All the talk was of Arsenal’s humiliation in the corresponding fixture last year and the kamikaze defending of Andre Santos. However, Thomas Vermaelen was the unlikely donor of Manchester United’s first goal on three minutes. The Arsenal skipper lamely gifted a routine clearance to Robin Van Persie and he finished with ease.
Manchester United came out of the blocks much faster and held onto the ball better. Their passing was crisper and they had more than 55% of the ball in the first 15 minutes of play. The Gunners, thanks to the ever-absent Santos, were not picking up Valencia’s probing runs down the right, while Van Persie was finding space and nearly doubled his tally on 20 minutes.
Arsenal were on the ropes and were afforded little respite thereafter. It seemed inconceivable that the Reds would not increase their lead, especially with Cazorla conceding a somewhat harsh penalty for handball. Rooney managed to steer the ball wide, giving Arsenal renewed hope.
The North London outfit managed to cling on until the 67th minute, and ironically it was during their best period of the game that they conceded a well-worked goal courtesy of Evra’s head. Shortly afterwards Jack Wilshere was sent off for a second bookable offence and the spectre of another trouncing loomed large for the Gunners.
Arsenal lacked self-belief and lost to a better Manchester United side. Vermaelen, Santos, Ramsey, Giroud and even the effervescent Cazorla were all below par. While an Arsenal revival was possible at 1-0 down, it was hard to imagine who could step up to be their saviour. Cazorla’s injury time goal served to soften the blow, but this victory was more convincing that the final score suggests.
Manchester United were imperious and well organised. They stroked the ball around with aplomb and won the game without ever having to move into top gear. Arsenal remain uncertain at the back, lack creativity in midfield and have no teeth up front.
The return of Diaby and Gibbs will improve matters but United were by far the better side.