Manchester United scored a vital win over Arsenal at Old Trafford despite Wayne Rooney missing a second half penalty. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side fully deserved the 1-0 win after a combative display in Manchester, with Arsenal rarely showing the free-flowing football that brought the visitors to the Premier League summit last week.
The win gives United a two-point lead heading into next week’s clash with Chelsea.
Understandably, Ferguson was delighted with his side’s performance against the high-flying visitors and United will now head to London with renewed confidence.
“I think we had to play well. These are the games in which you want to perform and I think we did perform tonight,” said Ferguson.
“Recently we have been playing well and today was another good performance. Second half Arsenal came into it a bit but they didn’t make any real chances but they pegged us back a little bit. We should have made more of our chances on the break.
“We’ve got a difficult game against Chelsea next Sunday. That’s going to be a very important game now. If the back four plays with that consistency it gives us a chance.”
Ferguson pulled a mild surprising in dropping Dimitar Berbatov for the Londoners’ visit. Despite the Bulgarian sitting out most of last season’s major fixtures, Berbatov remains United’s top goalscorer this season. Still, with Ferguson preferring three in central midfield United began with a combative trio of Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Michael Carrick.
Ferguson’s selection proved a forebear for the opening half, with proceedings fiercely – often physically – competitive. Indeed, Arsenal, painted by the visiting fans as close to saintliness, was arguably the more combative of the sides, repeatedly fouling Anderson in particular.
United always gives as good as it gets in that department though, with energy and endeavour superseding flowing football on both sides for the most part.
The hosts though took the game to Arsenal for much of the opening 45; perhaps more than was expected by the neutral. Rooney, twice, and Nani each tested débutant Wojciech Szczesny in the visitors’ goal. Anderson then had a good shout for a penalty turned down by referee Howard Webb when Marouane Chamakh appeared to handle inside the area.
Meanwhile, Arsenal seemed content to wait for opportunities on the break that rarely materialised as Carrick, Fletcher and especially Anderson dominated the central midfield area.
Yet, for all the bluster few genuine chances were created by either side until Nani collected Fletcher’s flick-on from Edwin van der Sar’s long punt to create the opening goal. As the Portuguese cut inside his deflected left-foot shot found Park Ji-Sung for the Korean to acrobatically head a looped effort over Szczesny and into the net.
It might have broken previous Arsenal sides, whose fragile collective temperament has often let Wenger’s side down. Yet the Londoners’ started the second half in far more positive vein as both Samir Nasri and Chamakh went close for the visitors.
United continued to dominate the tempo of the game though, with better Arsenal possession after the break not equating to clear-cut chances. Indeed, the Reds could twice have a double the advantage only for Nani to waste opportunities or lose possession at the crucial moment.
Arsenal had its 20-year-old ‘keeper to thank for keeping the side in the game as Rooney slipped in Anderson only for the Brazilian to strike straight at Szczesny. For all his energy Anderson has never found goalscoring easy at Old Trafford and was often wasteful in the final third of the pitch.
What could have been match’s pivotal moment came with 20 to go as Ferguson’s side was awarded the penalty that could so easily have come in the opening half, after Gael Clichy’s handball. Rooney, who is yet to score from open play this season, blasted the penalty high over the bar to keep Arsenal in the match.
The miss should have galvanised the visitors into one final push for an equaliser. But for all Arsenal’s extra endeavour in the second period Wenger’s side all too rarely threatened van der Sar’s goal. Ridiculously, Wenger blamed the state of the Old Trafford pitch rather than looking closer to home for answers.
Pretenders to the throne, abdicating early once again.
Rooney could even have double United’s advantage with moments to go, brilliantly lobbing Szczesny only for the 6’5″ ‘keeper to palm the effort away as United eased out the final minutes.
“These games sometimes you don’t play well you’ve just got to go out there and do as well as you can,” said Rio Ferdinand.
“We perhaps didn’t show as much as we can but it was about going out there and getting the three points.
“Arsenal test you in different ways, they’re a very talented side. They’re quick and can score at any time but today we contained them well and had the best chances.”
This is no vintage United side but any Ferguson team has heart and tonight the home side showed it in spades.
It certainly wasn’t the free-flowing football of Ferguson’s sides at their best but in containing and controlling the match United fully deserved the result and the Premier League lead.
United – 451 – Van der Sar; Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Anderson (Giggs 85), Carrick, Fletcher; Nani, Rooney, Park Ji-Sung.
Arsenal – 433 – Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy; Nasri, Rosicky (Fabregas 64), A Song, Wilshere (Van Persie 64), Arshavin (Walcott 77); Chamakh.
Attendance – 75,227
Man of the Match – Ferdinand
Possession: United 51% – 49% Arsenal
Attempts: 14 – 11
On Target: 4 – 5
Corners: 5 – 4
Fouls: 7 – 16