Ji-Sung Park 41
Manchester United leapfrogged Arsenal into top spot in the Premier League with a patchy performance which saw the home side’s defence stay solid throughout.
Sir Alex Ferguson made one change to the line-up which ran Blackburn Rovers ragged in United’s last domestic encounter with five-goal striker Dimitar Berbatov slipping to the bench in favour of a three-man central midfield. The change in tactics ensured United lined up in a manner which has seem them successful against Arsenal in recent encounters but it was one which made the opening stages of this encounter a little disjointed for the Red Devils.
Arsenal started the match much more comfortable in possession, seemingly used to the system they were playing whereas too often when United players gained possession they looked unsure of exactly where their teammates were, giving an awkward feel to the passing early on. However, once the midfield players got into their stride a hint of dynamism was restored with Nani, Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Ji-Sung Park all finishing the half well and United deserving the lead. The second half was again patchy from United as they started poorly but again found their feet with a spell of pressure which should have seen them extend their lead. Following this, however, Arsenal were allowed too much of the ball with United relying too heavily on their defensive stability.
The performance of the back four is one thing which will have thoroughly pleased the United manager. In being able to pick a regular defence, Ferguson has been able to re-introduce the stability which has seen United so successful over recent seasons. Both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic gave towering performances winning everything in the air and especially in the case of Ferdinand reading the game superbly, with both full-backs’ putting in fantastic displays as well. Rafael da Silva is starting to add the consistency to his game which too often was missing in his early United career. The 20-year-old Brazilian also seems to have been putting the work in at the gym which has seen his physique improve to the required Premier League standard. He faced a tough test against Andrei Arshavin but entered in a powerful showing full of technique and timing. If he can maintain a run in the team he looks as if he could be an important player for United this season.
On the other side of the defence Patrice Evra gave the kind of showing which has led to many thinking he is up there with the best left-backs in world football. He was strong in the tackle, rarely beaten on the outside and when his teammates needed him in the dying stages showed the energy and nous to get out of a couple of difficult situations. No doubt aware of the feelings in the Arsenal camp his recent comments may have caused, Evra approached the game with professionalism, showing what a measured player he is.
The points were the only thing that mattered to United before the game and the performance on the night showed pure desire to get to the top of the table. If the back four can put in a similar showing next Sunday against Chelsea then United may be in with a good chance of staying there for the remainder of the season.
1 Van der Sar
21 Rafael – 15 Vidic – 5 Ferdinand – 3 Evra
17 Nani – 8 Anderson – 24 Fletcher – 16 Carrick – 13 Park
85 – 11 Giggs on for 8 Anderson