,Few Arsenal fans will forget the merciless pasting the team received at Old Trafford in 2001. Dwight Yorke scored a hat-trick, and Solskjear, Keane and the odious Teddy Sheringham piled on the misery as United mauled a makeshift Arsenal back line.
A young Ashley Cole played at left back, with Sylvinho in front of him. Oleg Luzhny was ripped apart on the other flank, while Igor Stepanovs and Gilles Grimandi proved an inept central defensive pairing.
Today, Arsenal face Manchester United at Old Trafford again, and as then, a gulf seems to have opened up between the sides. And this one threatens to endure. Back then, Arsenal's decline proved temporary. They bounced back very strongly. A year on, with Sol Campbell shoring up the defence, they produced a defensive masterclass to seal the double with a 1-0 victory at the same venue. Few would have predicted that on the day Yorke tore Arsenal to ribbons.
But the feeling is that if United hit their stride today they could dole out the same kind of humiliation we saw in 2001. And this time, Arsenal's ability to respond positively would have to be called into question. Young players could be scarred by a chastening defeat. Already disgruntled fans would again question the manager's hesitancy in the transfer market this summer.
It does seem staggering that a team of Arsenal's stature can enter a season in such tattered shape, but if the players can find strength in adversity, as they did in Udine, Old Trafford could provide a springboard for the rest of the season. An unexpected good result, or even a valiant effort, a gallant defeat, a performance of substance, could give us reason for cautious optimism.
Still, it's sad that things have reached a stage where Arsenal must look on a trip to Old Trafford with such trepidation, and so little expectation.