When arsenal beat man u 8 2 ? Wayne Rooney bangs in a hat-trick. Ashley Young owns the top right corner. Arsenal smashed. Manchester United and Old Trafford in dreamland. No one will ever forget the day Sir Alex Ferguson humbled his long-time rival Arsene Wenger in one of the most remarkable games in Premier League history.
An 8-2 win on August 28, 2011 stunned the Gunners and the rest of United’s title rivals – coming just three games into the season and sending out a resounding statement of intent.
Ferguson’s team was in a state of evolution as he began to disband his last great side: the Champions League-winners of 2008.
No Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez. Paul Scholes had retired, Ryan Giggs was getting older, and absent from the starting line-up on the day were Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick.
This was a glimpse into the future. A look at Ferguson’s work-in-progress – even on the back of a title-winning campaign the previous season.
On this day, they looked every bit like champions again. Manchester City would have other ideas, of course. Aguerooooo! and all that.
But for 90 minutes at Old Trafford, United were absolutely unstoppable.
GK: David de Gea
A young goalkeeper relatively unknown to English football fans had only just signed for United, embarking on the daunting challenge of filling the void left by Edwin van der Sar.
He would go on to struggle badly in his first season, losing his place to Anders Lindegaard midway through the campaign. But he would later establish himself as one of the finest keepers of his generation and is still United’s undisputed No1.
RB: Chris Smalling
Deployed at right-back on the day, Smalling was still establishing himself at United after a £10m ($12.2m) move from Fulham the previous year.
Never truly fulfilled his potential at Old Trafford and not helped by the number of managerial changes since the retirement of Ferguson.
Famously called ‘Mike’ by Louis van Gaal, he has rebuilt his reputation and career in Italy with Roma under another former United boss, Jose Mourinho.
CB: Phil Jones
Ferguson was convinced he had recruited a future great from Blackburn Rovers in Phil Jones, who could play centre-back, full-back and in midfield.
United’s plan was for him to establish himself in the heart of defence as Ferguson started to look beyond Ferdinand and Vidic.
At the end of Fergie’s final season the following year, he declared Jones as having the potential to become the greatest player in the club’s history.
Injuries and the lack of Ferguson’s guidance contributed to his career being derailed but he’s still at the club to this day, though United are ready to sell him this summer.
CB: Jonny Evans
Another part of Ferguson’s plan to overhaul his defence – along with Jones and Smalling – Evans was seen as the future.
While Gerard Pique was allowed return to Barcelona over doubts about his suitability to the Premier League, Evans was seen as a real contender to force his way into the first team.
By Ferguson’s final season, he had begun to break up the Vidic-Ferdinand partnership.
Sold by Van Gaal in 2015, it is a decision still questioned by fans.
LB: Patrice Evra
The only member of the last Champions League-winning back five to play on the day, with Van der Sar retired, Wes Brown sold, Ferdinand on the bench and Vidic absent.
Evra, who won five titles and the Champions League in his time at United, was sold to Juventus in 2014, where he went on to win two Serie A crowns.
Has since spoken candidly of his regret about leaving.
LW: Ashley Young
Signed from Aston Villa that summer, the winger made himself an instant favourite with this performance.
Two stunning strikes left Old Trafford in raptures and provided a tantalising glimpse of what may be to come.
In truth, Young never quite fulfilled his potential at United and was later redeployed at right-back and left-back, doing a commendable job in both positions.
Named club captain before leaving for Inter in 2020.
The Brazilian’s lobbed pass to set up Danny Welbeck’s opener was an example of the vision and technique that was seen all too rarely.
A great frustration for United fans is the fact that Anderson never managed to show his quality on a consistent basis.
Ferguson thought he would eventually replace Scholes as United’s chief playmaker but it never happened.
Sold in 2015, Anderson was one of United’s great unfulfilled talents.
CM: Tom Cleverley
Ferguson had high hopes for his latest home-grown talent, seeing the midfielder as someone who could provide goals, creativity and energy to a team that was learning live without Scholes, who retired at the end of the previous season.
Cleverley impressed – particularly early on in this campaign – but could not keep up the momentum.
Joined Everton in 2015 and has failed to kick on.
A look at this starting XI gives an indication of where United were in terms of Ferguson’s last evolution of his squad.
Nani was one of a reducing number of players who were part of the 2008 Champions League triumph.
The Portugal international was a match-winner capable of producing incredible moments. But he was not Cristiano Ronaldo – and that, rather harshly, was viewed as his greatest failing.
Still a fine player, who won four titles and conquered Europe with United.
CF: Wayne Rooney
Scored a hat-trick on the day and 34 goals in total that season at the point of United’s attack.
But it was not enough to lead them to title, with City agonisingly pipping them with virtually the final kick of the season.
Robin van Persie was signed the following summer and became the talisman of Ferguson’s last title triumph.
Might not have stayed on at the club had Ferguson not retired but never lived up to his former glories after that.
CF: Danny Welbeck
Another home-grown talent for whom United had high hopes.
He opened the scoring on the day, but limped out later on with a hamstring injury.
Van Gaal sold him to Arsenal in 2014 and, despite being an England international, Welbeck never fulfilled his potential.
Currently at Brighton.
Sub: Javier Hernandez
Made himself an instant cult figure at United, with his crucial goals. The Mexican followed in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s footsteps as the club’s latest super-sub.
But he never truly established himself as part of Ferguson’s strongest attack and was pushed further down the pecking order following the arrival of Van Persie.
Joined Real Madrid on loan in 2014 and then made a permanent move to Bayer Leverkusen.
Sub: Park Ji-sung
An underrated member of Ferguson’s last great team, who could be trusted to carry out specific tasks and was blessed with a seemingly unstoppable engine.
But his influence was waning at this point and this would be his final season at the club.
Sub: Ryan Giggs
At the age of 37, Giggs was being used sparingly but was still influential as a midfield schemer.
Missed out on a 13th title in painful circumstances on the final day of the season – but went on to reach that landmark a year later.
Played on beyond Ferguson’s retirement before taking over as interim manager when David Moyes was sacked.
Then stayed on as Van Gaal’s assistant.
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