1. It’s been ages since a game against Arsenal really meant something. Whilst there’s nothing like the hatred between the two clubs that there used to be, their fans have been fairly unbearable so far this season. It’s as if they don’t remember all the other strong starts they’ve had over recent years before crumbling away. At the beginning of the 2007-2008 season they had picked up more points over ten games than they had this season ahead of Sunday, before going on to finish 3rd, but their fans haven’t let that stand in the way of their ridiculous arrogance. Their toughest games this season had been Liverpool and Spurs, both at the Emirates, with them yet to face Chelsea, City or United (although did lose to Chelsea in the League Cup at home). They’ve had an incredibly easy start to the season and Old Trafford was their first test. “We are going to Old Trafford to have fun – and that is why we are going to win,” Mesut Ozil said before the game, perfectly summing up Arsenal’s attitude prior to kick-off.
2. We were ten minutes in to the game before Arsenal were able to string a few passes together. United dominated the possession in their opponent’s half which, if we’re honest, was a bit of a surprise. Arsenal are a passing team and in our toughest games, against Chelsea and City, we were very cautious. We were going for it from the first whistle though and deserved to go 1-0 up.
3. Ahead of the game, Wenger referred to Van Persie as an “Arsenal man”. It was fairly fitting that Van Persie scored the only and match deciding goal. Wayne Rooney crossed in to Van Persie but Vermaelen got in the way of it to concede a corner. Rooney then swung the corner in and Van Persie was first to the ball. It wasn’t just the power and accuracy of his glancing header that was impressive, but the way he lifted it over the head of Gibbs on the goal-line. Those looking for something to talk about, wanting to create a fuss out of nothing, suggested Van Persie shouldn’t have celebrated. Ridiculous. He gave them a year’s grace, refusing to celebrate when he scored home and away against them last season, but after three games of being called a rapist and a cunt, Van Persie put Wenger straight. He isn’t an Arsenal man, he’s a United man, and celebrated like any proper red would.
4. Whilst Van Persie grabbed all the headlines, it’s the hard work of Rooney that impressed me the most. After watching him charge down the pitch, chasing down a lost cause just with the hope of slowing down an Arsenal counter, I turned to my mate and acknowledged that whilst I still didn’t like Rooney, I really like that he is playing like this for us. He has been our most committed player on the pitch this season, funnily enough, and gives 100% every game. He wasn’t technically the best out there, but in terms of desire and work ethic, he was streets ahead of anyone in Arsenal’s line-up. Whatever’s gone on behind the scenes and whoever deserves credit for it, it’s great to see Rooney looking hungry for it again.
5. Whilst Rooney was the best player, Phil Jones wasn’t too far off. He’s a big reason for Ozil looking like such a dick at the final whistle, having claimed they would win, only to be totally anonymous all game. Jonesy had him in his back pocket all game and justified Moyes’ decision to start him in midfield. He got a rush of blood and carried away on the attack a few times, but he was solid all afternoon. He was moved in to the centre of defence for the second half, replacing Nemanja Vidic who had a nasty clash just before half-time, and was just as impressive. Is Jones a midfielder though? He wants to play in defence and the prospect of him and Evans over the next few years is an appealing one. But then Chris Smalling, who had a better game at right-back than he had been doing, is also lined up for one of those central spots. It will be interesting to see how it pans out. We really are spoilt with quality defenders though.
6. Arsenal came back in to the game during the second half, as you would expect, but they didn’t trouble David de Gea. The only shots he had to deal with were a couple that came straight at him. For all their possession, particularly in the final 20 minutes, they didn’t test the keeper. We had two great chances of our own though, with Rooney dragging his left-footed shot just wide of the post and Smalling somehow managing to miss a sitter, when surely all he had to do was let the ball hit his body and bundle it over the line.
7. The atmosphere at Old Trafford, particularly during Arsenal’s period of dominance towards the end of the game, was fantastic. There seems to have been a general improvement this season anyway, as though the fans are finally realising we should probably try and play a part in our team’s success. Maybe everything was taken for granted under Sir Alex Ferguson and now we’ve got a new manager the fans realise we have to work a bit harder, I don’t know. The chants got louder and louder, with the ground just desperate for the game to finish, and this wasn’t missed by those on the pitch. “The fans were incredible, they really lifted us and were the twelfth man,” Van Persie said after the game. “I think that’s the best atmosphere I have heard at Old Trafford in a long time,” said Evans. “Right from the start, the fans were very loud and it was a really enjoyable game to play in.”
8. A few weeks ago I talked about how David Moyes was gradually learning and adapting. Sunday’s result was testament to just how far Moyes has come in short time. There wasn’t the cautious approach that we saw in our games against Chelsea, City and Liverpool. We went for it right from the start, but weren’t naive when we were on the attack. We made sure there was always enough players to cope with what could be devastating Arsenal counter attacks and we restricted one of the most creative sides in Europe to achieving next to nothing in front of goal. Phil Jones has revealed that before the game Moyes was meticulous with his planning, giving each individual instructions for the game, and it paid off. Not sure what I thought about the subs, and he would have been slaughtered for leaving us with no options if Arsenal got a late equaliser, but it worked so we mustn’t grumble.
9. All in all, a hugely satisfying performance and result. We weren’t at our best in the second half but we were still good enough. We’re certainly heading in the right direction though and building up some momentum. September was a shit month for us but since then we’re picking up the right results. Nobody thought it was going to be easy this season, but there’s no doubt that the rival fans (and our own fans) who were writing us off a few weeks ago are now more hesitant in their criticism. But this all counts for nothing if we don’t continue to pick up three points in the games we’re expected to win. Onwards and upwards.