1. Ahead of the game yesterday I said that Ferguson has worked out how to beat Arsenal and, for the most part, Wenger has failed to find a way to counter our tactics. The Arsenal team that came to Old Trafford was one of the worst I can remember in a decade or more. On paper, they have some decent players, looking specifically at Wilshere, Arteta, Cazorla and Podolski, but they offered absolutely nothing. They had some periods of good possession, particularly once they were down to ten men and the game was gone, but did nothing with it. United didn’t really get out of 2nd gear and played them off the park. In truth, there was little difference between this game and the 8-2 last season, other than the fact we took our chances then and Arsenal were probably better last season too. They can consider themselves lucky to leave Old Trafford with just a 2-1 defeat, when 6-0 would have been a more accurate reflection of the game and the quality of chances created.
2. Before kick-off, United fans were hoping for a win and a Van Persie goal. I wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of Arsenal fans, but I imagine they would be prepared to take anything as long as Van Persie didn’t score and maybe picked up a season ending injury. With less than three minutes on the clock Van Persie was presented with a golden opportunity and he gladly took it. Rio played a nice ball forward to Antonio Valencia, who flicked it on to Rafael, who delivered a poor cross in to the box. Thankfully, Vermaelen made a right hash of it and Van Persie smashed it in to the back of the net with his first touch. This was his only goal of the game but he probably should have had a hattrick. Not long after the goal Rooney played through a brilliant ball but Mannone made a great save. In the second half, Van Persie beat Arsenal’s offside trap and found himself miles away from any defender, one on one with the keeper, but for some reason tried to pass it in to the bottom corner instead of smashing it in to the roof of the net. All through the game Arsenal fans carried on like bitter ex-girlfriends, dumped by a man who had always been out of their league, and was now parading his fit new bird around in front of them. “Robin van Persie, you know what you are!” was the loudest of their wails. What? A world class striker? Top scorer in the league? Playing for the team at the top of the table? Answers on a postcard.
3. Wayne Rooney had a mixed game, with him creating great chances, including the cross for Patrice Evra’s goal which separated the two sides at the final whistle, but then there was that penalty miss. Rooney has missed 7 penalties from 20 in the league, and 9 from 26 in his club career. So Rooney has scored 65% of the penalties taken which, in all honestly, is a poor record. When you have Van Persie on the field, why on earth is Rooney taking them in the first place? Is he our penalty taker or did Van Persie decline because of the opposition? Either way, Van Persie should be on penalty taking duty from now on. Still, penalty aside, Rooney should be praised for the job he did on Arteta yesterday, essentially keeping him out of the game. Santi Cazorla and Arteta have completed more passes in the opposition’s half than any player in the league this season. Did you even notice them yesterday?
4. It was a great ball in from Rooney for the second goal and somehow 5ft 8in Evra managed to get his head to it in front of 6ft 6in Mertesacker. That goal summed up Arsenal’s defensive performance fairly well. Gone are the days when Arsenal fans chant “Evra, you’re a cant” every time he goes near the ball, probably keen to avoid looking as though they side with Luis Suarez, but there’s no doubt they will hate him still. As if playing them off the park didn’t hurt them enough, their former captain and their most hated player scored the goals.
5. When hearing the teams announced, I had been thoroughly looking forward to seeing Valencia battering Santos down that right wing. For the first half, everything seemed to come from the left though, with Evra and Young seeing more of the ball. Maybe that was because Jack Wilshere was on Rafael/Valencia’s side of the park. Tom Cleverley pinched the ball from Wilshere in the first half so Wilshere responded by hacking him down. He was then guilty of a late challenge on Van Persie which could have seen him walk (particularly given how freely the referee was handing out yellow cards yesterday) but he was clearly given a final warning. Two minutes after Evra put us 2-0 up Wilshere went in late and hard on Evra’s ankle, getting nothing on the ball, and the referee had no option but to send him off. Ten minutes earlier, Ferguson took Cleverley off so he could escape a similar fate. He had been booked after returning the favour to Wilshere and also received a final warning from the ref. With Mike Dean going through a phase of booking players for every foul, it was a sensible decision from the manager. Wenger may be criticised for not doing the same but who was he supposed to bring on? Ramsey would have been an option if he hadn’t been started out of position and hauled off at the beginning of the second half following a woeful performance. In contrast, we had Anderson, who put in a great shift midweek against Chelsea, and who made light work of bossing the midfield of ten men Arsenal. Wilshere’s departure also seemed to mean we saw more from Rafael and Valencia down the right wing, but if anything, I think they went easy on Santos. He was clearly out of his depth and Valencia could have exposed him more. Valencia’s biggest regret will be not scoring that sitter early on in the second half after Van Persie put it on a plate for him. Instead of sticking out a left toe, Valencia twisted himself up trying to finish with his right, and somehow managed not to take advantage of the opportunity of a tap in. To a certain extent, I can understand Valencia always using his right foot to cross, with that obviously being what feels most comfortable to him, but there’s no excuse for not using your left foot in the position Valencia was in.
6. Our defence had little to do but were comfortable with the limited threat Arsenal posed. Jonny Evans was good in the air and David De Gea had nothing to do. Rio Ferdinand revealed after the game that the mood in the dressing room was like a defeat and that is likely because of the goal we conceded with the last kick of the game. After the ball bounced around the box for a while and a few shots were blocked, Cazorla found some space and curled the ball just inside the post. It was a lovely finish but further cemented the ridiculousness of the scoreline. As Ferguson said after the game, 2-1 suggests it was a close game, when in reality, it was anything but. It is pleasing that our players feel disappointed though. Having beat Chelsea away last weekend and Arsenal at home this weekend, you’d think the players would be buzzing. But we lost the title on goal difference last season and yesterday we missed the opportunity to race ahead of our rivals in terms of goals. As it stands, we have the same goal difference as Chelsea and have +3 on City. If a 2-1 victory over Arsenal is a reason for our players to be down in the dumps, it proves just how high their standards are and how much they expect from themselves, which can only be seen as a good thing.
7. Whilst it would be easy enough to share the sentiments of the players, I think it’s important we avoid turning in to brats again. We’ve spent most of the season conceding in the opening ten minutes but we have turned a corner recently. We’ve played all of the other teams in the top six now apart from City and are top of the league (Chelsea have played us and Arsenal, whilst City have only played Arsenal). When you look at the fixtures we’ve had over the past month we’ve done brilliantly well. We beat Newcastle away (lost there last season), beat Chelsea away (drew there last season and hadn’t won there for ten years previously) and now we’ve beaten Arsenal. Our players are starting to return from injury, with Ashley Young, Darren Fletcher and Anderson all getting minutes on the pitch, and Chris Smalling is likely to return next week. It’s a long season and there’s no point getting carried away about being a point clear at the top but it’s encouraging to see us get through so many potentially tricky games with maximum points and putting pressure on our title rivals to match us.