ARSENAL 3 MAN UTD 0 NEVER mind the European Super League, Manchester Utd need to get ready for the English Premier League.If yesterday's Charity Shield duel with Arsenal really was a dress rehearsal for the season ahead, then United fluffed far too many lines for comfort.
The scoreline's emphatic nature will trouble United less than the presence of some alarming faults, particularly in a leaderless defence, an occasionally confused wing policy and a lack of a cutting edge. By contrast, Arsenal looked as smooth and organised, pacy and penetrative as when they stormed to the Double last year.
Arsenal's strengths provided a counterpoint to United's problems. Tony Adams was outstanding in central defence, his commanding performance setting the benchmark that United's Jaap Stam must achieve.
Marc Overmars was electrifying down the left flank and inside-left corridor, showing the acceleration and assertiveness that United want from their wide players.
In attack, Arsenal were simply far more clinical than United, scoring with good strikes from Overmars, Christopher Wreh and Nicolas Anelka. And when the ritual round of second-half substitutes occurred, Arsenal's slotted in seamlessly.
The champions look prepared for the season, United ready for some more work on the training ground.
Some improvements will occur naturally, such as Roy Keane, feisty here but not dominant, reaching full fitness. Other deficiencies will need the express attention of Alex Ferguson and Brian Kidd, starting with the defence.
Stam did enough at PSV last year to indicate he is a centre-half of note yet here, as occasionally during the World Cup, he seemed vulnerable to fast forwards who spin off his shoulder and head straight for goal.
Certain centre-halves would nudge or lean into their opponent, a trait not apparent in Stam's game but one that would off-balance speedy strikers. Anelka certainly embarrassed Stam in registering Arsenal's third, although in fairness to the Dutch international, there were bright moments such as two smart dispossessions of Overmars.
Of equal concern was United's midfield strategy. Keane's return is hugely welcome and he will galvanise all around him.
The problem lies out wide. United always look best when they are spreading their wings, stretching teams by pushing players forward down the lines, whether wingers or full-backs.
Too often here, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs tucked inside, giving them numbers in midfield but restricting their creative options. Perhaps Jesper Blomqvist's installation will see United return to their orthodox wing approach.
On the subject of Beckham, ridiculously painted as the villain of England's summer, he was predictably and pathetically booed at Wembley but no more than Teddy Sheringham, the target of particular derision for his Tottenham past and inability to shoot straight here.
`GIVE IT TO TEDDY'
Two misses were especially wretched. ``Give it to Teddy,'' crowed the Highbury hordes when United had possession.
Sheringham, who has the class to overcome his current blip, is clearly not in Ferguson's starting plans and arrived only for the last 20 minutes. Paul Scholes, who contributed some delightful touches, played off Andy Cole, whose potential potency in the forthcoming season was difficult to assess such was the net spread by Adams.
Discounting United on this evidence would be naive.
Ferguson can turn them around but the tuning needs to be sharply achieved because United meet LKS Lodz in their Champions' League qualifier on Wednesday.
At least there is no problem with the commitment levels.
Responding to Ferguson's pre-match exhortation, the men in red did begin with a `cavalry charge' that bordered on a stampede into the Arsenal ranks.
After 11 months out injured, Keane reintroduced himself by fouling Overmars and then Patrick Vieira, the Irishman surprisingly escaping censure from Graham Poll.
The referee, otherwise excellent, did take exception to Gary Neville's challenge on Overmars, a scything affair not out of keeping with the current harvest-time.
Arsenal, though, are built to weather most storms, particularly one like United's that blew hot in certain areas but cold upfront.
Arsenal showed greater sharpness after 33 minutes, scoring a goal that encapsulated the class of this Wenger side.
Vieira clipped the ball forward to Dennis Bergkamp, whose back-heel fell via Ronny Johnsen and Anelka to Overmars.
The little Dutchman finished in fulminating fashion, the ball flashing past Peter Schmeichel.
The Charity Shield is only a glorified friendly but United are a proud bunch.
In a vainful attempt to claw Arsenal back, Ferguson changed his midfield, pushing Beckham permanently inside, removing Nicky Butt and introducing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer up front.
This condensed United's midfield even more with Scholes now on the right, a position that does not fully suit his marvellous talent.
Arsenal slipped into overdrive, scoring through two splendid counter-attacks. After 56 minutes, Overmars cut in from the left, leaving Scholes in his wake, before sliding the ball across United's box to Anelka who, in turn, found Wreh.
Denied by Schmeichel the first time, Wreh calmly stroked the ball past the Dane to confirm Arsenal's supremacy. Anelka's hard running was rewarded 18 minutes from time. Accelerating on to Ray Parlour's through-pass, he beat Stam with his pace and then Schmeichel with his placement of the ball, a fine left-footed strike.
Arsenal, who became the first southern team to win the Charity Shield outright since 1962, set off to celebrate their third trophy in four months.
Daily Telegraph, London.