Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0
David Moyes could have hardly have wished for a better weekend to breathe life into Manchester United’s title aspirations.
Not only did his side battle to victory over leaders Arsenal and close the gap to five points, but the champions were given the added bonus that other rivals in the race dropped points unexpectedly.
Manchester City’s defeat at Sunderland just before this game kicked-off added to Chelsea’s controversial draw against West Brom 24 hours earlier. If Liverpool had not walloped Fulham, it would have been perfect — but Moyes will settle for this.
When United suffered defeat at the hands of West Brom on the last weekend of September and then allowed Southampton leave Old Trafford with a point early in October, it looked like the loss of Alex Ferguson was proving even more critical to their title defence than most had imagined it would.
They were eight points behind Arsenal then and they remained that until six o’clock yesterday when a roar went around Old Trafford at the final whistle to signify that the belief is back in this part of Manchester that this will not be a feeble title defence.
This is certainly not the fluid, attacking United that has pummelled teams, including Arsenal, in the past on their home turf, but it is a credit to them that they have been able to dig in and quietly collect points as the Gunners sailed past opponent after opponent.
There is still a long way to go for United. The Arsenal that have had opponents in a daze in the early stages of this season with their stylish, passing football did not show up yesterday apart from a few brief flashes in the second half. Mesut Ozil was quiet while Aaron Ramsey, a star so far this season, had little impact.
That side would have given this United outfit a lot more problems.
“I’ve said it is another step in the right direction,” said Moyes. “We have a lot of big steps here, it’s going to take a while for me to get it all the way I want it.
“I don’t know if it puts out any statement. Everybody for years has known how good United can be. My job and the team’s job is to continue that. We are going to get a few bloody noses along the way.”
Moyes’ calmness was significant. It was a good performance but not one that will have teams cowering at the thought of facing United, although a number of individual displays will have supporters feeling more confident.
While it was Robin van Persie’s first-half header that sealed the win, Wayne Rooney’s tireless work cannot be overlooked.
His performance, together with Van Persie’s ruthlessness and Phil Jones’ display in midfield in the opening 45 minutes, were paramount to this important win.
Arsenal switched off at a corner swung in by Rooney just before the half hour mark and Van Persie capitalised to head home. The Dutchman’s celebration said it all.
There was a real sense of how big a game this was for United by the noise inside Old Trafford throughout the game and Van Persie, who did not celebrate when he scored at home and away against his former club last season, let loose as he slid away in delight with his goal. United would latter need to hang on, but this could be the jolt their season has been calling for.
Arsenal fans should not be too despondent, however. They too have benefited from City and Chelsea’s bad weekend and while some of those still in doubt about their title credentials claimed they had to beat United to prove their worth, Arsene Wenger will still take relief by the fact they were far from outplayed despite a below-par performance.
The Gunners have only picked up a solitary draw on their last 10 visits to Old Trafford so it has hardly been a happy hunting ground, and they have in the past played much better than this and still come away with nothing.
“It is disappointing to lose a game the way we lost it because I felt that we were a bit nervous at the start and we didn’t play our game,” explained Wenger.
The Premier League leaders were also dealt a blow overnight when a “bug” in the camp ruled Tomas Rosicky and Per Mertesacker out which can only have been detrimental to their plans even if Wenger refused to use it as an excuse.
They should see this as a small bump on the road in their title quest and maybe the bigger questions will be asked of them in how they respond when they welcome Southampton to the Emirates after the international break.
MANCHESTER UTD (4-4-2): De Gea 6; Smalling 7, Vidic 6 (Cleverley 45, 6), Evans 7, Evra 6; Valencia 6, Jones 8, Carrick 7, Kagawa 6 (Giggs 77); Rooney 8, Van Persie 7 (Fellaini 85).
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Szczesny 6; Sagna 7, Vermaelen 6, Koscielny 6, Gibbs 6; Arteta 6 (Gnabry 83), Flamini 6 (Wilshere 61, 6); Ramsey 5, Ozil 5, Cazorla 5 (Bendtner 78); Giroud 5.
Referee: Michael Oliver 5
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