It was the first chance for the neutral to analyse the strength of Arsenal's new fluid 4-3-3 formation, as they visited reigning English champions Manchester United at Old Tafford.
Arsenal started the game strongly. Effortlessly stringing passes together, the away side ensured Manchester United remained on the back foot for the best part of the opening spell.
Gael Clichy marked Valencia tightly, while on the same wing Arshavin remained quiet. It soon lapsed into the tight, tense affair which is often synonymous with a clash between these two sides.
The Arsenal trio of Song, Denilson, and Diaby dominated the United midfield. Poor distribution of the ball was the only flaw in an otherwise accomplished first-half performance by the in-form Gunners.
Robin Van Persie had a shot blocked by Evra before the away side had a penalty claim dismissed. Arsene Wenger’s little dynamic Russian was hauled down in the box by after an aggressive tackle by Darren Fletcher.
Mike Dean was uninterested, waving play on. Moments later, the ball fell to Arshavin, who delivered his own retribution as he lashed the ball past Ben Foster.
Chants of “one nil to the Arsenal” were soon muted, as the home side enjoyed a sustained period of pressure. United remained camped inside the Arsenal half, whipping dangerous balls from set pieces into the box. All were dealt by the superb Gallas and Vermaelan.
One would have expected the home side to start livelier as the second 45 minutes commenced. But it was Arsenal who soon carved out another opportunity.
Arshavin darted to the by line and fizzed a low cross into the box, which reached Robin Van Persie. The Dutch striker side footed the ball at the stretching Foster, who managed to clear the ball with his feet.
The away side was left to rue its captain’s miss as the second half unfolded.
Shortly after, a well-crafted through ball by veteran Ryan Giggs found Rooney. The No. 10 touched the ball past the oncoming Marcel Almunia, who proceeded to clatter the striker to the ground.
On second viewing, it appeared an dubious penalty claim. The ball was racing out of play, while Rooney looked to be tumbling to the ground before receiving any contact from the keeper.
Nevertheless, the decision stood, and Rooney made no mistake from the spot, firmly driving the ball past the Almunia.
Less than 10 minutes later, matters improved further for the home side. A needless free kick was conceded by Clichy. That allowed Giggs to fire in a free kick, which Diaby headed past his own keeper.
It was an inexplicable mistake, as the midfielder seemed to be under no pressure from the opposition.
It allowed United to take an unlikely lead.
The villain almost became the hero moments later when Diaby dribbled past two United defenders, but he pulled his shot wide of the post.
Dimitar Berbatov came on as a substitute as 90 minutes approached. The Bulgarian had a clear sight on goal after Rooney and Nani combined with the Portuguese winger, producing a delightful ball to the No 9.
The striker misfired, sending the ball flying into the stands.
Deep into stoppage time, Van Persie had the ball in the net after a knockdown from Gallas. But it was denounced void after Gallas has roamed into an offside position.
A furious Wenger was banished from the touchline by Mike Dean, much to the amusement of the Old Trafford faithful who lauded the French manager.
It marked a disappointing end to the afternoon for Wenger. Early promise from Arsenal was undermined by defensive mistakes.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be quick to acknowledge his side was somewhat fortuitous in its 2-1 victory. Undoubtedly, there is a lot more to come from this Manchester United side.
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