There are times when you can barely believe what you see with your own eyes. What happened at Old Trafford on February 25, 2001 was one of those occasions. There was Manchester United’s major title challengers, clinically torn apart by a marauding side intent on leaving no doubt who was top dog. It was a day when everything United did turned to gold in a similar way that it was against Blackburn recently. Dwight Yorke took the headlines with his first half hat trick but it was a complete team performance – and no, it was certainly not a dream, just a nightmare for Arsenal. The whole story was emphatically told by the final League Table at the end of the season with the Gunners in second spot a full ten points behind United.
Manchester United 6 v Arsenal 1
David Anderson reported at the time for PA Sport – Manchester United destroyed Arsenal at Old Trafford to effectively wrap up their seventh title in nine years. Arsenal are supposed to be United’s nearest challengers, but the Reds made a mockery of that billing as they ripped them apart to open up a 16 point lead at the top of the Premiership. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side now need just 15 points from their remaining 10 games to clinch the championship.
The day was also a personal success for Dwight Yorke, who took full advantage of a rare start to score a first half hat trick. Roy Keane and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also scored in the first period as United led 5-1 at half-time. At the death, substitute Teddy Sheringham made it 6-1 to equal United’s best ever home win over Arsenal in the league. It was also Arsenal’s heaviest Premiership defeat under manager Arsene Wenger.
Yorke had been handed only his second start in nine games because Andy Cole was suspended and Sheringham was surprisingly left on the bench. The £12.6million hitman, who has fallen from first to fourth in the strikers’ pecking order, duly vented a season’s worth of frustrations on Arsenal. He took just two minutes to begin the rout when he played a one-two with Paul Scholes on the right and knocked home the return at the back post.
The goal gave Yorke the injection of confidence he so desperately and he has admitted he has struggled to come to terms with his demotion at Old Trafford. Arsenal kept their nerve and in the 15th minute they hauled themselves back into the game with a well-taken goal. Oleg Luzhny and Robert Pires combined well down the right before the French international pulled the ball back for Thierry Henry to tuck home his 18th goal of the season.
The Gunners were on level terms for just two minutes until Yorke restored United’s lead when he burst through into space on the left to shoot home. He nearly scored a third a minute later when David Seaman touched his header from Keane’s cross over for a corner. That Seaman save was just a temporary setback for Yorke and in the 22nd minute he duly completed his hat-trick.
Beckham picked him out with a great diagonal ball into the centre and he held off the challenge of Igor Stepanovs before slotting home goal number three. Arsenal’s backline of Stepanovs, Gilles Grimandi, Ashley Cole and Luzhny had completely disintegrated and just three minutes later the rampant Reds scored a fourth. This time Yorke turned provider and he broke down the left before sending over a perfect cross to Keane, who controlled the ball and slotted it home into the bottom corner.
So much for United’s supposed goal drought and after managing just four in their last six games, they had achieved that number in just 25 minutes against Arsenal. They weren’t finished yet and in the 37th minute the Reds made it 5-1.
Grimandi fell over and let Nicky Butt in on the right to sum up his afternoon and the United midfielder pulled the ball back for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to turn home his 12th goal of the season. Scholes could have added a sixth when he blazed over at close range after Seaman had blocked Beckham’s free-kick at his near post.
Arsenal clearly needed to make changes and at half-time manager Arsene Wenger took off Cole and brought on Fredrik Ljungberg with Silvinho moving back to left-back. The shell-shocked Gunners regrouped and had a chance to pull a goal back when Pires’ cross came off Henry and bounced wide. In the main, United continued to do most of the attacking as they searched for the goal that would equal their best ever home league win of 6-1 over Arsenal.
Sheringham joined in on the fun on the touchline as he warmed up and he mimed lifting up trophies in front of the away supporters to the delight of the home fans. Not surprisingly after the whirlwind pace of the first half, the tempo of the game dropped after the interval.
United kept up the pressure on Seaman’s goal, even though they had clearly dropped down a couple of gears, and Jaap Stam headed into the side netting from a Beckham free-kick. It mattered little and United were content to play out the clock. In the 75th minute Yorke came off to be replaced by Sheringham and received a great ovation from the United fans.
He fully deserved it after a Lazarus like comeback which could well redefine the striker’s pecking order. In the final minute, Sheringham completed Arsenal’s humiliation when he scored his 19th goal of the season.
Man Utd: Barthez, Gary Neville, Silvestre, Brown, Stam, Beckham, Butt, Keane (Chadwick 75), Scholes,Yorke (Sheringham 75), Solskjaer. Goals: Yorke 3, 18, 22, Keane 26, Solskjaer 38, Sheringham 90.
Arsenal: Seaman, Luzhny, Cole (Ljungberg 45), Grimandi, Stepanovs, Pires, Vieira, Parlour (Vivas 69), Silvinho,Wiltord, Henry. Goal: Henry 16.
Were you at Old Trafford on that memorable afternoon?