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Manchester United Somehow Strut Atop the Premier League After Edging Arsenal

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United tangles with Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on December 13, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Nathan LoweAnalyst IDecember 14, 2010

Park Ji-Sung once again transcended an inherent mediocrity to edge Manchester United to victory Monday against Arsenal.

The Korean mimicked Javier Hernandez' own contortionist header against Stoke City to somehow steer Nani's cross into the net just prior to the interval at Old Trafford.

The second half, as the first, contained enterprising football from each side in a combative, classy affair between the two perennial contenders.

United should have gone two goals to the good but Wayne Rooney, despite looking quite fit, managed to balloon a dubiously-awarded penalty into the Stretford end.

Rooney aimed for the top-left corner but supplied far too much power than is required when aiming at one of the two corner quadrants of the goal the keeper can't reach regardless.

But it didn't matter as United held on confidently to finish match day 17 on top of the Premier League table with a game in hand.

Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand comprised a dynamic duo in the back without need for grappling hooks or prosthetic muscles. Vidic particularly asserted himself—as he tends to, being the most dominant central defender in the world. Rafael and Evra each happened to put in workman-like shifts to steady their squad going forward.

And going forward United were good enough. Alex Ferguson's five-man midfield could be hyperbolized as being genius, but how genius is it when everyone knew he'd do it anyways, as is his wont against England and Europe's better sides.

Somehow Michael Carrick managed not to make a fool of himself while Anderson and Fletcher harried about compensatorily, crashing into those in yellow, leaving them whinging on the floor clutching limbs.

Nani was predictable in his unpredictability; as is his proclivity: he made poor decisions and usually executed them with flare, seldomly—but appreciably—with effect. Players who dribble too much tend to be bad passers; it's not really rocket science. They practice dribbling more than passing, even when they're playing.

Ji-Sung, amidst turning the ball over under no pressure, displaying poor balance, and ever-showcasing an inability to work towards his left side, popped up for the crucial  header before the break to ensure his lamentable inefficiencies are glossed over for another week by editorialists (well, most of them).

Up front Rooney showed good fitness and focus, two necessary attributes flagrantly lacking in his recent form. Of course, he's still the same player. His need to work the ball onto his right foot from the left side of the field is so obvious it's a wonder he ever gets a shot off.

But Rooney makes up for an inarguable lack of guile (except when attempting the odd chip) on days like this with tenacity and bottle, flying after headers, sweeping balls left and (usually) right, and importantly staying in position.

As for Arsenal, who really cares. There's 50 writers on this site who'll each have a different perspective of their game Monday, and I won't read a single one.

If I was forced to proffer an opinion, I'd say uninterestedly, and based on knowledge more intuitive than deep, the following:

Chamakh is an egregious diver. Nasri's combination of ambidexterity, balance and pace is world-class. Arshavin should arrive on form in January, resplendently for neutrals, and crucially for his side; and lastly, their defense without Vermaelen is a bit rubbish.

That's sums up the amount of neurons I'll spend on Arsenal. Thankfully United's unlikely march to the top of the Premier League have most of mine firing again.

If only it had less to do with Ray Wilkins' departure and more to do with consistent United potency this year.

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