It had been quite a quiet season so far for Manchester United by their usual standards with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men creeping closer and closer to the top of the table without controversy.
The message from the press conference prior to United’s fixture versus Arsenal was a simple one – stay focused on the league and keep the pressure on Chelsea who had a difficult away fixture at Swansea to contend with. Many United fans will remember the same fixture last season where Arsenal were absolutely destroyed 8-2 by the Red Devils but Ferguson insisted this wouldn’t happen again.
With the two teams involved in such a fierce rivalry over the last decade the fans were right to expect a fierce battle in midfield however that’s not what they got at all. United gained possession practically straight away and were content to knock the ball around their own half until Rafael broke rank and broke forward, weakly crossing the ball into the Arsenal box. Seemingly an easy ball for Vermaelen to deal with but the Belgian brute made a complete mess of it and pushed the ball into the path of Robin Van Persie who wasted no time lashing the ball past Vito Mannone to put United 1-0 up. Arsenal hadn’t put the pressure on at all since the kick off and the Dutchman made them pay after only three minutes. A fight back was expected from the Gunners but it never really materialised as United continued to control the game throughout the first half hour. David De Gea had barely anything to do in the United goal – his opposite number however was barely given a respite having to deal with the relentless partnership of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie. Arsenal hearts sunk in first half stoppage time as Cazorla conceded a penalty for a dubious handball and Wayne Rooney stepped up to take the penalty but failed to convert for the second time this season – justice was probably done here in truth.
As the second half began all signs were pointing to another easy half for United as Vermaelen slipped again allowing Valencia a shot at an open goal – which he unbelievably missed! Any sort of proper contact on that and it would have been over for Arsenal. Arsenal had to mount a fight back now after being let off the hook like that and fight back they did but even the introduction of Theo Walcott didn’t pay dividends. It seemed only a matter of time before United would double their lead and sure enough with twenty minutes to go they did after a well-worked corner was met by the leaping little man, Patrice Evra, who powered the ball past Mannone to make it 2-0. Huge sighs of relief echoed around Old Trafford as so many times this season have the Red Devils took the lead, became complacent and gave themselves more work to do in the process. Soon after this though, Jack Wilshere seemingly finished the job for United as the Arsenal man was sent off for a second bookable offence – he really hasn’t had the desired impact since his return from injury. This was the end of Arsenal’s contribution to the game – if they ever really had one – aside from Santi Cazorla grabbing a consolation goal (admittedly it was rather spectacular) with the last kick of the game but the game was over long before then. This was a poor game by the usual standards of these two teams – neither team ever really got out of first gear.
That won’t have matter to United though because with Chelsea held at the Liberty Stadium by a late Pablo Hernandez goal and Manchester City drawing a blank at Upton Park, Manchester United returned to the top of the table without really being stretched by a lacklustre Arsenal team. All in all a very good weekend if you’re a Manchester United fan – when United are top, they tend to stay there!