Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Silva: Bergkampesque

With Van Persie reaching a hundred Arsenal goals at the weekend, he invites comparison to another great Dutchman who played in North London- Dennis Bergkamp.

But it was a player in blue who reminded me of Bergkamp this weekend.

David Silva was paid an unwanted compliment by Everton manager David Moyes. The Scot tasked Jack Rodwell with following the Spaniard around the pitch, in an attempt to upset Manchester City's rhythm. To an extent, it worked- the match was tight, and the home side huffed and puffed, but eventually a deflected Balotelli shot broke the deadlock.

Then, in stoppage time, with Everton chasing the game, a poor pass gifted the ball to Silva, in space at last. He ran briefly at the exposed Everton rearguard, paused, turned and waited for the run of Milner, before flicking an exquisitely weighted through ball with the outside of his left boot. Milner could shoot first time, and managed to poke the ball through Howard for 2-0.

In his expert shielding of the ball, while waiting for the right moment to play the pass, he reminded me of Bergkamp's famous, audacious assist for Freddie Ljungberg against Juventus in 2001. The technique and weight of the pass brought memories of the non-flying Dutchman's amazing through ball to set up Vieira at Stamford Bridge in 2004.

I have to admit that when I saw Silva in Spain's team during Euro 2008, I thought of him as one of the weaker links in a very strong side, someone who finished off the moves of more talented players, but could never influence a game like Iniesta or Xavi or Fabregas. I thought of him as a sort of Luis Garcia figure- a midfield goal threat who would give the ball away a lot with ineffective flicks and tricks, but make up for that by getting on the score sheet.

I was wrong. He is thriving for City in a more central, playmaking role. He is one of the outstanding players in the Premiership at the moment. And if there is one criticism of his game, it's that he is actually not the goal threat I initially thought he was.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Even The Silver Linings Are Turning Grey

Arsenal 3-0 Bolton

The first half was another slog, but the Gunners finally cut loose in the second to record a comfortable victory.

Bolton started well and could have opened the scoring early on. A fine volley from Darren Pratley was acrobatically repelled by Szczesny. Thereafter, Bolton pursued a policy of containment, and it worked very well for the duration of the first half. There were precious few openings.

The best came when Arteta released Gervinho with a defence-splitting pass. The winger's first touch was so woefully overhit, it was practically a back pass.

Van Persie curled just wide from a free kick, and Gervinho cut inside to blast a shot over the bar, but it was familiar, pedestrian fare at the Emirates. Arsenal's midfield was not responding well to some robust scrapping from Wanderers, and there was little in the way of creativity.

Seconds into the second half, Van Persie blasted the floodgates open. Gervinho was felled on the turn in a central position, and Mark Clattenburg played a canny advantage, allowing Ramsey to drive on. He found Van Persie in the box, and the Dutchman took a couple of touches to escape the attentions of Reo-Coker, and drilled a low shot inside Jaaskelainen's near post.

Bolton are even worse form than Arsenal, and a goal was always likely to dishearten them. They had still less cause for optimism after David Wheater was dismissed. Ramsey's through ball threatened to release Walcott, only for the winger to tumble under a light tug from the centre half. The kind of "dive" that is widely practised in modern football: feel the contact, take the fall. Wheater could have no complaints.

It says much about the fragility of this Arsenal team that even at home, against ten men, against a team that had shown so little adventure, they still gave up a reasonable chance. Bolton broke after an Arsenal corner and suddenly, Chris Eagles had a sight of goal, but his early shot was close to Szczesny and Arsenal escaped.

Walcott, in typically frustrating form, soon helped put the game to bed, speeding onto Ramsey's pass and squaring for Van Persie, who deftly shinned the ball beyond Jaaskelainen for his 100th Arsenal goal. Walcott was denied by the Finn in a one on one from Song's pass, before the Cameroonian iced the cake with a fine curled shot in the closing stages.

Some blessed relief in the form of a result, but the aftermath has provided more cause for tortured introspection. Van Persie, by a distance now Arsenal's most valuable player, has refused to commit to a new deal. His current contract runs out in a couple of years.

Looking at the current state of the team, and at the fact that Van Persie is 28 years old, you'd have to assume he is thinking seriously about a change of scenery next summer. That's without even contemplating the kind of pay rise Manchester City, or any of the other big spenders, could offer him.

The news comes mere days after Wenger admitted his concern that Arsenal cannot compete when offering deals to the top players. I read an interesting article a few weeks ago that suggested Wenger was at loggerheads with the board during the summer. The story went that while the board were willing to provide money for large transfer fees, they were not willing to change the club's wage structure. Thus, perhaps, the inability to complete the capture of Mata before Chelsea blew us out of the water.

The pay structure of the club is certainly in need of review. It seems that most of the first team players earn a similar amount. In effect, our best players earn less than they should, and our worst players earn much more than they should. Hence the trouble Arsenal have had with moving on players like Bendtner, Denilson, and Almunia. No club wants to pay those mediocre players the same money they've been earning at Arsenal.

Conversely, there will be plenty of clubs willing to offer RVP a nice juicy financial incentive to go and fulfill his sporting ambitions elsewhere. And frankly, it's hard to find many reasons he'd want to stick around.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Schoolyard Football: United 3-1 Chelsea

It has been a strange but refreshing start to the Premiership season. Big games that had previously been cagey and cautious have produced an avalanche of goal and incident.

Mancini's Manchester City have even, unexpectedly, started to entertain. Judging from their loss of a two goal lead against Fulham at the weekend, that new outlook might have compromised their familiar defensive solidity. The absence of Nigel de Jong can't be helping that side of things either. But Nasri, Silva and Aguero are thrilling neutrals.

Two games involving the other big Manchester team have been emblematic of the adventurous start to the season. First, there was the unprecedented drubbing of Arsenal. Then, this weekend, another game of end-to-end attacking, mistakes, goals and glaring misses.

There could have been another ten goals, and this time they would have been shared more evenly. Chelsea, especially in the first half, were the better side, and can feel aggrieved to have lost by a two goal margin.

The goals were a mixture of the soft and the sublime. Early on, Smalling escaped the attentions of Chelsea's slack marking to power a header home from Ashley Young's swinging free kick. Replays showed he was marginally offside but the fact that Chelsea's players did not protest suggested that they had lost concentration. United doubled their lead with a spectacular strike from Nani, who collected the ball on the right (offside again?), swayed inside some challenges, and powered past a leaden footed Cech from the edge of the area. Right on half time, a Phil Jones run caused panic in Chelsea's rearguard, a floored John Terry attempted to clear, but the ball struck Nani and ran kindly for Rooney, who swept home from close range.

United had an interval lead that contradicted the balance of play. All their on-target shots had produced goals. They were attacking with menace at times, but Chelsea had peppered the United goal with efforts. Juan Mata was having an influence, and the Blues were playing with a swagger that suggested that Villas-Boas may be succeeding in starting to revolutionise their style of play.

Then again, there will only be rare occasions when they will face a midfield as open as United's was.

The first of the game's many glaring misses came at 1-0, and was surely crucial in shaping the outcome of the game. Mata attacked United's backline and released Torres in behind with a finely weighted pass. The Spaniard rightly squared the ball for Ramires, who seemed certain to score, but perhaps put off by Daniel Sturridge, stabbed a weak effort straight at the scrambling De Gea.

At half time, Villas Boas sized up Chelsea's predicament and, commendably, decided to chase the three goal deficit. He replaced Lampard with Anelka, moved the latter onto the left of the front three, and shifted Mata into the number 10 position. The change brought dividends almost straight from kick off. Anelka cut inside from the left, and played an excellent reverse through ball for Torres. The Spaniard, who was looking at last like his old self, full of pace and twists and turns, dinked imperiously over De Gea. It was a finish at odds with his wretched run of form over the last few months, and Chelsea were back in the game.

But now, with the schoolyard shape of the game continuing, it was United's turn to miss chances. Nani broke and smashed another thunderbolt off the bar. On the rebound, he was adjudged, harshly perhaps, to have been felled by Bosingwa. Rooney had a chance from the spot, but his standing leg gave way and he shanked the penalty wide.

He was wasteful again when an Evra run and cross found him six yards out. Rooney's left footed shot was scuffed, and dribbled off the post. Hernandez steamed onto the rebound but could only smash into the side netting, and was crippled for his troubles by Ashley Cole's nasty late challenge.

Shame then, with both sides missing easy chances, that the game will probably be remembered for the profligacy of one man, who may now struggle to ever reproduce the swagger of old. Torres was, along with Nani, the best player on the park. It was very much like watching the player of old only for one rather important factor- his finishing. While the goal was a beauty, there was a hat trick of head-in-hands moments. Early on, he conjured an opportunity for himself but snatched wide. Towards the game's final act, he jinked brilliantly on the edge of the area, and hit a decent left footed shot that was parried, but when the rebound bobbled his way, he leaned back and smashed skywards. Then, with only minutes left, the worst miss in a match of misses.

Again, there was brilliant play to make the chance. Ramires's through ball was incisive, and Torres confounded De Gea with a confident dummy. His touch brought him a little wide of goal, but the hard work was done and the finish should have been a formality. Maybe he relaxed too much, maybe he couldn't relax enough. The shot was tapped wide of the near post.

There was still time for one more scramble, as Rooney broke clear and squared to Berbatov, but a goal line clearance denied the Bulgarian's scuffed effort. United ran out, according to the scoreline, comfortable winners, but rarely has a scoreline been so misleading. Firstly, there should have been at least a few more goals. Secondly, Chelsea outplayed the hosts for long periods, particularly during a first half that somehow only produced goals for United.

While United's goalscoring exploits and their relentless attacking vigour are impressive, pundits are being a little rash in predicting a procession towards another league title. Statistics show that De Gea has been the busiest keeper in the whole league so far; as with City, United's new adventure has had an inevitable impact on their defensive solidity. The Champions can point, of course, to the absences of Ferdinand and Vidic. They have faced Arsenal and Chelsea with an unfamiliar back four featuring three youngsters, and while they never looked solid in either game, it doesn't matter much when you score eleven goals.

So the early advantage is undoubtedly theirs, but for City and, on this showing, Chelsea, there is still plenty of hope.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Oh Dear

Another interesting weekend in the Premiership.
Yet another painful one for Arsenal.

Blackburn 4-3 Arsenal

The seriousness of Arsenal's problems was underlined. The defence, despite the presence of new boys Santos and Mertesacker, was its old shambolic self. The lack of belief among the players was clear in the manner in which they folded after Blackburn's second equaliser, and allowed the game to slip away. A late rally produced a goal, a grandstand finish, and a flurry of chances to level the game, but the damage had been done, and a salvaged result of any kind would only serve to paper over the widening cracks. Arsenal are in big, big trouble this season.

The first half was, in some senses, a reminder of the kind of football Arsenal are still sometimes capable of. Song, Ramsey and Arteta were impressive in midfield, and the two Arsenal goals were the result of some fluid, incisive attacking. Gervinho opened his Arsenal account from a clever, slide rule pass by Song. The shot took a slight deflection and beat Paul Robinson on its way to the far bottom corner.

Blackburn were not really in the game, but Yakubu punished Arsenal's defensive frailty with a smart finish when the worst offside trap in football malfunctioned again. The striker confounded the onrushing Szczesny with an early, audacious flick of his right boot, sending the ball rolling slowly but unstoppably into the corner of the net. A throwback to the kind of player he once was.

Arsenal responded some minutes later with the goal of the game. The midfield trio linked well again. Song released Ramsey down the right with another incisive ball, and the Welshman ignored the obvious option of firing across the six yard box, instead cutting back cutely for Arteta, who swept the ball high into Robinson's net.

Arsenal might have extended the lead before half time, when Arshavin forged an opportunity for Gervinho, but he saw his selfish attempt blocked, much to the ire of the better-placed Van Persie. Blackburn were granted a reprieve; Arsenal were to gift them a whole lot more in the second half.

The difference between the Alex Song of the first half and the one who emerged after the interval is symbolic of the brittle mentality of this Arsenal team, their violent mood swings. Song started the collapse with an own goal, although the fault was not all his. Rocha chipped in a free kick from Blackburn's right, and despite the lack of pace on the ball, nobody in red took decisive action. The ball struck Song and dribbled past Szczesny.

Rovers were pressing more effectively and Arsenal had lost the control they seemed to exert in the first period. More set piece mayhem saw the home side hit the front. A deep, driven corner left Koscielny butting at thin air and the ball dropped at the feet of Nzonzi. He blasted a cross-shot that was turned home by Yakubu, lurking marginally offside. No flag, another soft goal for Arsenal's extensive collection.

Arsenal mustered some pressure in response, and Van Persie dithered too long when presented with a decent chance, but the awful defence succumbed again, this time to a breakaway sucker punch. Blackburn countered at roaring pace and Djourou, on in place of the injured Sagna, was roasted by Olsson. The winger entered the area, beat Alex Song and turned the ball into the goalmouth where the increasingly inept Koscielny failed to sort his feet out in time and turned the ball comically into his own net. Two own goals, a two goal deficit, was there any fight left?

To be fair, there was, and Arsenal spurned enough chances to win the game. Chamakh scored a powerful, towering header from a wicked Van Persie cross, but the Moroccan was also guilty of a weak effort in stoppage time; Van Persie was denied on a couple of occasions by Robinson; Mertesacker headed over in the dying seconds; Walcott was denied a penalty shout. It was more frantic and desperate than it ever should have had to be. Going to a mediocre Blackburn side, you expect that if ou score three goals, it's job done. But this is the New Arsenal, and another ridiculous result has been added to the roll of dishonour.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


No deflection on Perisic's strike. What a goal.

Dortmund 1-1 Arse

As long as Arsenal can do their business at the Emirates- which has ceased to be a comfortable home- a draw in Dortmund should eventually be looked back on as a positive result.

Given Arsenal's recent troubles, it can already be viewed that way, but the feel good factor is lessened by the fact that the German side's equaliser came so late, after Arsenal had worked hard to cling to Robin Van Pesie's opener.

Overall, however, a draw was a deserved result for the home team. Arsenal could have no complaints. Again, the Gunners failed to find any real groove.

They did gain a lead, close to half time. As against Swansea, the goal stemmed from opposition sloppiness. A casual, underhit pass across the Dortmund back four was seized upon by the alert Van Persie, who slid into nudge the ball to Walcott. This time, the mistake left Arsenal with a bit more to do than aim the ball into an unguarded net, and what they had to do they did very well. Walcott played an unusually incisive through ball with his left foot. It was perfctly weighted for Van Persie, who smashed home impressively with his trusty "chocolate leg".

Arsenal failed to build on that and found themselves under the cosh for much of the second half. Still, this had the look of a difficult trip- would have been difficult even without the negative atmosphere around Arsenal at the moment- and so Arsenal's resilience is a good sign.

They came close to holding out for the 1-0, but were denied by a very late equaliser. Gibbs headed a free kick away, but only to the edge of the box, and Perisic struck a first time volley that dipped into the top corner, leaving Szczesny standing. While it initialy looked a wonder goal, I think there was a slight but crucial deflection off Benayoun.

After that there was time for another Dortmund chance, but Szczesny came to the rescue. His form has been the single biggest plus point of the season so far. There are so many problems on and off the pitch, so it is a relief that one of the longest standing issues- the lack of a top class goalkeeper- appears to have been solved.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Win's A Win

Arsenal 1-0 Swansea

Sometimes you need a dash of luck to lift you out of a rut.

Arsenal under Wenger have, even at their best, been a team of fragile confidence.

It took one unfortunate defeat at Old Trafford in 2004 to turn the 'Invincibles' into a vulnerable side again. They never recovered the old swagger.

In 2002/2003, I remember a run of four straight defeats, started by Wayne Rooney's wonder goal for Everton. That rotten run was only stopped by a comical Steve Marlet own goal in a tough away game at Fulham. Even that very good Arsenal team needed a helping hand.

The 2011 incarnation of Arsenal don't have the quality of past versions and so any win, in current circumstances, must be welcomed.

The luck came in two large slices.

First, Arshavin's goal. Well-finished, but he never should have been given the chance. The Swansea keeper inexplicably rolled the ball against the heels of his own defender, and the Russian found the net from a fairly tight angle.

It wasn't the last open goal of the game. In the last seconds, the otherwise fantastic Szczesny missed a corner, and the ball bounced down to Danny Graham, who swivelled but spooned the bouncing ball over the bar.

A big moment, potentially, in Arsenal's season.

The performance, after a promising start, was largely disjointed. Arteta played well and provided two gilt-edged chances at 0-0. Ramsey skewed the first wide, very early on. The second was bobbled past the keeper by Walcott, but cleared off the line.

The goal came at a time when Arsenal were, worryingly, starting to run out of ideas in their attempts to break Swansea down. And there was little improvement in that during the second period. The nerves jangled throughout, and Swansea looked to have more pace and vigour in attack when they did get forward. Arsenal's tempo was sluggish, but ultimately Swansea's attack could conjure nothing as telling as their goalkeeper's mistake.

While Arteta enjoyed a promising debut, he was not aided much by Frimpong's passing. Like many such energetic midfield players, Frimpong's distribution is very erratic. If he can smooth out the rough edges of his game, Arsenal will have a fine player.

Mertesacker had a decent game, although he would struggle to win a sprint against Cygan or Senderos. We can only hope he won't become as calamity-prone as that pair. But Arsenal's habitual high line does make things difficult for the German, as does another enforced absence for Vermaelen.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Good Haul?

By Arsene Wenger's standards, it was a spree. But if that's panic buying, it's a pity he doesn't panic more often. Hindsight can be a bit of a pain, but it's hard not to look at the past few seasons and wonder what might have been achieved if similar deals were done then.

Instead, it took a long run of relegation form, culminating in a historic massacre at Old Trafford, to finally force the stingy Frenchman's hands into his bulging pockets.

And still, Arsenal haven't spent much. This constitutes no great betrayal of Wenger's ideals. It's a natural compromise that should have been struck a long time ago- bringing in some older, more experienced heads to help the youngsters along. Before, a hugely talented 24 year old midfielder was being asked to carry some dead wood and some promising but callow youngsters on his shoulders. Now that he is gone, the squad has been given more balance. Arteta and Benayoun are useful players, and although not really in Fabregas's league, they will bring character and they will fit with Arsenal's style of play. Maybe most importantly, they have Premiership experience. They should take a lot of the pressure off players like Ramsey, Wilshere and Walcott. Arsenal were in danger of becoming very reliant on some very raw young talent.

The Korean striker Park Chu Young is a player I know little about. He, like Benayoun and Mertesacker, is captain of his national team. With Bendtner's departure on loan, Arsenal needed a new frontman, and Wenger decided that Park fitted the profile. He was just relegated from Ligue 1 with Monaco, and does not have a history of prolific scoring, but a browse of YouTube (hardly the most accurate barometer of ability, I know) suggests that he has a great work rate and decent vision and touch in and around the box. It's hard for me to shake the perception that Bendtner has been hard done by, but hopefully the Korean can replace him as a useful understudy to Van Persie, or indeed to the first choice wide men, if that is where Wenger plans to use him.

It would have been ridiculous to leave Gael Clichy unreplaced, with Gibbs so clearly unable to stay fit for a sustained period, and to that end Wenger brought in Andre Santos, a Brazilian international who ought to be approaching his peak years. The word is that Santos likes to bomb forward, and may be suspect defensively. A consultation with YouTube suggests that he can only be loosely described as a left back, and comes from the Dani Alves school of adventure. He also has a very powerful left foot which will hopefully help banish the memory of Gael Clichy's years of wastefulness in the final third.

Lastly, Mertesacker. It was a bit of a surprise after the months of speculation regarding Cahill and Samba and Jagielka. It seems a bit of an obvious solution: team with hopeless inability to defend set pieces and aerial attacks signs 6 foot 6 German giant. Maybe this time, the obvious solution will work. Many have written him off because of his lack of pace, and that is sure to be exposed at times- even Vidic at United has had numerous roastings from nippy forward players. But if Mertesacker can provide the kind of consistency and solidity that the Serb typically gives to the Champions, his slowness won't matter much. There is the potential for a nice partnership with Vermaelen, when the Belgian's injury problems are finally left behind, as he is more aggressive and pacey.

What will be more important than anything is that Mertesacker- who is, like Arteta, Benayoun, and Park, a captain- can show his leadership abilities and help whip that defence into shape. They have looked chaotic on a fairly regular basis over the last few years and it needs to cease.

In the summer of 2001, Arsene Wenger made a lot of signings. Richard Wright, Junichi Inamota, Gio Van Bronckhorst, Franny Jeffers... none of those players had a big part to play in Arsenal winning the double that season, but one new signing did. Sol Campbell came from Spurs and helped to form a newly solid defensive unit. If Mertesacker can have a similar impact, Arsenal might yet scramble back into contention.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Eight Two.

Eight fucking two.

It has taken me a week to recover enough to write this thing, and it has been an eventful few days since. Reinforcements have finally arrived, but I'll leave that for a seperate post. This one will focus on a game that will never be fully erased from the memory.

Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal

Even the most optimistic of Arsenal fans surely feared the worst. Sagna was added to the list of casualties, meaning the full backs were Jenkinson and Traore. The midfield consisted of Coquelin, Rosicky and Ramsey.

Given the personnel, there is an argument that attack was going to be the only form of defence. The front three was Arshavin, Walcott and Van Persie, so it was certainly a lot stronger than the makeshift back four. And Arsenal have, in the last few years, been incapable of shutting up shop and staying solid.

Sure enough, the game started in an open fashion, and kept going that way. It was immediately apparent that Arsenal were struggling to deal with the tempo of United's passing. The absence of Michael Carrick and the rejuvenation of Anderson invests their midfield with a lot more dynamism than was the case for much of last season. Their strength on the flanks and their fast, direct style meant they were set up to hit Arsenal where they were weakest.

With United playing Rooney and Welbeck up front, Arsenal had an apparent numerical advantage in midfield, but they only sporadically made it count. The tempo of United's passing stood in stark contrast to Arsenal's half-assed pressing. Wenger spoke afterwards of the draining effect of the Udinese game but to hear such excuses so early in the season is a bit much.

The Gunners needed the "senior members" of the back four to stand firm, but the first United goal exposed Djourou's alarming regression. With Walcott, yes Walcott, ranting at Jenkinson over some poor positional play, United took a quick throw and worked the ball infield to Anderson. The Brazilian's scooped pass initially looked more speculative than incisive, but Djourou inexplicably refused to attack the aerial ball, instead trying to block off Welbeck and allow Szczesny to claim. The ball bounced through, Djourou was outmuscled, and Welbeck nodded the ball over the keeper. An absolutely shocking goal to concede.

Soon afterwards, Arsenal found an apparent route back into the game. Arshavin played a nice ball behind Evans for Walcott, who made the most of some contact and went down. Shock horror, Howard Webb gave the penalty, but equally predictably, the usually reliable Van Persie's nerve failed him in Arsenal's theatre of nightmares. He abandoned the usual tactic of hitting hard to the keeper's left, and rolled it to De Gea's right. De Gea read it and made a routine parry.

Straight away, Ashley Young collected a pisspoor defensive header by Traore, weaved his way inside Coquelin, and bent an exquisite shot into the top corner from long range. That's when you knew it could get ugly.

The frightening thing is- it could have been even worse. Arshavin was throwing himself into reckless challenges and could have been sent off twice over.

Just before half time, goals at both ends. A panicky foul by Jenkinson on the edge of the area was punished by a spectacular Rooney free kick, then Walcott ran onto Rosicky's slide rule pass and fired through De Gea's legs. 3-1 at half time.

Easy to forget now, Arsenal's strongest spell came after the interval. There were two gilt-edged opportunities to turn the game back into a genuine contest. First, Rosicky flipped a ball over United's static backline, and Van Persie volleyed first time with his chocolate leg, only for De Gea to again deny him with a save at the near post. Van Persie had oceans of time to take the ball down and if he did so it surely would have been 3-2. Then Arshavin got through down the left and bore down on goal but snatched his shot just wide of the near post.

And then Arsenal fell to pieces. Coquelin was taken off, and United exposed the hole where a holding midfielder should have been protecting an awful defence. The wretched Djourou gave away a free kick within range, and again the foul was punished, again by an imperious Rooney free kick. He disguised his intention, wrong-footed Szczesny, and bent his shot in off the far post. Game over again, but that was only the beginning of the nightmare.

The next goal arrived a minute or so later and was an even better illustration of Arsenal's shambolic defending than Welbeck's opener. A swift United counter attack found Rooney on the edge of the area, and with half the back four stepping up, and half standing still, he slipped an easy pass through to Nani. The winger had all the time in the world to conjure yet another impudent piece of showboating for his Arsenal scrapbook, shaping to drill the ball and then dinking it over the flailing Szczesny. Exhibition stuff from United, but atrocious defending.

Park Ji Sung was introduced as a sub and it was not long before he scored his customary goal against Arsenal, benefitting from more woeful "defending" from Djourou and burying a left-footed shot into the corner from the edge of the box.

Van Persie was presented with an easy chance at the other end after good work from Jenkinson, and blasted home an angry shot to make it 6-2. Normal service was quickly resumed as Jenkinson was caught by the pace of Hernandez and bundled over the Mexican on the edge of the area. Second yellow for the young defender, but Rooney failed to complete a hat trick of free kicks.

A regular hat trick would do though, and he got that after Arsenal's nemesis Evra stormed into the box and was tripped by emergency right back Theo Fucking Walcott. Rooney sent Szczesny the wrong way. Seven goals conceded- unprecedented stuff. Another three goals for Rooney against Arsenal- and on the subject of Rooney, has any player been so awful and so sublime in the space of less than twelve months???

United were not finished. Near the end, they piled on the misery with a fourth belter, this time Young's second. Eight two. Amazing. As bad as Arsenal were, you could only admire the ruthlessness of United's finishing. At least four of the goals- Rooney's two free kicks and Young's two curlers- could only be classed as half chances.

To some extent, the result stemmed from exceptional circumstances- you would hope Arsenal will never again field a team like that in any league game, let alone at Old Trafford- but those circumstances were partly of Arsenal's making. Wenger did not ask for a lengthy list of injuries and suspensions, but he did discard players like Clichy, Denilson, and Eboue and failed to replace them with players ready for Premiership action. That's not to even mention the slow response to the Fabregas and Nasri debacles.

And for all the talk of Arsenal's makeshift defence, United's defence, midfield and even attack were all completely different to the norm from last season. Jones and Evans at centre back? Smalling at full back? Anderson and Cleverley in the centre of the park? Welbeck partnering Rooney? None of this is particularly familiar, but Ferguson and United are making it work, whereas Arsenal played like a bunch of strangers, and seemed resigned to their fate from the off. The game showed up the terrifying discrepancy between the two squads.

Whatever about the subsequent transfer action, the most worrying legacy of this game is the growing sense that nobody at Arsenal football club can coach defence. Arsenal have been ripped apart by good, bad and indifferent sides at pretty regualar intervals over the last few years and there is still no sign of anything being done about it. There has been too much talk, in fact, of a makeshift defence being an excuse for the result. Ok, two naive full backs, but Djourou and Koscielny were first choice players almost all last season. They are not awful players but Djourou in particular has suffered a worrying loss of form and you wonder if that would have happened if he was at a club that put more emphasis on the defensive side of the game.

As I said, this has been a problem for some time. You only need to look at the regular ridiculous scorelines Arsenal have been involved in since the start of 08/09. 4-4 at home to Spurs. 4-4 against Liverpool. Some crushing home defeats to both Chelsea and United. Losing at home to Spurs after leading 2-0. Drawing 3-3 with Spurs at the Lane after, yet again, leading by two goals. And who could forget the second half collapse at St James' Park.

And now this. But there is, perversely, more optimism around the club now. Maybe it needed a catastrophic result like this to open Arsene Wenger's eyes. Maybe the season can be salvaged from the wreckage of one result.