It was a clash between two of the Premier League’s biggest teams in name only and Manchester United’s smash and grab 2-1 win at Arsenal on Saturday proved only how far both clubs have fallen behind their rivals.
For many years, the fixture played a large part in deciding the title race but this season was significant only as United’s first away win of the campaign which moved them up to fourth in the table.
Instead of landing a hammer blow to Arsenal’s aspirations of silverware, defeat sent them down two places to eighth and condemned the London side to their worst start to a season in 32 years.
After runaway leaders Chelsea continued their unbeaten start to the campaign with a routine 2-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal and United took centre stage for the day’s late kickoff.
If the league positions of the teams at the Emirates Stadium were not indicative enough of the diminishing value of the fixture, the match itself offered further proof of the changing landscape of English soccer.
Traditionally punctuated by seismic confrontations between firebrand players like Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Tony Adams, the game lacked the ferocity of two teams looking to make a statement to major rivals.
Both sides lacked the leadership of former title-winning captains Keane and Vieira in a game that was more frantic than highly-charged.
A comical clash between United’s towering Marouane Fellaini and diminutive Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere was the only major flashpoint in a match strangely lacking in intensity.
Both teams looked vulnerable at the back, with United manager Louis van Gaal forced to field three teenagers in a makeshift defence that was ravaged by injuries.
Arsenal failed to take the lead after dominating the first half and an own goal from Kieran Gibbs followed by a breakaway Wayne Rooney strike were enough to give United victory before Olivier Giroud grabbed a late consolation for the hosts.
The insipid way Arsenal surrendered a commanding position to a mediocre United team who relied on excellent saves from goalkeeper David De Gea, and a large chunk of fortune, suggest both have a long way to go before they battle it out for major honours again.