Manchester United vs. Arsenal: 10 Lessons Learned from United's Victory
Manchester United facing off against Arsenal is easily one of the biggest dates in the Premier League's calendar, only getting bigger and better as the rivalry between Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger has grown.
Yesterday's spectacle was no exception, with United desperate to overtake Chelsea at the top of the table and Arsenal searching for a performance that would put their season back on track after several below-par games.
After the resulting 90 minutes, it is United fans that will undoubtedly be happier at their team's showing.
Utterly dominant in a 2-1 victory, with Arsenal's goal being virtually the last kick of the game, United are now on top of the table following draws by both Manchester City and Chelsea.
Here, I'll provide 10 lessons that can be learned from this game, which, to be honest, did not quite live up to its billing.
Wayne Rooney Is Silencing Any Remaining Doubters
When Rooney got injured early in the season, fans and pundits alike wondered if he'd be able to force himself back into the United lineup.
Questions had already been raised about his role in the team following the signings of Shinji Kagawa and Robin Van Persie, and the quick understanding that the pair developed after Rooney's injury only exacerbated the issue.
But Rooney has returned and become, once again, an integral piece of this United side.
With Van Persie continuing his free scoring form from last season, Rooney has moved back to play behind him but is providing far more for United than simply playing the No. 10 role.
Given the severe lack of bite in the centre of midfield, Rooney has been dropping deep to harry the base of the opposition midfield, effectively nullifying Arteta today, and Mikel when they played Chelsea.
Combined with the fine range of passing that he is displaying, particularly this magnificently whipped cross for Evra's goal, Rooney can be extremely proud of the Man of the Match award that he won despite missing a penalty.
Aaron Ramsey Is Simply Not a Right Winger
Selection decisions can often be criticised in hindsight, but Aaron Ramsey starting on the right wing was baffling from the start.
While Walcott may have been fatigued after his exploits mid week, and Gervinho's inconsistent form is always a risky choice in such high-profile games, the lack of incisiveness offered by the Welshman only highlighted just how toothless Arsenal looked up front.
And if Wenger was trying to offer more protection in the wide areas, then he perhaps should have focused more on the left, where Andre Santos was repeatedly caught out by the marauding pair of Valencia and Rafael and was offered no protection by Podolski.
Sagna, on the other hand, looked far more capable dealing with the more industrious Evra and Young on the other flank.
Ramsey's role in the team was therefore hard to identify. He stayed out wide too often to indicate that he was intended to drift inside in an attempt to control possession, but he offered little by staying there.
Walcott eventually came on but found it difficult to influence a game that was clearly already out of Arsenal's grasp. Questions can rightly be raised about whether things would be different if he, or even Gervinho, had started.
United May Already Have an Answer to Their Central Midfield Dilemma
As previously noted, Rooney has been dropping deep for United to help out a central midfield that seemingly everyone but Ferguson knew needed strengthening in the summer.
However, Anderson followed up an excellent display against Chelsea in mid week with a similarly encouraging performance off the bench.
While time will tell if this form will continue with a player possessing a notorious inconsistent streak (not helped by a long list of injuries), Anderson certainly does contain all the tools that United's midfield seems to be lacking.
Despite obvious problems with fitness, Anderson provides a far more dynamic and energetic presence in the centre of the park but can still provide the passing range offered by Carrick, Cleverly or Scholes (as evidenced by his three assists against Chelsea).
As a former player of the tournament at the 2005 under 17 World Championships playing as an attacking midfielder, and yet making more tackles per game than Darren Fletcher in the last two season for United, Anderson, if he can continue this form, could be the answer in central midfield the fans have been looking for.
André Santos Should Relish Every Opportunity He Gets to Swap an Arsenal Shirt
There was much talk after the match about André Santos asking for Van Persie's shirt whilst going up the tunnel not at the game's conclusion but at half time. It seemed the Brazilian thought his first half performance would see him taken off by his manager. Many Arsenal fans would have agreed with the left back after seeing him repeatedly caught out by Valencia.
Although given little help by Podolski in front of him, Santos displayed a worrying lack of defensive awareness, with Valencia able to to beat him at will. Coupled with the terrible final ball he constantly produced on any of his attacking forays, it really was a terrible afternoon for Santos, and he may not be given many more opportunities to swap his Arsenal shirt.
Podolski's Lack of Interest Is Worrying
Lukas Podolski when on form is a terrifying proposition for the opposition. Quick, strong, direct and possessing both excellent technique and shooting ability, he can look the complete footballer. When not on form, however, he appears to be a shadow of what is expected of him.
Disinterested in what was going on around him, displaying little in terms of energy or desire, and simply making poor decisions time and time again, Podolski was a a passenger in this game, and one which Arsenal could not afford.
Fans in Germany may not have been surprised by such a performance. He failed to live up to expectations at Bayern Munich, and upon returning to his home town club FC Koln, he took over a season to regain his best form. His displays for Germany perhaps helped to cover this up, but his place in the national team is now not even certain following his uninspired showings.
On his day Podolski looks to be exactly what Arsenal need, but the club need his day to come far more often.
Is Laurent Koscielny a Less Risky Option Than Thomas Vermaelen?
At the beginning of the season Arsenal were quite rightly being commended for their impressively organised defence. This was a defence based around the duo of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Since the breakup of this partnership, however, things have not looked nearly as solid.
Vermaelen is club captain and is therefore guaranteed a place in the side, but his recent displays have indicated that this is the only reason he is there, as it's certainly not on merit. While Koscielny was wholeheartedly blamed for his team's defeat to Chelsea, it was Vermaelen that gave away both needless free kicks from which Chelsea scored.
And yesterday afternoon saw the Belgian given the absolute runaround by Van Persie. It was his mistake that directly led to the first Arsenal goal, and his performance did not improve, as he was often horribly caught out of position.
Vermaelen seems to have struggled to gain a rapport with either Koscielny or Mertesacker and currently looks like Arsenal's third best centre back. Wenger may just have to rethink the captaincy if his struggles persist.
For All of United's Domination, They Did Not Put Arsenal to the Sword
In what really was an utterly dominant display, 2-1 does not seem like an adequate score line for the hosts. Really, it shows that while they were good, this was far from an inspired performance from United.
Valencia did not make the most of comprehensive beating of André Santos, Van Persie should have buried the chance that Mannone managed to just get his fingertips to, and the overall timing of the team's runs need to be addressed following numerous off-side decisions.
The 2-1 score flatters Arsenal in a way that United should not have allowed and suggests they may struggle when not given the space and time that Arsenal handed them.
Arsenal Need a Replacement for Abou Diaby
When Arsenal beat Liverpool earlier in the season, Abou Diaby put in a man-of-the-match performance that saw all of his recent injury problems and inconsistency forgotten. Offering the sort of power rarely seen in this Arsenal side in recent years, yet combined with the guile and technical ability expected of any their players, Diaby turned into a beacon of hope for the team.
However, Diaby picked up another injury against Chelsea (which may have also cost them the game). Now back to the old style of diminutive, yet stylish midfielders, Arsenal have struggled against more physical opposition.
This was evident yesterday, where Ferguson quite clearly knew exactly what he would be facing and saw how easy it would be for his team to overpower Arsenal's fragile centre.
It was fortunate for Ferguson, because Diaby could have offered exactly the kind of threat his team have had problems with this season.
With no player able to adequately replace the powerful Frenchman at Arsenal, they could do with someone possessing similar attributes as both a tactical plan B, but also for when Diaby invariably gets injured.
Mike Dean Had a Good Day
Refereeing displays are now under constant scrutiny, with Mark Clattenburg's officiating in Chelsea's game against United the latest display to be held up in the fight for video replays.
Mike Dean yesterday, however, gave an excellent example of just how to referee a match.
Dean got every major decision in the match spot on and also tried to let the game flow.
While Jack Wilshere could have been sent off before he was, and Tom Cleverly could also have been shown a red before being substituted, instead Dean gave each player a last warning in an attempt to not remove anything from the spectacle.
That Ferguson obviously heeded this warning and quickly took Cleverly off, while Wenger persisted with Wilshere, shows just how comfortable United were.
The Arsenal Fans Are Irrepressible
As injury time approached yesterday, it would be hard to begrudge Arsenal fans for simply heading for the door after witnessing their teams toothless display.
However, above everything else, all that could be heard were the chants of these same fans singing, "We love you Arsenal, we do!"
While Cazorla's wonder strike was scant reward for such irrepressible support, the Arsenal fans deserve a huge degree of credit for the appreciation they showed to their team.
In all honesty, yesterday's game was far from the beautiful spectacle all football fans would have hoped for.
Arsenal were simply turgid and lacking in ideas against a United side that were far from swashbuckling in their dominance.
There were lessons to be learned, however, as I have hopefully pointed out, and it just remains to be seen whether either manager has drawn similar conclusions.