Manchester United have enjoyed some famous victories throughout the Premier League era, yet none have been quite so emphatic nor crushing as their 8-2 demolition of Arsenal back in August 2011.
The then champions took on a depleted Gunners side who had been devastated by injury and the loss of both Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas in the transfer window, with manager Arsene Wenger left fielding an inexperienced side that was simply ripped apart at Old Trafford.
The hosts had had their own selection issues due to injury, yet looked a class above their long time rivals, with the result perhaps signalling the beginning of the end for the Wenger reign, as his faith in youth undoubtedly began to wane.
Wayne Rooney starred for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men with a brilliant hat-trick, while summer signing Ashley Young netted a superb brace and the remaining three goals came in the form of Ji-sung Park, Nani and Danny Welbeck, with Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott’s strikes mere consolations for the visitors.
Let’s take a look then at the United XI which wreaked havoc on that summer afternoon at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – or nightmares for the north London club.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea endured a shaky start to life at Old Trafford following his move from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2011, yet offered a glimpse into what would become a bright future at the club with a penalty save against the Gunners.
With United one-up after 22 minutes, the skinny Spaniard was forced into action just moments later with the away side awarded a soft penalty, yet the stopper stood firm to deny a player who would go on to become his teammate the following season in Robin Van Persie.
While the youngster had little chance to prevent the Dutchman’s late consolation, he perhaps should have done better to deny Theo Walcott’s first-half strike, with the ball sliding through his legs from a narrow angle.
It would prove to be a tricky debut campaign in English football, yet he has since gone on to rack up 444 appearances for the club in all competitions and receive the Red Devils’ player of the year award on four occasions.
Right-back: Chris Smalling
The absence of Brazilian full-back Rafael due to a shoulder injury opened the door for Chris Smalling to earn a run of games at right-back, the former Fulham man forming part of what was a somewhat makeshift defence for the meeting with Wenger’s men.
The Englishman had joined the club from the Cottagers in 2010, having previously been on the books of non-league side Maidstone United, and would go on to enjoy a decade-long stint as a valued squad member at the club.
Despite enjoying stints as a first-team regular, particularly during Lous Van Gaal’s time at the club, Smalling never truly managed to nail down a starting berth for an extended period of time, before departing the club – initially on loan – for Roma in 2019, where he is now being managed by former United boss Jose Mourinho.
Centre-back: Phil Jones
Another man to benefit from the absence of other defenders – namely Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand – summer signing Phil Jones continued his run in the side for the Old Trafford encounter, having only arrived from Blackburn Rovers a few months previously.
The then teenager was hugely admired by Sir Alex Ferguson, with the Scotsman, rather foolishly, tipping him to go on to become the club’s greatest ever player – a feat that has never looked close to becoming a reality.
One of just two players on this list still at the club, alongside De Gea, the 29-year-old has endured a torrid time of it due to injury and poor form, with his last outing in a United shirt having come back in January 2020.
Centre-back: Jonny Evans
Featuring alongside the Englishman was Jonny Evans, the now Leicester City defender another who looked set to have a bright future at the club, before perhaps being harshly cast off during Van Gaal’s two-year spell in charge.
The Northern Ireland international had made his debut back in 2006 and would go to enjoy a nine-year stint at the club, yet never truly managed to earn a regular starting berth having been forced to be an albeit able deputy to the formidable defensive duo of Vidic and Ferdinand.
As for the clash with the Gunners, the one-time Sunderland loanee was harshly penalised for a shove on Walcott inside the box, only to be let off the hook by his goalkeeper.
Left-back: Patrice Evra
The captain on the day, Patrice Evra was one of just a handful of senior figures in the starting XI that day, yet that inexperience ultimately mattered little as the hosts’ attacking unit simply ran riot, with the defender notably winning a late penalty for his side after a foul by Walcott.
The Frenchman’s rise to club legend and eventual skipper hadn’t looked like a possibility following what was an underwhelming start to life at the club after moving Monaco in January 2006, yet he swiftly developed into of the top-flight’s most effective performers during his stellar eight-year stint in Manchester.
After five Premier League title triumphs, a Champions League and 379 appearances across all competitions, the much loved defender moved on to Juventus in 2014, before ending his career with a brief spell back in English football with West Ham United in 2018.
Midfield: Tom Cleverley
A United youth product, Tom Cleverley originally made his debut for the club in 2008, before truly establishing himself in the first-team during the 2011/12 season, following a succession of loan spells away from the club.
With Paul Scholes calling time on his playing career – for the first time – at the end of the previous season, the door was opened for the young man to earn more regular action, particularly with Darren Fletcher also absent due to his struggles with illness.
While there was a young Paul Pogba waiting in the wings for a more prominent role, Ferguson continued to put faith in the Englishman, with Cleverley going on to feature heavily during the 2012/13 title-winning campaign.
In truth, however, the legendary manager’s departure saw the midfielder’s United career nosedive, as he was sent out on-loan to Aston Villa in 2014, before joining Everton on a permanent deal a year later. The 32-year-old is currently back in the top-flight with Watford.
On paper, it may not have been the most exciting United midfield pairing of all time, yet Cleverley and Anderson were an effective force against the Gunners, with the latter in particular catching the eye.
By his own admission, the Brazilian always performed well against Arsenal and appeared to relish the occasion, notably setting up his side’s opener on the day with a stunning scooped pass over the top for Danny Welbeck to nod home.
Such flashes of quality were, in truth, few and far between in his eight-year spell with the club – having originally signed from Porto in 2007 – yet he remained something of a fans’ favourite regardless until his permanent departure in 2015. The 33-year-old is now retired after spells in Brazil and Turkey.
Another man who was at times infuriatingly inconsistent was the mercurial Nani, the Portuguese trickster flattering to deceive at times yet with that brilliant knack of producing something spectacular.
Arguably one of his finest United goals had come against Arsenal in the 2009/10 season, as he somehow managed to dink over Manuel Almunia from the angle and he added to his tally with another exquisite effort in the 8-2 thrashing.
After receiving the ball inside the box, the former Sporting Lisbon man delicately chipped the ball over the onrushing Wojciech Szczęsny to make it 5-1 to the hosts, the goal proving to be his last involvement before he was withdrawn just moments later.
After netting 40 goals in 230 United appearances, the fleet-footed forward departed the club in 2015 and has since enjoyed spells in Portugal, Turkey, Italy and Spain, while at 34 he is currently plying his trade as the figurehead at MLS side, Orlando City.
Left-wing: Ashley Young
On the other flank on the day was summer signing Ashley Young, the Englishman having arrived from Aston Villa in a £17m deal in June 2011, going on to net his first United goals against the Gunners.
What impressive goals they were too, as the winger put the Red Devils 2-0 up with an excellent curling strike after cutting in from the left flank, with a second a similarly stunning effort to add the late gloss to the scoreline.
Despite spending nine more years at the club, those goals were perhaps the finest moments in a United shirt for the former Watford man, as he spent the final few years of his Old Trafford career operating in a deeper full-back role, while also being appointed club captain.
After leaving in January 2020 to join Inter Milan, the 36-year-old is back in English football with former club Villa, having helped the Serie A side to the title last summer.
Forward: Danny Welbeck
Another man still plying his trade in the top-flight, albeit not at United, Danny Welbeck netted the game’s opening goal after racing onto Anderson’s delicate chip and heading home from close range, before ultimately being withdrawn after just 36 minutes due to injury.
That strike demonstrated the strength and speed that made him such a reliable presence under Ferguson, with his hard-working displays often making up for the fact that was a less than prolific figure in front of goal.
That lack of goals did, however, prove to be his downfall following Van Gaal’s arrival at the club, as the academy product was sold to Arsenal in 2014, with the Dutchman pointing to the striker’s underwhelming record of just 29 goals in 142 games for the club as the reason behind his departure.
After an injury-hit spell at the Emirates – as well as a brief stint with Watford – the 30-year-old looks to have found a home at Brighton under Graham Potter and netted six Premier League goals last term.
Forward: Wayne Rooney
The star attraction on the day, Wayne Rooney was at his prolific best during the 2011/12 campaign, with that terrific treble against the Gunners a sign of things to come that season.
With United already 2-0 up, the forward curled home a brilliant free-kick before adding a second in almost identical fashion midway through the second-half to make it four for the hosts.
Having also teed up Nani for his effort, the former Everton man then completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot with less than 10 minutes to play, with those three set-piece goals part of a total tally of 27 league goals he would bag that season.
He would end his Red Devils career in 2017 having hit a club-record 253 goals in 559 appearances, before ending his playing days with brief spells with the Toffees, MLS side DC United and in the second tier with Derby County, where he’s now the manager following his retirement.
An early replacement for Welbeck, ‘Chicharito’s’ main involvement in the match was winning a late foul from teenager Carl Jenkinson, with the full-back shown a second yellow card on just his second league appearance for the club.
The Mexican striker had become an instant fans’ favourite after plundering 13 league goals in his first season after joining from Guadalajara in 2010, while he would go on to net 20 league goals over the next two seasons combined, developing a particular knack of scoring against Chelsea.
Like many others on this list, the departure of Ferguson essentially signified the end of his United career, being loaned out to Real Madrid in 2014 before ending his association with the club a year later to join Bayer Leverkusen. 39 goals in 76 appearances for the German side earned him a return to England with West Ham. He endured a brief stint with Sevilla before making a move to the MLS where he now plies his trade for LA Galaxy.
The club’s record appearance maker (963), Ryan Giggs was coming towards the end of his stellar career in 2011, yet continued to serve as an effective presence, be it from the start or off the bench, until his eventual retirement in 2014.
He would call time on his career after playing a key role in all 13 Premier League titles that the club has won, as well as in two Champions League title triumphs, while he also holds the record for having scored in 21 consecutive top-flight campaigns.
In the 8-2 thrashing, the Welshman entered the fray alongside Park Ji-sung on 68 minutes, in place of Anderson and Nani.
The unsung hero of a great United side for so long, Park Ji-sung was often the man for the big occasion and made an almost instant impact off the bench, netting with a well-taken left foot effort to make it 6-1 to the home side.
An unglamorous, hard-working individual, the former PSV man rarely hit the headlines yet was always trusted by his manager when it mattered, memorably shackling Andrea Pirlo in a Champions League clash with AC Milan in 2010, carrying out his job of frustrating the Italian to perfection.
The 2011/12 season would prove to be his last at the club before he made the switch to Queens Park Rangers, where he ended his career two years later after a brief loan spell back in Eindhoven.