were rubbish that day but, personally, I wasn’t there in my head. I was all set to join QPR on the Thursday and then Arsenal said I had to play this game first.

“The fact is I wasn’t fit. I remember after the first few minutes I went to close someone down and bang, I felt my groin. I tried to play on and at half-time I said to the physio I didn’t think I could play on but they told me I had to. It was a nightmare.”

Centre-midfield: Francis Coquelin

“When you go to Manchester United you know it is going to be tough, but if you concede eight it is a bit of a knock to the head,” said Coquelin in 2015 when he was enjoying a renaissance in the Arsenal starting XI.

That knock looked to have helped his Arsenal career, as the young Frenchman developed into an important player in a holding midfield role alongside Santi Cazorla. However, 2016/17 was not Coquelin’s finest and he struggled to regain a starting place.

In truth he never really recovered from that forgetful night at Stamford Bridge when Eden Hazard sent him tumbling to the turf.

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Centre-midfield: Tomas Rosicky

The Czech midfielder is a fan-favourite at the Emirates, having spent 10 years playing for the club. He teed up Walcott for the opening Arsenal goal, but that was about it for the industrious midfielder. A model pro, we’ll leave Rosicky alone here.

Attacking midfield: Aaron Ramsey

After recovering from a horrific broken leg suffered in 2010, Ramsey took a while to get back to his best. The Welshman’s peak came in 2013/14 when it appeared for a moment that he’d copy Gareth Bale’s dramatic rise and become a world-beater in his own way. Alas, it was not to be.

Juventus came calling in 2019, but again injuries and inconsistencies hampered Ramsey’s progress, and he has since joined Nice.

Left-wing: Andrey Arshavin

Arshavin arrived on deadline day in January 2009 and, although there were good moments, including four goals in a 4-4 draw with Liverpool a few months later, he never developed into a fully-fledged Arsenal star. His poor body language and dislike of London life combined to make his spell at the club underwhelming and sour.

Right-wing: Theo Walcott

Walcott scored a goal in this game, which briefly gave the Gunners some respite at 3-1, before the world fell down. He later conceded a penalty and even got into a bit of beef with his own teammate. Who can forget his coming together with Jenkinson? It just wasn’t Arsenal’s day.

Striker: Robin van Persie

Arsenal fans, get your boos ready because here’s the pantomime villain. Van Persie scored at Old Trafford, and later decided to move there permanently, winning his only Premier League title with the Red Devils. Would it have been a different story if Van Persie netted his penalty to make it 1-1? Possibly, but fortune favours the brave, and United were very brave to start with Jones, Smalling and Cleverley.

Arsenal substitutes

Marouane Chamakh: The man for a crisis, Chamakh came on for Van Persie. Why? Who knows.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Frustrated over the years with inconsistent performances for Arsenal, ‘the Ox’ resurrected his career at Liverpool for a bit but injuries once again curtailed his progress. Here at Old Trafford, he made his debut.

Henri Lansbury: At 32, the one-time ‘next big thing’ is now playing for Luton Town in the Championship.

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