Manchester United returned to the top of the Barclays Premier League table with a fully-deserved 1-0 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford.
Ji-Sung Park, who was recently honored with manutd.com’s Player of the Month for his performances in November, scored his fourth career goal against Arsenal near the end of the first-half, which was enough to give United all three points, and the Reds were not forced to rue a penalty miss by Wayne Rooney.
Ahead of the match, 26 of 33 rescued Chilean miners were Sir Bobby Charlton’s guests of honor for this highly-anticipated match with Arsenal, which is a real glowing sentiment of United as a classy club.
Like he has done against Arsenal in the past few matches, Sir Alex Ferguson has opted for a 4-5-1 formation, with Wayne Rooney operating up top on his own with Dimitar Berbatov, who scored five goals in his last league match, was named to the United bench.
Rio Ferdinand has been deemed fit and took his spot alongside Nemanja Vidic in the heart of United’s defense after coming off against Valencia last week, and Patrice Evra reclaimed his left-back position, but Paul Scholes has missed out against the Gunners.
Anderson has earned his fourth straight start – second in the Premier League – in the center of United’s midfield to off-set Arsenal’s free-flowing, finesse style of play.
With a very inexperience goalkeeper, United were keen to press forward in the early going to put the untested Wojciech Szczęsny under pressure, but they were unable to convert their possession into any early chances.
Gael Clichy was fortunate to not receive a booking from Howard Webb in the opening five minutes after he took Nani down from behind on the United right channel, Anderson’s ensuing free-kick was poorly placed and the danger was cleared by an Arsenal defender.
The first chance for either team came in the ninth minute, when a long ball from a United free-kick in their own area made its way to Wayne Rooney, and against the two Arsenal center-backs, he was encouraged to shoot, but Szczęsny got down well to save.
Anderson did well to shield the ball from Alexander Song and two other Arsenal midfielders, and won a free-kick 40-yards from goal, and Nani stepped up to take it, but his dipping effort went directly at Szczęsny.
Surprisingly, Arsenal were allowing United the lion share of the possession in the first quarter-of-an-hour, but they were also showing that they are trying to become a more physical team by committing numerous fouls as well.
However, Arsenal started to find their feet, but their crossing was either gathered by Edwin van der Sar, or met by a-waiting United defender.
Arsenal’s first sight at goal came in the 21st minute when Andrei Arsharvin was given some space, but his shot went well wide of van der Sar’s right-hand post.
United were then within inches of grabbing the lead, after Nani was invited to hit a shot first-time, but his volley went agonizingly wide of the far post.
Moments later, it was Rooney was who had the next chance after he was given some space on the left angle of the box to shoot, but again it was at the Arsenal goalkeeper.
In the 30th minute, there was a bit of controversy after Nani’s struck Marouane Chamakh’s hand, but the referee was in a good position, and ruled against award United a penalty – but in all honesty Webb could have went either way with his decision.
The match began becoming very sloppy in the center of the midfield with both teams being guilty of gifting the ball to their opponent, and Webb was allowing it to get a little choppy, which led to Vidic receiving a warning from the referee.
Following a clear foul by Song, Darren Fletcher and Rooney were both left infuriated by the referee, which led to the former brushing him in protest, but Webb’s common sense approach prevented any action taken on the United midfielder.
In the 41st minute, United got the goal that the game desperately needed, and that home team definitely deserved.
With Clichy backing off, Nani was able to get in a deflected cross, which Park did well to enable himself to lean back and head the ball goal bound, and his clipped the far post and went into the Arsenal net.
After the goal, Arsenal were able to get forward, but Arshavin selfishly shot from distance, and it was nowhere near to troubling van der Sar.
The first yellow card of the match came when Nani was upended by a kick-out by Chamakh, and the Arsenal summer signing could have no complaints.
In first-half stoppage-time, Arshavin was awarded the second card of the match, because he dangerously slid in on Fletcher with his studs showing, which also gave United a free-kick on the edge of the box as well.
However, Anderson’s effort was very poor, and an Arsenal defender was able to clear without any trouble and the referee blew his whistle.
For much of the first-half, Arsenal was completely put on the back foot by a very dominant United, so it should not be long before Arsene Wenger introduces his fit-again, play-making captain, Cesc Fabregas.
Within two minutes of the restart, United were given loads of space down the right flank, and Nani had a go with his powerful left foot, but it was well blocked by Sebastien Squillaci.
Arsenal’s first chance of the second-half came when Tomas Rosicky popped in a volleyed, but with the far post covered, van der Sar let it run out for a goal kick.
United then had a chance to add to their one goal lead, but Song came to Arsenal’s rescue and stooped low to head the ball out for a corner.
The game started opening up a bit, because Arsenal had to go and find an equalizer, and Samri Nasri, who was quiet for most of the first-half, was wide open in the United box, but his low cross-shot was gathered well by van der Sar.
Again with acres of space on their right side, Bacary Sagna was able to whip in a cross, but young Rafael, with his back to the field of play, did well to head out for a corner kick.
The young Arsenal goalkeeper was called into action when Rooney played in Anderson, but he did well to get off his line and deny the Brazilian, and save the match for the visitors.
United started to allow Arsenal space in the midfield to dictate the possession, and they almost paid for it.
Arsenal should have equalized, but van der Sar palmed away Nasri’s weak left-footed shot into the path of Chamakh, but Vidic did well to get across and prevent him from slotting the equalizer into an open net.
United, themselves, had two golden chances to kill off Arsenal and put the game to bed, but Nani was very wasteful on a three-on-three fast break, and then failed to hit the target from close range.
Wenger’s saw that his team needed some changing, so he introduced Fabregas and Robin van Persie for Rosicky and Jack Wilshere, who was the only English player in the Arsenal starting XI, respectively.
United was only caught snoozing as the van Persie almost scored with his first touch, but he was unable to get the telling touch, but Rio Ferdinand only managed a half-clearance which gave Arshavin another chance to shoot from distance, but van der Sar saved the tame effort.
After Rio did well as fairly out jumped Sagna, the ball made its way to Patrice Evra, who played a decent cut-back ball to Anderson, but the midfielder’s shot went wide of the target.
In the 73rd minute, United were on the ascendency and United burst into the Arsenal box, and when he went to cut back, Clichy handled the ball in the box, and he was awarded yellow card and the Reds were given a penalty.
In a very high pressure situation, Rooney stepped up to take the spot kick, and he blasted the ball well over the bar, and deep into the Stretford End, which could give Arsenal a glimmer of hope.
Wenger made his third, and final, substitution bringing on the pacey Theo Walcott for Arshavin to give the Arsenal attack more pace down the wings.
United was again starting become even more wasteful with their passing, and was allowing Arsenal to gain more confidence on the ball, but from a very good position, Walcott was fired wide of the United right-hand post.
Chamakh got on the end of a long ball, but his header lacked the pace and direction it required, and it was easily grabbed by van der Sar.
Evra dispossessed Song, and then he forced the Arsenal midfielder into committing a foul worth of a yellow card, which Webb rightfully showed.
The stoppage in play allowed Ferguson to make his first change of the match by bringing off the effective Anderson in favor of the very dependable Ryan Giggs.
Rooney timed his run to perfection, and he looked to make amends for his penalty miss, but a flying save from the young Arsenal goalkeeper kept the scoreline at 1-0.
With van Persie lurking, it took a very timely intervention from Ferdinand to clear the ball, and ultimately spare United’s blushes.
With a minimum of four minutes of stoppage-time, Arsenal was encouraged to get forward, but Manchester United saw out their narrow lead to claim all three points.
Park put in one of his stereo-typical lung-busting performances, and rewarded himself with a cheeky finish.
E. van der Sar – 7; Rafael – 7, R. Ferdinand – 7, N. Vidic – 7, P. Evra – 8; Nani – 6, D. Fletcher – 6, M. Carrick – 5, Anderson – 7 (R. Giggs – X), J. S. Park – 8; W. Rooney – 6
J. S. Park (41′)
Shots (On Target): 17 (6)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 9 (17)