Manchester United close the gap on Arsenal after Robin van Persie scored in a 1-0 win
Its had to be him. Manchester United’s leading scorer from last season, Robin van Persie scored again against his old club to close the gap on the league leaders. The current champions could have been eleven points behind the North London club come 5:45pm, had Arsenal continued their impressive away displays, but it was their former captain who had the final say. Wayne Rooney’s superb delivery from a corner was met by the Dutchman at the near post mid way through the first half. A injury to skipper Nemanja Vidic was a blow just before half time, especially considering the dominance the Serb showed against lone front man Olivier Giroud, however Phil Jones slotted in alongside Jonny Evans to continue his impressive development.
Here we discuss the talking points of an extremely important win for Manchester United and welcome comments from both sets of fans.
Wayne Rooney & Robin van Persie: Best partnership in the league?
When Robin van Persie was signed from Arsenal in the summer of 2012, many red were licking their lips at the prospect of a strike force consisting of United’s talisman and the footballer of the year from the season previous. We saw glimpses of the partnership at times last season, but it is fair to say that van Persie was the stand out performer, with Sir Alex Ferguson even questioning the fitness of United’s number ten. Rooney looked, at times, a shadow of his former self. Uninterested, off the pace and not the Rooney of old. Perhaps Ferguson was right about Rooney, or perhaps their relationship had broken down so much, United’s fourth all time top goalscorer was seeking a move away from the club. His “angry and confused” statement spoke volumes following a rejected bid from Chelsea.
Fast forward a few months and he looks a different player. The Rooney of old who would be hugging the left touch line before a sweeping cross field pass to the on rushing Valencia was back. His ability to get the ball down from a throw in, turn in a tight space and stretch the Arsenal backline was on show for all to see. His burst of acceleration and pace to take on defenders shows a player who is looking like he is back to his best and full of confidence. He was unlucky not to score in the second half following a sublime piece of skill to fool Sagna before shooting to the left of Scezney’s goal. His selfless running and constant closing down of players, so they are forced to play a long ball, was first class today – even if his lunge on Aaron Ramsey was a bit reckless and he rightfully was booked.
His goalscoring partner may not be having the same impact as he did at this stage last term, but it was his towering header that was the difference between the two teams. van Persie is the best player I’ve ever seen who feints a shot so well to dummy the opposition before releasing a shot or pass. His close control was on display in the second half after some nimble footwork to take the ball away from Ramsey. An extremely gifted footballer, who is looking like he will take centre stage yet again. However, this time around – Wayne Rooney will surely run him a lot closer.
Arsenal: Off the pace but are contenders
Arsenal have been the early pace setters this season, with impressive wins at home over Liverpool and a strong defensive display away against European Cup finalists Borussia Dortmund, but today the league leaders fell short, losing their second game in the Premier League. The North Londoners were without Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky who had picked up an illness, which according to Arsene Wenger was still effecting some players on the pitch. In the first half Arsenal lacked any real goal threat, with Vidic dealing well with Giroud and player of the season so far Aaron Ramsey looking a little lost on the right flank.
Most of the play was situated in midfield, with Jones and Carrick having plenty of time to knock the ball around with Flamini and Arteta sitting deep to protect the back four. Mesut Ozil, who could well have been a Manchester United player in 2010 (had Sir Alex Ferguson listened to Wayne Rooney – aparently) and in the summer, following the revelation by David Moyes that Real Madrid offered the gifted German playmaker to United, didn’t get into his usual flow and a poor second half ball when Arsenal were on the attacked summed up his afternoon. The former Madrid man is a joy to watch and no doubt will have a fine career at the Emirates, but today the £42 million man didn’t impose himself as he usually does.
Arsenal were definitely better in the second half, especially after the introduction of the energetic Jack Wilshere. Bacary Sagna dropped in a number of excellent crosses, that on another day would have been converted. The best ball swinging in late on with Evans just ducking out of the way to avoid an own goal. If someone was gambling at the back post, Arsenal could well have got a late equaliser. David De Gea was releatively untested in the second half, but then again – so was Scezney.
Arsenal fans will no doubt be disappointed not to inflict more damage on life at United post Ferguson and of course, to capitalise on a Premier League weekend where Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur both lost along with Chelsea drawing at home to West Brom. Arsenal were unlucky with both Mertesacker and Rosicky dropping out, but in the maturing Ramsey, Wilshere and the impressive Gibbs combined with the imperious Ozil and Cazorla – they will surely be there or there abouts in April/May.
Phil Jones & Chris Smalling impress
Chris Smalling first made his competitive debut for United in 2010/11, with Phil Jones signing in the following summer from Blackburn Rovers. In those two to three years, United fans have witnessed the emergence of what surely will be the United centre half pairing to eventually replace Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic? Jonny Evans may have something to say about that, but both were excellent against Arsenal today.
Chris Smalling, who has spoken publicly about his desire to play in the centre of defensive rather than at right back, kept Santi Cazorla extremely quiet today and, although he should have scored a second following a glorious delivery by van Persie in the second half, was impressive in the air. Jones started the game in the centre of midfield but was forced to play as a centre half after Nemanja Vidic was taken off following a collision with David De Gea.
If Wayne Rooney was MOTM, then Phil Jones was surely a close second. His closing down and reading of play was excellent, whilst his ungraceful bursts forward, with or without the ball, demonstrated a quality not present in the more gifted Carrick or indeed, Marouane Fellaini. He was unlucky to get booked following an earlier clash of heads with the Arsenal goalkeeper, but other than that – he didn’t put a foot wrong all game. Many say his best position will be as an all action centre midfielder, however – I still believe his long term future will be at centre half, alongside Chris Smalling.
United’s win over Arsenal was much closer than in previous seasons, both at Old Trafford and at the Emirates. Last season, the 2-1 scoreline flattered Arsenal, whilst the 8-2 victory the year before speaks for itself. Today, although United did deserve to win the match, you couldn’t have argued had Arsenal snatched a late equaliser following a stronger second half performance. Robin van Persie was the difference between the two sides following a strong leap to head home Rooney’s corner. It was the assister who put in an exceptional display, working tirelessly to close down the opposition and when on the ball, used it well to switch play. Kagawa showed glimpses again of what he can do, but was withdrawn for the more experienced Giggs, after Arsenal attacked down the right hand side in the second half.
Arsene Wenger claimed his side were too nervous in the first half, and although some fans might interpret this as hesitation towards the occasion, one assumes the Arsenal boss believes his side were too cautious and sat off United in the first forty five minutes. The introduction of Wilshere, combined with the loss of Vidic, gave the visitors an bit more edge in the second half and looked a lot more dangerous going forward. Sagna whipped in a number of quality crosses from the right hand side, which were not attacked by frontman Giroud or later in the game, substitute Bendtner.
United’s next league fixture is in two weeks against Cardiff City following the international break.