Man Utd talisman trumps Arsenal star to click Red Devils’ title chase up a gear or three

Wayne Rooney


The game was billed as the big test of Arsenal’s title credentials. Victories over Liverpool and a highly creditable win away to Borussia Dortmund had built the Gunners confidence, but this was the ultimate test of the Gunners new-found belief. Much as when the ‘Invincible’ team turned up at Old Trafford for a triumphant march their half-century of games without defeat, the north London club on a high is always like a red rag to the United bull.

 There can’t have been many games over recent seasons where the Gunners travel to Old Trafford as marginal favourites, but on form this was surely the case this time. The Gunners were eight points clear of David Moyes’ stuttering United, and were in a position to deliver a near fatal blow to United’s title ambition if they could secure the victory and open the gap to 11 points. It was a big incentive for Arsenal, but as things turned out, counting the lead to a more manageable five point was an even bigger motivation for United.

The Reds took early control of the game, and Arsenal’s attacking was spasmodic and pedestrian. As always seems to be the case when facing Arsenal, Wayne Rooney was at his ebullient and rumbustious best. Busy all across the park, this was the all-action Rooney that was absent for so long of Sir Alex Ferguson’s last couple of seasons in charge, and new manager Davis Moyes should be accorded no small credit for the transformation. It was from a Rooney corner that the home team scored the winning goal. Arsenal’s zonal marking, shorn of the height and presence of Mertersacker, struck down by a stomach bug, was left looking pedestrian as van Persie scooted in behind Ramsey and ahead of Giroud to score with a header that also seemed to glance off his shoulder. Strange to say perhaps, but that one moment may have great significance in influencing the destiny of the Premier League crown this year. Not only did invigorate United, it also punctured the confidence, and perhaps a little of the belief of Arsenal.

For the rest of the first half, United remained on top and the Gunners’ much vaunted midfield was very much stifled. Despitye having chunks of possession, they never really looked likely to threaten the United goal with any meaningful thrusts. Mesut Ozil only flitted in and out of the game, and without the German’s prompting and probing, it was difficult to see where a goal would come from. As the second half wore on however, the tide turned somewhat, and although not dominant, Arsenal at least gained some parity and began to look dangerous. On the right, Barkary Sgana delivered some telling crosses that, on another day would surely have brought some tangible reward. Arsene Wenger, changed his team and formation by throwing on his substitutes, even resorting to the lacklustre Bendtner, but United’s defence, now lacking Vidic who was substituted at half time following a clash of heads, was resolute, and Moyes’ team saw out the game for a victory that will renew the hopes of the United faithful.

 One game does not make a season of course. Had United had lost however, a gap of 11 points would begin to assume unscalable proportions. The victory however has closed up the top section of the table and with Manchester City lying in eighth place, it has to be said that statistically eight teams are actively involved in the chase for the title in this most open of Premier League seasons.

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