• Rewind to 2001

Rewind to when Arsenal faced a half-time deficit of 5-1

ESPN staff
November 1, 2012
Dwight Yorke netted a hat-trick for Manchester United © Getty Images

Following Arsenal's incredible fightback against Reading, when they trailed 4-1 at half-time before winning 7-5, we take you back to when the Gunners faced an even worse interval deficit, trailing 5-1 at Old Trafford...

"United haven't done anything special this season." The words of Arsene Wenger in the build-up to Arsenal's February 2001 visit to Old Trafford, a game that - at the time - went down as the most embarrassing in Wenger's reign.

Manchester United, already 13 points clear of their main title rivals with 11 games of the season remaining, put on an utter annihilation of Arsenal in a powerful display of direct, rapid, incisive football, leaving Wenger to regret those seven words he had spoken days earlier.

When directly compared to Tuesday's League Cup win over Reading, there were both similarities and differences to the humbling Arsenal received at Old Trafford. Most notably, there was to be no dramatic Arsenal comeback, just pure humiliation as the Red Devils ran out 6-1 winners.

However, like at the Madejski, Wenger did have some of his second-string staff on the pitch, this time through necessity rather than experimentation as the majority of his back four was wiped out. Instead, Arsenal fielded Gilles Grimandi, Igors Stepanovs and Oleg Luzhny - alongside their only trusted defender in Ashley Cole.

Stepanovs, in particular, was a figure who would still make most Premier League Worst XIs - when picked by those who remember his spell at Arsenal. Capped 100 times for Latvia and boastful of a proud career, Stepanovs nevertheless endured a car-crash three years at Arsenal, playing 17 times. His nightmare at Old Trafford - although the horror show was a collective production - saw him play just one more game for the Gunners in the following two seasons.

The pain on February 25, 2001 was inflicted - chiefly - by an out-of-form Dwight Yorke who had fallen to No. 4 in United's striking pecking order. Yorke was only named in the XI due to a suspension to Andy Cole, which offered him his second start in nine matches. It proved a twist of fate that Stepanovs, Wenger and Arsenal will struggle to ever truly forget.

Yorke was on the scoresheet as early as the second minute, tapping home at the back post after a one-two with Paul Scholes. Like Jason Roberts' opener for Reading, Arsenal had been woefully exposed by a fairly straightforward low cross.

The goal, though, did not spark the initial siege that the final scoreline suggests, with Arsenal even gathering enough composure to draw level on 15 minutes. It was a goal of real quality - the type of football that would see them end a season unbeaten years later, with Thierry Henry rounding off a right-wing move involving Sylvain Wiltord and Robert Pires.

David Seaman was beaten six times at Old Trafford © Getty Images

That was as good as it got for the Gunners for the remainder of the afternoon. Arsenal's defence had been patched up with porous materials, chiefly by the names of Grimandi and Stepanovs, and both were about to contribute to the visitors' downfall.

Ask Arsenal fans for the highlight of Grimandi's time at the club and it is likely they will recall his savage tackle of then-Spurs player Edgar Davids in 2006, when he cynically scythed down the Dutchman to stop him scoring in Dennis Bergkamp's testimonial. In more serious games Grimandi was less heroic, and his hesitation to allow Yorke in for United's second opened the floodgates.

It was time for Stepanovs to get exposed by the wonderful passing ability of David Beckham, who dribbled free of his marker before arrowing a 40-yard diagonal pass into Yorke. The former Aston Villa man held off Stepanovs' attentions as the out-of-position defender tried to recover, and then dispatched No. 3 past England's David Seaman.

Four minutes later Yorke turned provider as he played in Roy Keane to drive home goal No. 4, equalling United's goal tally from their six previous outings. Perhaps Wenger had been right that Sir Alex Ferguson's men had done "nothing special" for most of the season, but the football they were serving up now was highly memorable.

By half-time it was 5-1 - a margin even greater than Reading managed - as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got in on the act, capitalising on Grimandi's slip to convert Nicky Butt's cross.

Wenger tried in vain to change things, sending on Freddie Ljungberg for Cole, but nobody was able to take on the role of second-half saviour - as Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud managed at the Madejski. If anything, United went easy on their title 'rivals', and only one more goal followed.

It came from Teddy Sheringham, surprisingly dropped to the bench to make room for Yorke. The England man struck in the final minute for his 19th of the season, rounding off a thoroughly embarrassing afternoon for Wenger, although it wouldn't be his last in Manchester.

What happened next?
United were laughing again in the summer when Wenger admitted: "We were considering Ruud van Nistelrooy and Francis Jeffers and, in the end, we went for Jeffers." Van Nistelrooy arrived as a summer signing for United and scored 23 goals in his first season, while Jeffers only managed four league strikes for Arsenal in his entire career at the club. Nevertheless, it was Arsenal who claimed the title in the 2001-02 campaign, with United 10 points behind in third, although ten seasons later Arsenal suffered an even heavier beating than the 6-1 at Old Trafford as the Red Devils ran out 8-2 winners on home soil.

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