Aaron Ramsey continued his recovery for Arsenal since breaking his leg in February, coming in to start for the missing Cesc Fabregas and popping up with the only goal of the game.
Arsenal started the better of the two sides as they looked to sweep the ball around a fabulous surface at The Emirates, maintaining over 75% of possession in the opening 10 minutes. Some slick passing led to a good early opportunity for Jack Wilshere who proved why he doesn’t like to shoot often, dragging a glorious opportunity wide of the target.
The Arsenal full backs proved the main threat in the first half, typically looking to overlap and putting in some great crosses only to have the imperious pair of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand marshal them well. Vidic in particular never looked threatened in the air and allowed Ferdinand to do all the distribution. However, the Serb was lucky not to give away a penalty as he flicked out a stray arm to deny Robin van Persie a clear-cut goal scoring opportunity.
Wilshere was deployed as the most advanced player in Arsenal’s midfield trio as he looked to fill the void left by Fabregas, ghosting into the space behind United’s flat midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Anderson. Alex Song anchored the midfield and kept a close eye on Wayne Rooney for much of the game, picking him up in that area between the midfield and defence that he so often looks to exploit.
Eventually a wonderful moment for the returning young Welshman lit up the game with Ramsey grabbing the game’s first goal, finding a considerable pocket of space, not being closed down quickly enough by Carrick and sweeping in a clever cut-back from van Persie.
Just previous to the goal Sir Alex introduced Antonio Valencia, tucking the versatile Park Ji Sung infield. The Ecuadorian soon found himself as United’s favoured outlet, exploiting a massive void of space out on the right. However, with Javier Hernandez and his replacement Dimitar Berbatov both ineffective, United just couldn’t find a way to goal; their best chance coming in the form of a turned down penalty shout after Clichy raked his studs down substitute Michael Owen’s leg.
While United responded well after the goal, injecting some much needed urgency into their attacking play, Arsenal struggled to play their natural game and looked somewhat panicked by finding themselves in the lead, giving away possession cheaply, with Andrei Arshavin the main offender.
United looked to push up high in defence and increase the pressure on their opponents, pouncing on any loose clearances and pumping the ball back out to the forwards against a side with a reputation for shipping late goals. Arsenal failed to exploit the space left in behind United, spurning one or two really dangerous looking counter attacks, with young midfield duo Ramsey and Wilshere leading the charge. But hold on they did, coming out of the game with three points and a clean sheet to boot.
A massive Super Sunday awaits as United welcome Chelsea to Old Trafford with just three points separating the title rivals.