LONDON – Manchester United found an unlikely ally in the form of Arsene Wenger on Monday, as the Arsenal coach sought to downplay the significance of United’s 6-1 drubbing by title rivals Manchester City.
Sunday’s defeat was United’s heaviest in the history of the Premier League (since 1992) and their worst loss at Old Trafford since a 5-0 reverse against the same opponents in 1955.
It was also the first time the 19-time English champions had conceded six goals at home since losing 7-4 to Newcastle United in 1930.
Even more damagingly, the result proved that City are the favourites to take United’s league crown this season after years of living in the shadows of their more successful rivals from across the city.
United coach Sir Alex Ferguson described the scoreline as “the worst result in my history,” as he watched City pull five points clear at the Premier League summit after doubling the figure in United’s goals conceded column in the space of just one afternoon.
Ferguson’s side’s dominance of the Premier League era meant their humiliation at City’s hands felt pregnant with symbolism, but Wenger warned not to read too much into the result.
Arsenal were humiliated 8-2 by United in August but have since won six games out of seven to re-kindle their push for a Champions League place, and Wenger backed United to react in similar fashion.
“It’s a surprise,” he said. “But France nearly beat New Zealand in the rugby (World Cup final) and that was a surprise.
“Like when we lost 8-2, the big scores have no special meaning. It only means something special happened in the game.
“When you are in a position where you have to attack with 10 men against a good side, you are vulnerable. It’s not that you lost three points, but the emotional aspect of a result like that remains in your head.”
The British media, however, were less disposed to be charitable about United’s performance.
“Six and the city” was the pun on the front page of the Daily Mirror tabloid, while The Sun proclaimed: “Fergie gives himself the hairdyer.”
Both newspapers carried front-page pictures of Mario Balotelli, who lifted his shirt to reveal a T-shirt sporting the words ‘Why always me?’ after scoring his side’s opening goal.
The controversial 21-year-old Italian set fire to his own house after lighting fireworks in his bathroom on Friday night but he was one of City’s star performers on Sunday, scoring a second goal in the second half.
Under the headline “City hiding hits Ferguson for six,” The Times reported that a car carrying members of the Glazer family, United’s owners, was “bombarded with missiles” by angry United fans after the game.
“It is a scoreline that will echo through the ages, the heaviest defeat of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford, but yesterday afternoon also brought a seismic shift in the Premier League,” wrote The Times.
“On this and recent evidence, City are the best team in England.”