In a first half which Arsenal comfortably dominated they still refused to pull the trigger when opportunities presented themselves. It would have been easy to assume that their old failings were going to be their undoing.

Neat passing from Arsenal's midfield trio – Jack Wilshere, Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey – eclipsed the efforts of Michael Carrick, Anderson and the deep-lying Wayne Rooney. They wrested early control from United, giving opportunities for Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy to join the attacks. But for all their good possession they looked at their most dangerous only when they flashed low balls across the box from advanced, wide positions.

Arsenal have been accused, despite their goals total, of lacking goalmouth muscle but it was most encouraging for Arsène Wenger to see Theo Walcott coming into the area from his wide right perch whenever Arsenal were building attacks on the left. Twice he was denied when Patrice Evra cleared brilliantly. It was from Walcott's splendid cross that Nemanja Vidic deflected the ball with his hand without being punished.

Walcott is improving his all-round appreciation of the demands of the wide-right role when Arsenal deploy only one central striker. With two strikers there are always options for a forward pass and in those situations the winger can hold his width and cross with the two strikers striving for goalscoring positions.

In the one‑up-front system Walcott himself has to attack the box at every opportunity to assist his lone central striker. He must want to score and not hang out in safe territory. You need to be mentally brave to force yourself to make frequent runs into the penalty area and physically courageous, too, as you fight for possession among strong defenders. It is not possible to score unless you are determined and clever enough to get into those positions. I was surprised when Wenger substituted the lively Walcott in the 77th minute rather than the anaemic and erratic substitute Andrey Arshavin on the other flank.

In a sound first half Johan Djourou's movement with the ball from centre-back impressed, as did Song's intercepting and tackling. Arsenal posed all the questions in the first period.

Nani and Rooney had little chance in open play but were given several opportunities from free-kicks when Arsenal's more mobile and enthusiastic midfield players had made rash tackles. Arsenal coped well defending them.

One could not question the attitude and philosophy of this Arsenal group. Shorn of Cesc Fábregas, this is a team not recently rich in trophies but rich in technical talent. The youngsters Wojciech Szczesny, Walcott, Ramsey and Wilshere have bright futures before them.

United will not find it easy to replace the successful trio of Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Here Carrick looked laboured and, while talented, Anderson cannot yet command the ball like the master Welshman.

Arsenal's potential loss of Fábregas will be a major blow but with Ramsey's and Wilshere's rich promise it can be withstood and the young midfielders Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Emmanuel Frimpong and Craig Eastmond wait in the wings. They will need that dominant leader at the back, which I am sure Wenger will now address. Arsenal can look up and not down.