When the fixture list for the current Premier League season was announced, many looked at Manchester United’s opening weeks and felt that there were tough games to come if they did not get off to the correct start. However, two victories in the first two matches with fairly youthful sides gave fans much to be encouraged about, particularly the 3-0 comfortable victory over Tottenham at Old Trafford. With Arsenal visiting, despite recent difficulties, it was expected that a stern challenge would be brought from a team that has been a constant threat in the League and have proven to be one of United’s great rivals, whose manager has been quoted by Sir Alex Ferguson as his “adversary”. Alas, the side that United came up against turned out to be quite the opposite, as Super Sunday turned into a bloodbath, as Ferguson’s youngsters displayed a maturity far beyond Wenger’s “kids”. In a display that was impressive throughout, the day became known for Arsenal’s failings rather than United’s quality that damned the North London side to an 8-2 defeat and meant the city of Manchester had a score of 13-3 over North London. Perhaps the only negative point on what was, at times, a very open game is that Danny Welbeck, opening scorer, suffered a hamstring injury after a string of strong performances. With that, after an incredible Sunday of football, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Two Youthful Sides – One with any maturity
Strangely, United fielded a side that had an average age of 23, younger than that chosen by Wenger with an average of 23.6. And yet it was Ferguson’s “boys” that looked to have grown up, displaying a maturity and team unity in stark contrast to that of the opposition. It was testament to the faith that Ferguson has in his young fledglings that experienced heads such as Park, Berbatov and Ferdinand were given places on the bench and players such as Tom Cleverley, Welbeck, Smalling and Jones have been seen regular action at the start of the season. Although it may be too early to say whether such form will be maintained when the challenges of the season come thick and fast, but what cannot be in doubt is that the future looks bright for what many believe to be the next generation for the squad. One example that solidifies the point further is Cleverley in the centre of midfield, with a pass success rate of 91% for the game and showing consistency with an average just under 90% for the season so far. One feels that such opportunities would not have been possible had that familiar name linked with Old Trafford over the summer, ever signed. It was unfortunate to see Welbeck pull up with an injury after opening the scoring. Of course it is not as if adequate replacements were lacking, one must say that being able to call on Javier Hernandez is no bad thing.
2) Anderson is growing in confidence
For various reasons, Anderson’s time at the club has been somewhat chequered despite the collection of medals he has amassed that would make most professionals green with envy. One point that some might make is that for him to make his mark, a solid run in the team may be necessary, and so far in his career at United he may not have had that, due to injury and due to games where he was unable to make a decent impression. However, having embarked on this season as being the preferred option to partner Cleverley, it seems the young Brazilian midfielder has grown in his new found standing, including a greater attacking edge that may have lacked in previous seasons. This is of course referring to the deft touch in his assist to Welbeck in opening the scoring. Of course there is an argument that the defense simply did not deal with the pass, with Welbeck finding his way past three defenders to nod the ball into the net and begin the rout. Before being taken off during the second half he continued to play his part with smart play, accurate passing and getting involved with every attack. One would hope this good form continues throughout the season from a player who could prove vital to United’s success.
3) David De Gea – pivotal in the turning point of the game
United’s young goalkeeper has not had the best of starts to his career in Manchester as yet, with the opening games having been pinpointed as games where glaring mistakes have been made but as yet have not been costly. However, on Sunday he went some way to showing why Ferguson chose to invest in him, playing his part in what may be seen as the pivotal moment of the game. Minutes after Welbeck put United ahead, Arsenal found themselves with a penalty after Evans was adjudged to have fouled Walcott. Robin Van Persie stepped up and placed a shot to De Gea’s right side, to which he was able to dive down low and parry it away sparking scenes of celebration for the Spaniard from his teammates as well as roars of encouragement from the United faithful. As this was so soon after the first goal and was quickly followed by Young’s second, one must wonder what may have happened had Van Persie equalised. In fact this was not his only contribution, as a notable example included a fine double save after a long effort from Arshavin was parried and the follow up from Van Persie was blocked. It could be argued that Walcott’s goal should have been dealt with better as he scored through his legs and could have reacted better but all in all there was reason to believe that De Gea will grow, literally and metaphorically speaking, into his position between the posts.
4) The team play for each other
As mentioned earlier there appears to be a great deal of unity within the team and this shows in the way they play. Although the true proof will come against tougher opposition, it is hard not to be uplifted by some of United’s play so far this season, passing slickly, with some clever one touch football as well as a strong threat going forward that appears to show more promise of end result than it did during some parts of last season. Another player who deserves plaudits for the game is Ashley Young, who looks to be showing good value for the fee United paid for him. Mostly playing on the left but also switching at a moments notice with Nani on the wings, it has surprised many how he has settled so far and on Sunday he added to this with two goals, both appearing to be almost identical, scoring the second an eighth goals of the day, cutting in on the left and curling the ball perfectly into the top right corner. Both superb efforts and testament to how he is relishing life at Old Trafford, regularly involved in passing moves and always adding another option going forward. Another example of this team ethic at the club is the way they all surrounded and celebrated with David De Gea after saving the penalty, providing a much needed confidence boost in his difficult start to life at United.
5) Wayne Rooney and the return of free kicks
One aspect of United’s play that may have been at a deficit in recent times is the ability to make use of free kicks, and during Sunday’s demolition of Arsenal, Wayne Rooney sought to rectify that with two sweetly struck set pieces, perfectly placed leaving Arsenal’s defense no chance of stopping them. These were two goals that set Rooney on his way to his hat trick in a man of the match performance. The third came from a penalty after Evra was felled in the box, bringing the score to 7-2. Regardless of the goals though, one must admit that Rooney played an exemplary game. constantly on the move and getting involved with all aspects of play. A notable moment that typified his efforts for the team came when, having already claimed three goals and with his side in cruise control, he tracked back 30 to 40 yards to aid the midfield and attempt to win the ball back. Such dedication to the cause and a willingness to contribute to all areas of the pitch give him talismanic qualities and give strong indications that the issues of last season have been well and truly put to bed.
Frankly, a lot more could have been said about what was witnessed. In a way it was almost harsh to see a team that have been strong rivals for many years, completely fail to in making a contest out of what should have been a big game, to a point where Ferguson himself was not truly revelling in his victory in his post match interview. Undoubtedly, the leading points will be about Arsenal’s shortcomings as opposed to United’s dominance but it cannot be denied that this side is already looked extremely talented and could improve as the season progresses. Sunday showed the difference in class between the two sides and where the greater potential lay with regards to their younger players. As for Wenger, his side currently have more red cards than points and it would appear that unless some dramatic dealings occur before the end of the transfer window, they may struggle to match their league standing from last season, particularly in the wake of an improving Liverpool side threatening to break the top four. Indeed, the North London side had players missing, but this only highlighted the lack of depth within the squad and the need for more experienced heads within the line up. As for United, they continue their winning start to the season, and will be looking to maintain such rich form as they look to hold off greater threats from some close rivals.