Manchester United and Arsenal faced off on Saturday at Old Trafford. The backdrop was extra spicy, as Robin van Persie made an appearance against his former team for the first time since his move to Old Trafford.
Arsenal began badly, as Thomas Vermaelen's mistake allowed RvP to score in the third minute with a precise right-footed finish. The Dutchman showed class in not celebrating the goal against his former team, although his teammates and the fans had different ideas.
The mistake, though, was symptomatic of Arsenal's lethargic play in the first half. The Gunners seemed timid, short of ideas and static.
In addition, Sir Alex Ferguson's tactics denied Arsenal what seemed on paper, to be a natural advantage in midfield. Wayne Rooney was central to these tactics, as he stayed close to Mikel Arteta and marked him out of the game. Additionally, the front four of United along with Tom Cleverley in midfield pressed the Arsenal midfield high and denied their playmakers the space and time to play.
Manchester United, on the other hand, barely had to get out of third gear in this match. Their performance was professional rather than scintillating.
However, their fluency and composure were enough to create quite a few chances against their opponents. Antonio Valencia was especially lively on the right, as he beat Arsenal left-back Andre Santos time and again.
For the first time this season, though, United fans found themselves cursing their team's profligacy. Rooney missed a penalty just before halftime. Antonio Valencia then missed an easy chance after the restart. RvP also missed an easy one-on-one chance against Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
However, United put the game out of reach for Arsenal when Patrice Evra scored his second goal of the season. Soon, the game was effectively over for the Gunners when Jack Wilshere was shown a second yellow card for a late tackle on Evra.
Now armed with a one-man advantage, United continued to threaten, probe and create chances. However, they were unable to extend their lead. On the other hand, their mood would have been soured slightly at the end, as Santi Cazorla scored off the last touch of the game.
However, United can take a lot of heart from this game and can now look forward to a sequence of fixtures that should see them going on a winning run.
For Arsenal, it is a case of more questions about their ability to compete with the best in the Premier League.
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia (Nani 81'), Carrick, Cleverley (Anderson 61'), Young; Rooney, van Persie
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Mannone; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos; Arteta, Wilshere; Ramsey (Walcott 51'), Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud
Manchester United: van Persie 5', Evra 67'
Arsenal: Cazorla 90'+5'
Red Card: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal, 70')
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