Familiarity breeds content for a new Ferguson generation

United's home-grown policy paid off in style – and left Arsenal looking painfully out of date, writes Tim Rich

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The Independent Online

Eight-two is a youth-team scoreline and in essence Sunday's massacre at Old Trafford was a youth-team match, one Arsenal lost comprehensively on and off the pitch.

The average age of both teams was 23 but that is the only thing connecting Manchester United and Arsenal. One was the product of a honed, definable system, the other a collection of individuals who seem to have been selected almost at random.

Arsenal have been this way before. A decade ago, they were humbled 6-1 at Old Trafford and a year later they returned to Manchester to take the championship. The season of the "Invincibles" was still to come.

To borrow Alan Hansen's phrase, it is Arsène Wenger, not Sir Alex Ferguson, who has won nothing with kids. Perhaps significantly, it was around the time the club abandoned Highbury for the Emirates Stadium, when money was suddenly tight, that the drive for youth began. Ferguson has always been obsessed with developing his own footballers, in part because they were easier to mould in his own image. "Orange-juice heroes," he called them, in contrast to the more difficult figures of Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath, who drank something altogether stronger.

It was said that the making of the Lisbon Lions was that the Celtic team that won the European Cup were all born within 30 miles of Parkhead. The Manchester United team that in the space of a week demolished Tottenham and humiliated Arsenal is united not by geography but by age. David de Gea, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Nani – a veteran at 24 – have all been born since Ferguson has been manager at United.

Cleverley, like Welbeck and Evans, has been part of the fabric of Old Trafford since he was 12. But everyone who comes to United is lectured about the club's history.

"I grew up around Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham," said Cleverley. I have been at the club 10 years now. I know what it is like to be at Manchester United and nerves don't come into it. I have been coming to Old Trafford for 10 years and have always looked on thinking, 'One day I want to be on that pitch'. It is easier when you are coming through with a lot of young players who are friends like Danny, Chris, Phil, David and the Da Silva twins; it makes it all quite exciting.

"I know Danny Welbeck the best. He has been at the club 10 years as well. We have played in the FA Youth Cup and the reserves together."

It is worth recalling that what Arsenal suffered on Sunday, they have dished out before. In a League Cup tie in January 2007, their young footballers inflicted Liverpool's heaviest defeat at Anfield since the Mauretania was at the Mersey Docks.

Rafael Benitez, horrified by the humbling, ordered a total overhaul of Liverpool's youth policy, which now, in the shape of Martin Kelly, John Flanagan and Jay Spearing, is beginning to bear fruit. This might be the kind of catalyst Wenger's regime requires. Many of his young players were scouted by his former player Gilles Grimandi, who recommended Francis Coquelin. He was unable to cope with his first taste of English football in Stoke's Britannia Stadium.

He was promptly loaned to Lorient and you wonder whether that prepared him better than United sending Evans and Welbeck to Sunderland or Cleverley to Wigan.

Ending the barren, trophyless run was what Arsenal's season was about. Old Trafford changed that. Now, it is not about whether Wenger can win but whether he can survive.

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