Robin van Persie scored the game’s only goal to give Manchester United a crucial 1–0 victory over first-place Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday. The win confirms that United are back on the right track as the defending champions have now won three in a row.
The Red Devils climbed from eighth place into fifth with the win; Arsenal’s lead atop the table is now down to two points after Liverpool’s big win over Fulham on Saturday. United lies just five points back of the Gunners.
United were the better side over the 90 minutes. The first half was all United and the Arsenal uprising in the second half lacked enough teeth to really trouble the Red Devils.
The match also saw a couple of nasty blows to the head: Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny clashed heads with United defender Phil Jones, while Jones’s counterpart Nemanja Vidic left at the end of the first half after his head smashed into David De Gea’s thigh.
Arsenal was without Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky who both started last Wednesday in Dortmund. Both were out due to sickness and were replaced in the squad by Thomas Vermaelen and Mathieu Flamini respectively.
Arsenal set up with Olivier Giroud as a lone striker while Manchester United countered with the familiar van Persie and Rooney in a support role.
It was a very sluggish start by the Gunners and United were quicker to the ball showing more desire and enterprise.
Rooney, who was the driving force behind the United attack, sent in a good cross that Vermaelen was forced to clear, conceding a corner. Rooney took the corner kick and van Persie found his way to it and glanced it into the far side of the Arsenal goal in the 27th minute.
The former Gunner then celebrated vociferously making all know that he is a United player through and through. One may argue that missing Mertesacker hurt Arsenal on the play, but more clearly, their zonal marking scheme allowed van Persie to make a darting run that was not picked up.
Later in the first half, Rooney thought he had won United a penalty when Giroud stepped into him to win the ball. One only needs to remind themselves of how Chelsea equalized against West Brom on Saturday as to how a penalty could easily be awarded in those circumstances.
Arsenal Huff and Puff
With Vidic off to start the second half after his head injury, United’s remaining defenders were left with a big hole to fill. Arsenal began to find their way in the match after a very dour performance in the first 45 minutes.
The Gunners were particularly active down the right flank with Bacary Sagna being the focal point. The French fullback sent in a couple of delightful crosses that the Arsenal strikers were unable to finish.
Meanwhile, Rooney had United’s best chance when he evaded Sagna and rolled a left-footer past Szczesny’s far post.
“We knew we had to win today at all costs,” Rooney said after the match. “We defended really well. It was a great effort by everyone.
“We knew we couldn’t afford to lose today.”
That United desperation which led more often than not to getting results under Sir Alex Ferguson was evident today.
United defenders Jones, Chris Smalling, and Jonathan Evans all were outstanding, while Arsenal’s skillful midfield was unable to really threaten De Gea’s goal.
The loss marked a few firsts for Arsenal: first loss since opening day in the Premier League, first loss after 15 games unbeaten on the road in all competitions, and their first game in which they failed to score in the PL this season.
Arsenal has been the class of the Premier League thus far and arguably put forth their finest performance of the season in a 2–0 win against Liverpool last weekend. The Gunners came into the game unbeaten in their last nine PL games after losing to Aston Villa in the season opener.
Good Weekend for United
United seem to have found their good form after a difficult start to the season. Coming into the match in eighth place, the Red Devils got a further boost when their noisy neighbors Manchester City lost at Sunderland earlier in the day.
With Tottenham losing earlier in the day, Chelsea drawing at home to West Brom on Saturday, the English Premier League title race just got a bit tighter.
And David Moyes will continue to grow in confidence in his role as United boss having gotten past a major test in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. The United win was only his fourth against Wenger in 28 tries.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports