Sir Alex Ferguson appeared to select his starting line-up with one eye on Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Marseille. Twins Rafael and Fabio da Silva were deployed on either side of Darron Gibson and Wayne Rooney in midfield, with John O’Shea shielding the back-line and Javier Hernandez up front in a lone role.
Cesc Fabregas, Wojciech Szczesny, Gael Clichy and Tomas Rosicky made way for Denilson, Manuel Almunia, Kieran Gibbs and Andrei Arshavin in a strong 4-2-3-1 line-up for Arsenal. The selection clearly indicated that Arsene Wenger was desperate to bounce back from a tough few games with a win.
From kick-off Manchester United surrendered possession to Arsenal and tried to pressure their opponents into mistakes. Hernandez and Rooney were always busy and stopped Arsenal from building an attack from the back. Chances were hard to come by and Rafael knew he should have done better after getting on the end of his brother’s cross. His brother made no such mistake after reacting first to Hernandez’s saved header. United hit Arsenal on the break with the twins, Rooney and Hernandez all involved before Fabio smashed home.
The visitors tried to push for an immediate equaliser with Robin van Persie going close twice. O’Shea, deployed in front of United’s back four made it difficult for Samir Nasri to find space behind the Dutchman and but for the Frenchman testing Edwin van der Sar at his near post as half-time beckoned, the London side didn’t threaten again in the first period.
Antonio Valencia was introduced for United at half-time but their mentality didn’t change. Arsenal were once again allowed to dominate possession and were denied by a smart double save from van der Sar inside the first two minutes. They were left helpless as a blocked shot by Hernandez fell to a United player to double the lead. A neat breakaway down the right allowed Valencia to feed the Mexican, whose shot was blocked by Johan Djourou and fell to Wayne Rooney to nod in.
Both teams could sense the third goal in the game was vitally important and Marouane Chamakh was soon introduced to play alongside van Persie but Arsenal were still restricted to shooting from distance. At the other end, Ryan Giggs had a glorious chance to wrap up the match seconds after coming off the bench but the ball was stolen off his toe.
Aaron Ramsey made his Arsenal return after a lengthy lay-off but his side couldn’t beat United’s ‘keeper. Chamakh and Rosicky’s shots joined a long list of attempts denied by the No 1. Hernandez nearly scored a third late-on and in desperation to clear the danger Djourou suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder. Down to 10 men with all three substitutions already used, Arsenal’s cause fizzled out.