Premier League Match review: Manchester United 2 - 1 Arsenal
Manchester United and Arsenal faced off at Old Trafford in the English Premier League, in the early kick-off on Saturday. Arsenal were unchanged from last weekend’s win over QPR. Despite his mid-week hat-trick in the Capital One cup, Theo Walcott found himself on the bench. On the other hand, Manchester United fielded possibly their best starting line up from players available to them, setting up in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
This was also the first time a certain Dutchman by the name of Robin van Persie was facing his former employer and a lot of the pre-match talk focused on how the ex-Arsenal man would react when he scored a goal. Yes, you read it right – not if, but when. There was almost an air of inevitability that this would happen, and it did in as early as the 3rd minute of the match. Thomas Vermaelen’s weak clearance from a Rafael cross fell invitingly to the lurking van Persie and the striker’s first time right-footed shot was good enough to beat Vito Mannone. To his credit though, the Dutchman chose to keep his celebrations muted.
The London side, on the back foot so early, were treading cautiously forward and it was left to Jack Wilshere to show that he had lost none of his confidence on the ball to make inroads into the United half; on one occasion finding the overlapping Bacary Sagna, but the Frenchman’s cross was easily cleared.
United were clearly bossing the game though, and were quickly closing down the Arsenal players, not allowing them time to play their customary passing game. Antonio Valencia and Rafael were linking up well on the right, giving Andre Santos a hard time. But it was from the left that United made their next goal-threatening move. Patrice Evra dispossessed Aaron Ramsey in the middle of the pitch and fed the ball to Rooney, who in turn played a neat diagonal through ball to van Persie. The United striker showed good change up in speed, as he burst into the Arsenal box, and managed to smash a shot goalwards but Mannone was equal to the task and saved well.
Soon after, Aaron Ramsey returned the favour, as he got the better of Evra, before firing in a cross-shot that De Gea had to be alert to beat away. United were pushing now and in the 27th minute, Valencia skipped past Santos and sent in a cross that the Arsenal defense managed to clear, but only as far as Michael Carrick. The midfielder picked out an unmarked Rooney on the left with a clever ball, but the Englishman’s drive was kept out by a diving Mannone. The danger was not fully averted for Arsenal though, as another cross from the left found an unmarked van Persie this time, but he couldn’t get enough power on his header to trouble the Arsenal keeper.
United had a great opportunity to double their advantage on the stroke of half-time, when referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot after Santi Cazorla handled the ball from an Ashley Young cross. Rooney stepped up to take the penalty but ended up dragging the ball just wide of the goal, keeping the visiting side still in the game at the break.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first with Vermaelen almost gifting the home side a second goal. van Persie nicked the ball away from Vermaelen deep in the Arsenal half before sending a low cross into the box towards Valencia. The Ecuadorian however, despite having only the keeper to beat, ended up fluffing his shot badly, saving the Arsenal captain the ignominy of being responsible for a second goal.
Arsenal brought on Theo Walcott for Ramsey in the 52nd minute, looking to get more pace down the right but it was Andre Santos from the left who was getting more and more involved in their attacks. One such promising move found Santos in the clear from a Cazorla pass, but the Brazilian could not deliver a good enough cross with Arsenal having numbers in the box. In the 65th minute, the visitors came close when a Wilshere free kick bounced dangerously in the United box, but no Arsenal man was able to apply the finishing touch.
On the other end of the pitch, in the 66th minute, an Ashley Young cross found van Persie, who had broken the Arsenal offside trap, completely unmarked. The Dutchman’s shot though was close enough to Mannone for the keeper to make a fingertip save. However, Arsenal had ridden their luck too far, when poor marking from the resulting corner allowed Evra an easy header, which the Frenchman duly deposited into the goal. It soon went from bad to worse for Arsenal when Wilshere, who had already been booked in the first half, was shown a second yellow card for a late tackle on Evra.
United were looking comfortable now and in the 80th minute, thought they had a third when substitute Anderson slotted home from a van Persie pass, but the offside flag had already been raised.
As the game moved into injury time, Arsenal went looking for a goal and were nearly rewarded when Olivier Giroud sneaked through the United defense to meet a Walcott cross, but De Gea did well to thwart the Frenchman. The Gunners continued attacking and got their due, when with the final kick of the game, Cazorla curled in a brilliant shot from the left past the diving United keeper. It was only scant consolation though for the London side, leaving them win-less at Old Trafford now since 2006. On the other hand, this win moves Manchester United to the top of the table, after Chelsea could only manage a draw at Swansea.