Man Utd 1-0 Arsenal
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.
Latest Forum Comments
Chamachs shot was probably going wide...but only because he saw vidic charging in. Great result. Fantastic performance from the back 4..every single one of em. Agree with earlier poster about Rafael. Nailed on for right back. Fabio seems a million miles away from him atm. Nani had a good game and Anderson has been awesome these last few games, Great stuff!- And Solskjaer's won it!
Just wanted to add, that sliding block/tackle from Vidic on Chamakh's shot...I already had my head in my hands and was convinced that was a certain goal!- Zain
I don't want to get carried away and we rarely get good results at Chelsea, but imagine how significant a win there would be - six points clear of them with a game in hand at Blackpool, and them having to go to the Emirates in the subsequent fixture. It looks as if they're returning to form on the basis of Sunday's game at Tottenham so a cushion of any sort would be very welcome. Last night was a patchy performance, but no-one can deny we deserved the win. We had several pretty clear chances to their one (Rooney penalty, Nani shooting inches wide in the first half then blazing over in the second, Anderson shot saved point-blank). We maybe didn't have as much of the ball as we're used to, but the back four and goalkeeper rarely looked troubled - not that stopped those of us watching from getting nervous late on. I'm amazed we're in the position of being unbeaten and top with a game in hand. We've not even started playing yet and, even if our attack doesn't look fluent, if our back line stay fit we've got a tremendous chance of winning the title.- Neil
It was an awesome defensive display from start to finish. For me it's all down to the homeboy, since he's returned to the side an form we've been an entirely different proposition. Maintain that defensive level at the Bridge an we've all the makings of a very merry christmas.- jonny
Rio and Vidic were solid! Anderson is playing like we all hoped he would...Rooney (besides the penalty) looks very very lively, great energy and some great passing, Looks like he has his touch back... That header from Park was almost Chicharitoesque.. Top of the league, game in hand...and we've not even started playing well yet.. My only concern is us missing Park for around 6-7 games when he's off for the Asia Cup, who comes into his place on the left...Hopefully Cleverly will be brought back in Jan...- Zain
I was pleased with our defensive performance, definitely a lot more solid. Rafael now without question our first choice right back. Carrick did his job of shielding well and everyone worked hard - with Nani and Rooney putting their share of tackles in, Park, Anderson and Fletch doing what they always do, and Rio & Vidic looking settled and winning just about everything. Yes there were plenty of wayward passes and in the final 3rd we were poor but Fergie picked the right balance to deal with their threat from midfield, and thankfully Park came up with the goods. The penalty was harsh but that's no excuse for Rooney's finish. A very, very important 3 points and a big boost going into the Chelsea game.- fenwar
Crappy game but great result- Abner
I can see goals at both ends, am going optimistically for a 3-2 win. On the other hand if we set up our midfield right then either Fletcher or Anderson can neutralise Nasri. Don't think we should be playing for a draw here. We can't assume that the game in hand will actually count for anything, given that Blackpool have proved to be no pushovers, and our dodgy away form. I'd go ------ VDS Rafa Rio Vidic Evra Fletcher Anderson Park Nani Berbatov Rooney With Nani and Rooney dropping off when we haven't got the ball, and Berba hopefully bringing it to the big game like he did against Liverpool. Although I expect actually Carrick will start, I'd be slightly worried about him being the player directly responsible for marking Nasri...- fenwar
Not accepting a draw in this one. Wa have to get 3 points and knock Arsenal. This would then allow us a draw at the Bridge. I reckon we will play 433 with Rooney, Berba and Nani. Hopefully Anderson gets the start as he has looked really good of late. I can see Hernandez scoring tonight. Hopefully the winner!- birchy
If they are missing Fabregas that will be a massive blow for them and I think we will have to much for them in Midfield, Hopeing we start with Anderson. Anbody think we will go 4 -5 -1 with Ronney up front on his own. We have done on the past before against Arsenal. ?- RED AUSSIE ANT
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