Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0


Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United took the initiative in the Premier League title race after a tight 1-0 win over arch-rivals Arsenal at Old Trafford.
Ji-Sung Park's brilliantly deft and improvised header in the 41st minute gave United the three points that allowed Ferguson's men to leapfrog Arsene Wenger's team at the top of the table by two points.
But the match epitomised what has been a fiercely competitive and entertaining title race, with a lack of overall quality in the areas that matter most.
And Wayne Rooney's hopelessly wayward second-half penalty, after Gael Clichy was adjudged to have handled inside the 18-yard area, provided a snapshot of the 90 minutes.
For Arsenal, the sorry statistic of a fifth reverse concealed a desperately disappointing performance which did not get that much better even after Wenger had thrown his star man Cesc Fabregas on in a last desperate bid to secure a share of the spoils.
Ferguson made the point in his programme notes that Arsenal are not the "lilywhites" they are often painted and so it proved during a tight first half in which the Gunners were well prepared to dish out some rough treatment.
On a ground where they have often been ill-treated in the past, the visitors were more than willing to stand toe-to-toe with their opponents, the only surprise being that World Cup final referee Howard Webb did not book Marouane Chamakh and Andrey Arshavin until the last seconds of the opening period.
By that point, the hosts were basking in Park's opener.
Set free by Rooney's neat nod-down, Nani crossed from the right and not even a deflection off Clichy could prevent the ball bouncing to Park, who contorted his body in such a way as to loop a header over Wojciech Szczesny and into the net.
For Szczesny it was a bitter blow. Handed his league debut after just three League Cup starts for the Gunners, the Pole had done well, a couple of nervy kicks apart, in what has so often been a problem position for Wenger.
Sebastien Squillaci was responsible for the weak clearance that allowed Nani to send a first-time volley whistling past the Pole's right-hand post, while it was the hand of Chamakh that could easily have brought a penalty for United when he rather awkwardly got in the way of Nani's cross.
Arsenal were a disappointment. The in-form Samir Nasri was a virtual bystander. Arshavin got onto the ball far more often, but his final ball was a major let-down.
Twice the hosts came close to doubling their advantage during the opening minutes of the second period.
As part of his impressive evening, Szczesny produced a save reminiscent of Peter Schmeichel in his pomp to deny Anderson, who had burst onto a pass Rooney threaded through the Gunners defence.
Then Nani fired over at the end of a fast counter, started by Anderson robbing Jack Wilshere near the United box and he felt he should have ended it as he screamed in vain for a far-post cross after finding himself completely unmarked.
In between, Nasri had brought a full-length save out of Edwin van der Sar and Nemanja Vidic had blocked as Chamakh tried to turn home the rebound.
Nasri was far more productive, although it was the double introduction of Fabregas and Robin van Persie that really showed how determined Arsenal were not to leave defeated.
The bold move did leave them vulnerable to the counter-attack and it was on one such raid that Nani earned his side a penalty as he checked inside Clichy and caused the Frenchman to handle.
Without a goal in open play since March, Rooney has scored from the spot twice this season. It was also the fifth United penalty in Arsenal's last eight visits to Old Trafford.
But there was no goal on this occasion as Rooney ballooned his effort way over the bar with what was a shocking miss.
It did not sap the striker's confidence and a superb chip brought an excellent save out of Szczesny after latching onto Rio Ferdinand's pass.
Theo Walcott wasted the Gunners' last chance and that condemned them to defeat.

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