Aristocrats subjected to new level of suffering
In the hard-nosed world of American gridiron, they call what Manchester United did to Arsenal yesterday running up the score.
It is not a term of admiration for outstanding, even brilliant performance. Indeed, the opposite is true. It is what they say of examples of exploitation of plainly outgunned opponents. Running up the score is the equivalent of bar-room boasting. Unfortunately, yesterday, United were not given a whole lot of alternatives.
Wayne Rooney thundered in his free-kicks. Ashley Young ran with the continued freedom of someone who has arrived in a situation which plainly suits perfectly his belief that he is at the point of his career where he can achieve just about anything he wants -- though the goals that came to him quite exquisitely yesterday are not often going to come quite so easily.
United went to the top of the league with eight goals that gave them, for the moment at least, a small edge over the equally destructive Manchester City.
But the real significance of the achievement they shared with their neighbours was to produce the most sweeping evidence that they have come to a new season in impressive fighting order.
They looked abundantly equipped for the job. Arsenal looked precisely the opposite. They were the shell of a football team, a remnant of old glory.
Rooney lined up the Arsenal goal as if he was in charge of an artillery unit. Young's running was filled with optimism. Before he pulled a hamstring, Danny Welbeck was promising some more of the rampage that has carried him into the regard of Fabio Capello.
It was at this point that you wondered if Arsene Wenger needed to draw from his fragile reserves on the bench -- or maybe send up a flare signalling his distress. Arsenal may have been afflicted by freakish assaults on first-team strength -- quite apart from the permanent loss of their two best players -- but there is a reality here that dwarfs more or less any circumstances, however unfortunate.
In case we are tempted to forget, we are not talking about any old bodged-up, dysfunctional football club falling on hard times or paying a fleeting visit to the big time. We are discussing The Arsenal -- Wenger's Arsenal.
Maybe matters will improve when Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong and Alex Song get back from suspension and Jack Wilshere is fit again but, in the meantime, Arsenal are obliged to absorb the meaning of yesterday afternoon.
It wasn't so much a defeat, lopsided and embarrassingly wretched, but an exposure, a horrible episode of humiliation which just happened to coincide with the fact that, after three games of the new Premier League season, they find themselves rooted in the bottom four.