Arsenal’s exubarent young side were under firm pressure in the Premier League’s mid-day kick-off against Manchester United, and it proved to be a superb result for Arsene Wenger and his men after stemming United’s attacking flow.
Gunners manager Wenger admitted dressing-room morale was low after their 4-4 draw with rivals Tottenham and the defeat at Stoke – but this win at the at the Emirates Stadium breathes life into their campaign and lifts them above United in the Barclays Premier League.
Wenger had Emmanuel Adebayor injured and Robin van Persie suspended but it was Arsenal’s French wing maestro who proved to be the game-winner.
Arsenal Starting XI
Sagna – Gallas – Silvestre – Clichy
Walcott – Fabregas – Denilson – Nasri
Manchester United Starting XI
Van Der Sar
Neville – Ferdinand – Vidic – Evra
Ronaldo – Anderson – Carrick – Park
Rooney – Berbatov
United were the better team to start with as the Gunners looked nervous in the initial stages. But Michael Carrick shot went just wide early on after a free kick was blocked following goalkeeper Manuel Almunia picked up a backpass to prompt referee Howard Webb to award a free kick for United from inside the penalty area.
In a fine move in 9th minute, Wayne Rooney’s low shot was blocked by Almunia, but Dimitar Berbatov was off side as he slotted home off the rebound and the goal was disallowed.
Arsenal’s first chance came in 11th when Gael Clichy sent in a delightful cross into the penalty area from left, but Nicklas Bendtner on a free header, failed to keep his attempt on target.
Two minutes later, the Dane again missed a superb chance as he failed to connect with a header from a sharp cross by Nasri.
United could have been left embarrassed as keeper Edwin Van der Sar’s weak punch saw the ball cleared only as far as Abou Diaby in the penalty area but the Frenchman’s shot was blocked in the crammed area.
Chance after chance came at each end, and United created a superb opportunity to score with Anderson playing a big role in the move, but Rooney, who was set up by a cutback from Ronaldo, got under the ball and scooped it over the bar from the centre of penalty area.
The home side took the lead in the 22nd minute with Nasri’s strike deflected by United skipper Gary Neville beating wrong-footed Van der Sar. United looked shaky in defence at times, with the Dutch keeper undone by the deflection off the right-back after Berbatov had headed the ball but not being able to clear the lines completely following a Cesc Fabregas free kick and French winger Nasri latched onto the chance from 18 yards.
Goal: Samir Nasri (22) – Arsenal 1-0 Manchester United
United controlled the proceedings after being shocked by the goal and Ronaldo’s free kick came close to being headed into the own goal by Gunners left-back Clichy.
Arsenal had the ball after a brief spell of United dominance and though the counter didn’t materialise, they kept up the pressure and Cesc Fabregas’ long-range shot was deflected out for a corner.
United mustered another fine chance but Almunia came up with a good diving save after Park covered a lot of ground through the centre and let go a stiff grounder from 22 yards, but the Spanish custodian was equal to the task.
Arsenal looked in control towards the closing stages and put pressure on their rivals. Walcott failed to take his chance as the England international fired over the bar.
In the injury time, United had a promising build-up to an attack on the north-Londoners but Berbatov and Neville failed to put the right final ball.
Arsenal had a perfect start to the second half as Nasri made it 2-0 for the hosts with a brilliant 48th minute goal from the top of the penalty area. The move was beautifully created with several touches in a sleek passing build-up with Diaby, Bendtner, Denilson and Fabregas involved – Nasri finished it with aplomb.
Goal: Samir Nasri (48) – Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United
Almost immediately, United came up with their response as Ronaldo’s angular strike from right missed the far post narrowly.
Arsenal had a great chance to further up their lead but Diaby’s feeble cross was cut out by Anderson. At the other end, the Brazilian tried a long range shot but failed to keep it on target. Rooney and Neville also were then similarly guilty of not getting Almunia into action.
Walcott, who had wasted a couple of half-chances in the first half, again, missed an opportunity as he got into a tangle and failed to hit his shot well after being set up by Bendtner in the United area.
With the time running out for the visitors, there was sense of urgency with the game heading into the final quarter, while the Gunners also pressed forward in an attempt to increase their lead and as such both sides put everything into the contest where a fine intervention by Gunners skipper William Gallas averted danger, while United were lucky not to have conceded a penalty as Vidic hauled down Nasri in the box.
Bendtner, who has been missing a lot of chances of late, again was the culprit as he shot straight at Van der Sar from 10 yards. Bacary Sagna then found himself clear through from right flank, and tried his luck from long range, but failed to hit target.
United pulled a goal back as substitute Rafael scored with a spectacular finish after a half-clearance from the Gunners box in the final minute of the normal time before a six minute injury time was flashed.
Goal: Rafael Da Silva (90) – Arsenal 2-1 Manchester United
United failed to threaten in the final few minutes with the Gunners returning to winning ways again and could have had a bigger margin of victory but Bendtner continued his wayward shooting.
It was a deserved win for Arsenal, who stemmed United’s attacking flow for the majority of the game, yes, there were still worries in defense for the Gunners, but no-one can take the gloss away out of this extraordinary performance.
Gooner Talk Man of the Match: Samir Nasri – Unbelievably good performance from the French wizard. Two well taken goals, coupled with some neat footwork and tidy passing, the 21-year-old is certainly a star in the making – if not already.