Robin van Persie set Manchester United on the road to 2–1 victory with a goal against his old club Arsenal after only 2 minutes and 39 seconds of Saturday’s lunchtime clash at Old Trafford.
“It was a special day,” van Persie said to ESPN. “I’m happy with the win. We can be quite pleased with our performance.
“I spent eight years there. I respect all of them a lot, the fans, the manager,” he said after not celebrating his early goal.
Wayne Rooney missed a penalty on the stroke of half time, but a collectors’ item from Patrice Evra made the game safe for the home side seven minutes past the hour mark.
A lapse in concentration by United, as they took their collective feet off the gas pedal, allowed Santi Cazorla to snatch an unlikely consolation for the Gunners with the last kick of the game.
Always one of the most eagerly anticipated matches on the Premier League fixture list, this lunchtime encounter between Manchester United and Arsenal generated even more interest than usual on account of last season’s unlikely 8–2 score line and, of course, former Arsenal captain van Persie facing, for the first time, the club that he served so admirably for eight years.
In actual fact, the game was a walk in the park for Manchester United and lacked much of the fire seen in prior encounters. Arsenal did not register a shot on goal until second-half injury time.
United and Arsenal selected the same starting lineups that played last weekend’s fixtures against Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers respectively.
The two clubs have some notable casualties whose injuries made them ineligible for selection for this one. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (hip), Wojciech Szczesny (ankle), Keiran Gibbs (thigh), Tomas Rosicky (tendon), Abou Diaby (thigh), Gervinho (ankle), were all missing for the Gunners.
United look forward to welcoming back Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in the next couple of weeks, but neither were in the reckoning for today’s line-up. Shinji Kagawa’s knee will keep him out until December. Skipper Nemanja Vidic, who has endured a torrid time with injury over the last 18 months, is still not ready to return.
Van Persie to the Fore
The game was not yet three minutes old when Antonio Valencia broke down the right and delivered an indifferent cross along the ground. Somehow, Thomas Vermaelen contrived to miss his kick and who, of all people, should the ball break to but van Persie. The Dutchman finished as clinically as ever and United was one up.
The Red Devils’ second opportunity also fell to the Netherlands international who was put through by an incisive pass from Rooney. The striker was forced wide but still managed to get the shot on target with his weaker right foot.
However, Vito Mannone was in the perfect position to make the save. Moreover, he was called on again just six minutes later to deal with a header from that man van Persie.
United looked set to go into the break with some daylight between themselves and the visitors when Santi Cazorla handled in the box and referee Mike Dean awarded a penalty. It was a huge break for Arsene Wenger’s side when Rooney scuffed his kick, which slid off the outside of Mannone’s right-hand upright to safety.
A minute after the restart van Persie, exchanging positions with Valencia, turned provider; crossing from the right only to see the Ecuadoran miss his kick directly in front of goal with only the keeper to beat. Better the striker in front of goal than the winger one might say, but van Persie was himself guilty of squandering a wonderful chance, though full credit to the outstanding Mannone who made a fine fingertip save low down to his right.
United’s second goal finally came from an unlikely source with Evra heading a rare goal from Rooney’s excellent cross from the left. Arsenal’s defence coach, Steve Bould, will certainly be wanting to know how the diminutive Evra not only managed to get in between Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker, but also win the header.
Arsenal’s chances of taking anything from the game pretty much ended three minutes later when Jack Wilshire was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
Interestingly, Tom Cleverly, who had also received a yellow card and a final warning had recently been withdrawn by Sir Alex Ferguson in favor of Anderson. By contrast, Arsene Wenger chose to leave Wilshire on the field and paid the price.
United had the ball in the Arsenal net twice more before the end, courtesy of van Persie and Anderson, but both efforts were ruled offside.
It was some measure of Arsenal’s uninspired performance that David De Gea made his first save of the game in the 92nd minute. Yet there was something for the visiting fans to cheer when Cazorla hit an absolute scorcher past De Gea with the very last kick of the match. The young Spanish keeper was rightly livid with his defenders for relaxing before the job was completed.
“The win was the most important thing today,” Rooney said in his postgame interview with ESPN. He admitted the score could have been more lopsided, but that United didn’t take their chances.
The 2–1 score line flattered Arsenal who could—and should—have lost by five or six. If United are serious about winning silverware this season, especially in Europe, they will need to be less profligate in front of goal and avoid those lapses at the back which always seem to occur when Vidic is not playing.
If this had been the first game of a two-legged tie in the knockout phase of the Champions League, it would actually have been a disastrous result, given United’s dominance for most of the 90 minutes.
Arsenal are now three wins off the pace and in danger of seeing their main rivals for the title disappear out of sight, even at this early stage of the campaign. Wenger’s team was lackluster today, and while all the talk has been of van Persie, it is arguable that it is actually Alex Song that the Gunners are missing most since the midfield playmaker’s departure to Barcelona.
Van Persie has settled in at Old Trafford quicker than probably anyone expected. Prior to this game, he had notched an impressive nine goals and four assists in his 12 United appearances.
Club veteran Rio Ferdinand, someone not easily impressed, was full of praise for his new teammate when interviewed on the Manchester United website: “The best way you can settle in at a new club is to get on with the other lads and he’s done that straight away.
“Going on from that, you’ve obviously got to be able to put your foot on the ball and put the ball in the back of the net, and you can’t ask him to have done any more than he has.”
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