Manchester ruled over London for the second time on Sunday as Manchester United kept up the pace with Manchester City at the top after defeating Arsenal at the Emirates to show that they can still out grind out results against supposed title-rivals.
Arsene Wenger’s side started brightly with Theo Walcott looking dangerous. After forcing Jonny Evans into a clearance early on, a bright run by the winger saw Phil Jones pull up injured whilst jostling back to try and mark his England team-mate.
Losing Jones was a blow but one which United would overcome as his replacement Rafael was barley troubled in a first-half United would dominate, proving that Arsenal’s talented crop of youngsters not only can be outfought but be outpassed.
Danny Welbeck was causing trouble and went close to bagging the opener but was put off by a lunge from Laurent Koscielny, dragging his shot wide of goal after a nice one-two with Antonio Valencia saw the striker gallop 30 yards into the area.
Patrice Evra was looking in fine form and a trademark run from left-back ended with Nani forcing Woijech Sczcseny into a save down at his right-hand post, when it may have been better for the Portuguese winger to shoot across goal.
On the stroke of half-time United went ahead. Wayne Rooney saw a through-ball directed to Welbeck blocked by Thomas Vermalen. The Belgian’s clearance was chested down brilliantly by Evra 35 yards from goal into Nani’s path who found Ryan Giggs on the edge of the box.
With Johan Djorou not making any attempt to try and put Giggs off from crossing into the area, the Welshman whipped in a trademark cross to the back post that was asking to be headed home and that’s exactly what Valencia did. Sczcseny stood no chance.
Arsenal to their credit came out stronger after half-time. Chris Smalling almost gifted them an equaliser six minutes into the half when he slipped on the ball 30 yards from goal allowing Thomas Rosicky the chance to run through on goal.
Just as it seemed that the Czech would strike a shot towards Anders Lindegaard’s goal however he opted to pass to Robin van Persie who incredibly after turning the ball away from both Smalling and Jonny Evans blew a comfortable shot wide of goal when it seemed harder to miss.
It was a let-off for United as Arsenal began to dominate with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking a threat. After teeing up Aaron Ramsey to blast over, the youngster signed from Southampton fired a shot narrowly wide of Lindegaard’s post from 25 yards out.
Evra then came to United’s rescue when he blocked a goal-bound effort from Ramsey in the area. The ball did strike the defender‘s hands but he couldn’t have got out of the way and Arsenal’s appeals for a penalty were turned down.
Welbeck was working hard up front but was unlucky to see a shot cleared of the line by Per Metersaker after nudging the ball over Szczsney after ghosting past the German centre-back who tried his best to bring the powerful forward down.
With Rafael and Evra enjoying runs going forward there was always a chance that Arsenal would catch United on the break. The Brazilian rampaging up from right-back almost got onto a Rooney through-ball and he was cruelly punished as a result of it.
Koscielny did well to nudge Rafael of the ball picking out Ramsey on the half-way line who fed the ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain who cut United’s defence apart picking out van Persie to strike a low effort in off the post despite Lindegaard getting his fingers onto it.
Arsenal now looked the most likely of getting a winner but shortly after getting back on level terms, Wenger decided to take of Oxlade-Chamberlain bringing on the much criticised Andrei Arshavin whose tactical unawareness was seized upon.
Paul Scholes on for an injured Nani picked out Antonio Valencia with a peach of a ball on the right. Valencia burst past Arshavin into the area, playing a one-two with Park Ji-Sung before the Russian foolishly re-attempted to win the ball.
Valencia coolly slid the ball across for Welbeck to hammer in the goal that his performance had deserved with United despite the best efforts of Metersaker holding out for a vital win that should do their title credentials the world of good.
United: Lindegaard, Evra, Evans, Smalling, Jones (Rafael) Park), Nani, Giggs, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, Welbeck.
Despite Patrice Evra having his best game in the last 18 months, the performance once again of Antonio Valencia came to the fore. His goal and assist aside, he once again showed how valuable he is to Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans with a dominant performance that showed why he is truly becoming one of the team’s most important players in the season’s run-in.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87