Manchester United earned a pivotal three points on Sunday afternoon as they stayed in touch with leaders City. Their arch rivals had earlier beaten third placed Tottenham in dramatic fashion which left the Red Devils six points behind them at the Premier League summit. Goals from Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck either side of Robin van Persie’s 19th league goal this campaign was enough for United to grap the spoils at the Emirates.
All the talk going into the game was about the infamous meeting between the sides earlier in the season and how Arsene Wenger’s men would avenge their 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford. It wasn’t the same score line but at times in the first period, United dominated the proceedings in the manner they had done at the Theatre of Dreams. Not being held back by the loss of Phil Jones to an ankle injury, the visitors controlled the game but failed to break the deadlock. Most of the play was coming down the left with the impressive Evra and the less impressive Nani. On several occasions, the Portoguses winger failed to make good use of the ball in good areas but when he did hit the target, Arsenal ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny got down low to his right.
Whilst there was no real danger of a repeat score line, the Gunner’s defensive problems were all too evident and it was down the left which United created their deserved breakthrough. Ryan Giggs at 38 whipped in a dangerous ball to the back stick where Antonio Valencia beat Thomas Vermaelen in the air to head home moments before the break.
Inevitably the home side came out stronger following the interval and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain on his full Premier League debut continued to cause Rafael problems but it was a defensive slip from Chris Smalling which could have been their downfall. Rosicky was quick to pounce on the centre half’s error before teeing up Robin van Persie to slot home and with the majority of the 60,093 to see the net bulge, somehow the Dutch striker fired wide from 7 yards.
It was that moment though that seemed to turn the tide as Arsenal began to pose a threat to the United back four who had been extremely comfortable. Aaron Ramsey tricked his way past two but with glory in his sights he blasted over from just inside the box. Despite having the better of the second period, the home side could have been two down when Welbeck used his pace to latch onto a through ball before chipping the ball over the on rushing Szczesny but the big German defender Per Mertesacker got back just in time to deny Welbeck his sixth of the season.
With only a quarter of the game to go, Wenger prepared a double substitution but they were level before he could make the change. Laurent Koscienly brilliantly denied Rafael in the Gunners box before playing a pass into Ramsey who in turn played in wide to Oxlade-Chamberlain to run at an exposed United back line. Van Perise, not affected by his earlier miss made a run down the side before finishing past Lindegaard on the angle. It was his 19th league goal this season but moments after Arsenal fans’ and indeed the skippers’ mood changed as Wenger decided to take off the 18 year old Oxlade-Chamberlain and bring on the ineffective Arshavin. Fans began chanting “You don’t know what you’re doing” while van Persie’s unhappiness was clear to see.
It was the Russian who played a big part in the winning goal as Valencia went by him far too easily before playing a one two with substitute Park to tee up Welbeck to fire home.
After the game, Wenger admitted there was a tactical error in the build up to the winning goal but didn’t respond to what that error was. It’s Arsenal’s third successive Premier League defeat after away losses at Fulham and Swansea and once again Wenger’s decisions weren’t well received by the majority at the Emirates.
“When it was 1-1 it looked like we would win but in the end one tactical mistake lost us the game,” he told Sky Sports.
“I do not want to dwell too much on that now but one second of inattention can cost you.”
Despite his admission, Wenger went on to defend his decision to bring off Oxlade-Chamberlain in a frosty post-match press conference.
“I can understand that the fans are upset about the substitution, especially when it doesn’t work, but he (Oxlade-Chamberlain) had started to fatigue,” he said.
“He was sick in the week. Arshavin is captain of the Russia national team.
“You have an 18-year-old kid making his first Premier League start and a player who’s captain of his country and they are querying the substitution? Let’s be serious.
“I’ve been a manager for 30 years and have made 50,000 substitutions. I do not have to justify every decision I make to you (the Press). I stand up for it.”