Talk to Arsenal fans about the last time the Gunners faced Manchester United and you won't hear disappointment. Manchester United got lucky on December 13, is a common refrain. Arsenal outplayed the Red Devils at Old Trafford, losing 1-0 when Park Ji-Sung headed home the match's only goal in the 41st minute.
But no matter the degree of revisionism from their fan base, Arsenal did lose to United, just as they've almost always done of late. Over the clubs' last ten meetings, Arsenal is 1-2-7, having been outscored 21-7 since their November 2007 match.
Since 2009, the divide has been even larger. Starting with the team's UEFA Champions League semifinal meeting that spring, Arsenal has only one "positive" result against United - a 0-0 at Old Trafford on May 16, 2009, though it's very difficult to draw too many positives from that point. Going into the match, United needed only one point to clinch the Premier League, and they go it, able to celebrate their league title with Arsenal dressing in the visitor's locker room.
During this most recent stretch - between spring 2009 and now - Arsenal's only led for 19 minutes, in front after Andrei Arshavin gave them a 1-0 lead minutes before half time on August 29, 2009. In that same stretch of time, Park has scored three times, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo have each scored twice, and ...
You get it: United's done well. It's been a tough couple of weeks for Gooners and we don't mean to pile on, but this is a piece looking back at the recent iterations of this rivalry. As sympathetic as I want to be toward their tribulations, facts are facts. United has owned Arsenal.
April 29 and May 5, 2009 (UEFA Champions League Semifinals) - Manchester United 4, Arsenal 1
We cheat a little here by combining two "games" into one, but as they were part of a Champions League tie, we have some license to consider them halves of a 180-minute match. And per recent Arsenal Champions League tradition, the Gunners played decent in the first leg (a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford, John O'Shea scoring), decided to own the most positive interpretation possible of the leg's result, craft false expectations from it, and be handed their hopes in a paper sack in the second leg. United scored twice in the second leg's first 11 minutes, added another after half, eventually winning 3-1 at the Emirates.
May 16, 2009 (Premier League) - Manchester United 0, Arsenal 0
United needed only a draw to clinch their 18th first division title, though Ferguson's starting attack of Rooney, Ronaldo, and Carlos Tévez wasn't a lineup that would be playing for one. Yet United, possibly looking ahead to their Champions League defense two weeks later against Barcelona, failed to put a shot on Lukasz Fabianski. Regardless, United would celebrate their league title on the pitch, though a second consecutive Champions League would eventually elude them.
August 28, 2009 (Premier League) - Manchester United 2, Arsenal 1
Arsene Wenger would finish this match in the stands, standing above Old Trafford's benches, his palms facing upward at the end of outstretched arms, as if to ask the official "What else do you want?" By that time, Arsenal was destined to lose. A controversial penalty given early in the second allowed Wayne Rooney to equalize a stunning Andrei Arshavin opener, and as if to give the Gunners' critics fuel, Abou Diaby put the winner into his own net in the 64th minute. A year-and-a-half later, the defeat seems the quintessential Arsenal big-game loss: early lead, some misfortune, aim pistol at own foot and pull the trigger. Arsenal spend the last half-hour dwelling on their self-inflicted wounds.
January 31, 2010 (Premier League) - Arsenal 1, Manchester United 3
And this is where is all falls apart if you're trying to defend Arsenal's stature within the Premier League. While United did recently lose 3-1 to Liverpool, that loss snapped a three-match winning streak against their rivals. This 3-1 result affirmed the notion that the Arsenal-United rivalry that had (at one time) defined the Premier League was now sprouting grass six feet above its coffin.
United scored in the 33rd (Nani), 37th (Rooney), and 52nd (Park) minutes, taking a 3-0 lead. Ultimately, it was comically easy for Manchester United, the comfort of their celebrations on Arsenal's pitch leaving a bitterness on the tongue of each Premier League fan whose conception of the league is defined by United and Arsenal competing with each other. A year ago, they were not competitive.
December 13, 2010 (Premier League) - Manchester United 1, Arsenal 0
In light of the previous two years' results, you can't blame Gooners for contorting to find angles from which this would be a positive. Yet, in light of the five previous results, this outcome may be the most disturbing. Not only did Manchester United never have to play hard to get their 1-0 result - with Park Ji-Sung (who, in fairness, always plays hard) beating Bacary Sagna to head home the match's only goal - they didn't even want to play hard. In season's past, United would have reveled in a big result against Arsenal (like the 4-0 they posted the last time the teams met in the FA Cup). In December, United couldn't be bothered to push beyond their opening goal.
Such a nonchalant victory for United would bring an element of irony to Arsenal defeating the Red Devils on Saturday, though Arsenal's recent big-match performances (combined with their recent history against United) do not bode well, though there is one point of solace: United, for the first time this season, enters a match on a losing streak, having lost two in a row.