Much of the build-up centred on Robin van Persie, who completed a £24m switch from Arsenal to Manchester United this summer. The Netherlands striker, who has netted nine times for the Red Devils, scored in this fixture at The Emirates and Old Trafford last term and it was inevitable the former Gunners captain would have a big say on the outcome on Saturday – although he won’t have counted on such generosity from his former team-mates. In the third minute, United right-back Rafael was allowed to cross with André Santos failing to match his compatriot’s pace, and Thomas Vermaelen’s poor clearance fell into the path of Van Persie who tucked his finish past Vito Mannone. The Dutchman’s strike equalled the fastest ever goal in this fixture in the Premier League era – Dwight Yorke also netted inside 180 seconds in 2001. Van Persie had chances to add to his tally, most notably when he raced onto Ashley Young’s lofted pass but was denied by Mannone’s save at full-stretch. Arsenal’s failure to test United goalkeeper David De Gea – Santi Cazorla’s strike aside – will only compound their misery as Van Persie eyes his first Premier League title.
Bacary Sagna’s return from injury has seen the promising Carl Jenkinson drop to the bench despite a string of impressive displays after an initially suspect start to life at the Gunners. However, Arsène Wenger preferred Santos at left-back despite a number of disastrous defensive performances in recent weeks, most notably against Schalke in the Champions League. It was a strange decision given the form of Untied’s winger Antonio Valencia and it was a weakness which the home side looked to exploit. The former Fenerbahce defender’s frailties were exposed within three minutes when Santos failed to prevent Rafael’s cross in the lead up to Van Persie’s opener. It epitomised a miserable afternoon for the Brazilian defender, who misplaced four passes and made just two successful tackles as Valencia drifted past his marker on four occasions. Meanwhile, Wenger opted to leave Theo Walcott on the bench, preferring Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, but the pair produced muted displays as the visitors registered just one shot on target before Cazorla’s late consolation strike.
After a dominant first-half performance, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were handed the chance to cement their advantage when Cazorla was penalised for a handball. With Wayne Rooney and Van Persie both established penalty takers, the Red Devils were spoilt for choice and it was the England international who assumed responsibility. But the 27-year-old dragged his effort wide of Mannone’s right post, failing to put United in complete command at half-time. It was his sixth penalty miss in 20 attempts in the Premier League. Within minutes of the restart, another Vermaelen mistake allowed Van Persie to deliver a low cross into the Arsenal area where Valencia was unmarked – the Ecuadorian was unable to adjust his feet and the chance evaporated. Wenger’s men appeared inspired by United’s wastefulness in front of goal and the visitors managed to find a foothold in the game and started to wade forward with renewed intent. Most joy for the Gunners came on the left wing, with Santos managing to find space – but the Brazilian’s final delivery lacked accuracy. In the 53rd minute, France international Giroud managed to spin away from Jonny Evans and unleash an effort from the tightest of angles which clipped De Gea’s post and trickled wide. Moments later, Podolski’s free-kick caused momentary panic in the United defence as it drifted narrowly wide of United’s goal. When Van Persie spurned a glorious chance with only Mannone to beat, it appeared United might let another lead slip after Chelsea’s midweek comeback in the League Cup, but Patrice Evra’s header sealed maximum points.
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