Arsenal surpassed Manchester United in a crucial encounter thanks to a solitary goal from Aaron Ramsey.
It's crucial for more than one reason.
While Arsenal needed all three points to ease the pressure put on them by Manchester City, United hoped to wrap up the title at Emirates with a win that would've made the road easier for Sir Alex Ferguson with a tough fixture against Chelsea looming.
In the end, Arsenal showed greater ambition and desire to win and United seemed to be in the Champions League mode. After a productive outing against Schalke 04 it was expected of United to take things lightly.
As it turned out, United was totally clueless starting with manager Ferguson. In recent years, United virtually owned Arsenal with a counter-attacking style using a 4-5-1 setup. Surprisingly, Ferguson opted for a more open 4-4-1-1 for this game and it turned out to be a less-than-impressive decision.
On the other side, Arsenal had suffered another injury blow in the build-up to this game as Cesc Fabregas sustained an injury. How often has he been injured this season? If you cite the World Cup as a reason, I would promptly bring to your attention that players like Xavi and Iniesta started more games in the World Cup, yet they haven't missed half the number of games that Fabregas has missed.
In hindsight, Fabregas' injury was a blessing in disguise. The replacement, Aaron Ramsey, played extremely well and perhaps played as good as the captain himself if not better.
Ramsey was excellent and the main reason behind Arsenal's dominance in midfield. He and Alex Song dictated play in midfield and helped Arsenal keep the possession well. In comparison to Fabregas, Ramsey played deeper—to be more precise a deep-lying playmaker.
After battling against a horrible injury with immense determination and unshakable resolution, it's extremely pleasing to see a wonderfully talented player making a comeback of this quality against a top team in a game of this magnitude.
He was influential from the very start and controlled the tempo of the game. It must be noted that he dropped deeper and wasn't direct in his approach.
His style is different than Fabregas'. While Fabregas prefers a more direct approach with plenty of through balls and lob passes, Ramsey prefers to distribute the ball into the wide channels more often.
That was evident in the first half as Ramsey involved Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna heavily in the game with quick and intelligent passes down the flank. While the poor crossing from the Arsenal right-back didn't help the cause, Walcott did make some fine crosses, one of which saw Nemanja Vidic deliberately handling the ball to deny Robin van Perise a clear-cut chance.
Although a clear penalty, it's so cleverly done with clinical precision that besides van Persie, others failed to see. Again, blame the referee, linesman, the need for technology and all that.
Ramsey dominated the game and deservedly scored in the second half to give Arsenal the lead. He started the move and slotted home from the edge of the penalty box after some good work from van Persie.
When United threw bodies forward to find the equalizer, Ramsey broke up the play on numerous occasions and took the centre stage in a number of counter attacks. However, Arsenal's poor decision-making squandered a multitude of chances on the counter.
Whilse all the hype is around Jack Wilshere, it mustn't be forgotten that Ramsey is more talented than the young England midfielder. Expect such performances from the Welsh playmaker on a consistent basis in the future.
Song and other key performers:
Alex Song also had a fantastic game. He was literally following Wayne Rooney all around the pitch and made life extremely difficult for the England striker.
Rooney barely touched the ball in the opening quarter of hour and when he dropped deep Song tracked him well.
Song's positioning was excellent and was strong enough to hold his own against the United striker.
Song nullified the impact of Rooney on the game which effectively made United's attack blunt.
Although Laurent Koscielny hasn't appeased many fans since his transfer to Arsenal, he has been steadily improving. He had another solid game at the back. He read the game quite well and was immaculate for the full duration of the game.
Van Persie, as usual, did his bit of business and was a constant threat to the United back four. He played a key role in the build-up to the goal and led from the front being the captain in the absence of Fabregas.
Andrey Arshavin's cameo appearance is also worth a mention. He's out there with a point to prove as a second-half substitute for injured Samir Nasri. The little Russian was excellent defensively.
He was surprisingly getting the tackles in and winning the balls back quickly and tracking the full backs, something which you don't usually associate with Arshavin.
Wenger didn't tinker with his formation much. Since Ramsey preferred a deeper role, Wilshere played further up, and was sloppy for most part. Van Persie drifted out wide frequently causing headaches for United centre-backs. The goal came from such a manoeuvre by van Persie.
Ferguson's strategy didn't test Arsenal much. It was United's wing-play that caused Arsenal serious trouble in recent years. But in 4-4-1-1, wingers had to drop deep which slowed down the counter attacks. The transition from defence to attack was sluggish as a result.
It could've been better off with 4-5-1, which gives the wingers more freedom with the security of a packed midfield.
United's best chances came from the right: Once when Fabio made a marauding run into the penalty box and in the second half when Nani teed up a delicious cross for Javier Hernandez, but the Mexican failed to take his chance.
Dramatic twist to the title race:
This win for Arsenal sets up a mouth-watering showdown between Manchester United and Chelsea next week.
A win for Chelsea would take the title race to the wire. The gap between United and Chelsea is only three points and with nothing to choose between these two teams in terms of goal difference a win or draw is must for United to keep Chelsea at bay.
With United fancying themselves to beat Blackburn and Blackpool in the final two gameweeks, a draw against Chelsea would be enough for the Red Devils to seal the title.
Chelsea's final game is at Goodison Park, so they need nothing but a win against United to have any chance of defending their title.