Club Focus – Manchester United – United top of Premier League with Chelsea clash on the horizon

Park Ji-Sung’s improvised header from a deflected Nani cross five minutes before half-time was enough to see Manchester United beat title rivals Arsenal to regain Premier League top spot in Monday night’s clash at Old Trafford.

The South Korean’s goal justified his place in the starting line-up ahead of top scorer Dimitar Berbatov. Sir Alex Ferguson opted for the high-pressing, counter-attacking, 4-5-1 formation that has brought the Red Devils success against Arsenal over the past few years ahead of the 4-4-2 he has favoured in recent weeks, and, once again in this fixture got his tactics spot on.

The midfield three of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Anderson were impressive throughout in a highly congested midfield battle that United had the better of, apart from a 10 minute period not long after the half-time break that saw them sitting deeper and deeper – allowing Arsenal’s midfielders to get possession where they are at their most devastating and almost leading to a goal. Samir Nasri’s parried shot and Marouane Chamakh’s blocked follow up was the closest Arsenal came and it shook the United midfield into doing what they had done so effectively in the first half. From that point on Arsenal did not once test Edwin van der Sar.

United’s defenders were constantly fantastic and it is no coincidence that their form of recent has come from the stability given to the team by a regular back four. Since Rio Ferdinand’s return from injury in place of Jonny Evans United’s average goals conceded per game statistic has halved. Their manager also hailed their performance after the game, saying: “They were tremendous. That gives you a great foundation, and 1-0 victories can win you the league. If my back four keep that foundation of not conceding any goals it gives us a really good chance.

Wayne Rooney’s missed penalty could have cost United the points and will probably be remembered as his biggest contribution to the match, but he led United’s line well with tireless running and movement. That gave the wingers and Anderson space to push on past him and almost creating a goal for the Brazilian – who forced a good save out of Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal.

Whether Rooney will lead the line alone in this Sunday’s game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – described by Sir Alex Ferguson as: “A big, big game for United that will go a long way to establishing the top of the league,” remains to be seen. Chelsea have looked fragile against teams attacking them with two front men, and leaving Berbatov out for another big game could damage the Bulgarian’s confidence.

The victory for United has kept their unbeaten run going but Ferguson believes it will be impossible for them to maintain as the season goes on, given the upcoming festive period games that will see less of a break in between games and as players grow tired, fringe members of the squad used.

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