The familiarity of the result was even more significant than the victory that put Manchester United two points clear in the Premier League with a game in hand. Arsenal were unable to disentangle themselves from the clichés that are as accurate as they are familiar. The visitors achieved a pattern for a spell in the second half but the winners could usually study it without much apprehension.
Indeed the margin would have been greater had Wayne Rooney not been so wild with a questionable penalty. Home advantage helps but there is still a broader range to United. Arsenal, for all their grace and fluency, could not impose themselves enough on opponents who were steely and, often enough, polished. That limitation should have been anticipated.
Arsenal last beat United in November 2008 and six subsequent encounters in all competitions have now comprised five victories for United and a draw. Sir Alex Ferguson was complimentary beforehand about the edge that can be seen in the present Arsenal team but their red cards in this campaign do not show that the men sent off are warriors.
In principle there is nothing so terrible in losing a frantic game that would have made observers wonder if these clubs had really come across the sophistication of the Champions League, let alone been steeped in it. The trouble for Arsenal lies in the demoralisation that could overcome them as they dread that everything is more or less as it has been since they last won a trophy five years ago.
Wenger's men can tell themselves that this is probably the most exacting game that the Premier League can offer. Nothing has been decided yet and the victors go to Stamford Bridge for their next fixture. A great deal can shift yet and this sort of match could not confirm that United are quite as great a force as they have been. Even so that thought will not have weighed heavily on the minds of their fans, walking away from Old Trafford in contentment.
It was, at least, Arsenal's wish to smash the stereotypes. Wenger put Denilson, one of his holding midfielders, on the bench, so that the more inventive Jack Wilshere could be accommodated. Nonetheless there was an initial emphasis on security and United shared in the prudence. With Rooney to lead the attack single-handed, Dimitar Berbatov had to content himself with an evening on the bench.
Ferguson made only one substitution and that confirmed his satisfaction. If there was a sort of boldness present, it did not involve attackers. The forthrightness emanated from Wenger who, with Lukasz Fabianski carrying a minor injury, chose to grant the 20-year-old goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny his first Premier League appearance.
Towards the close the Pole excelled by reaching a Rooney chip but that confident effort also endorsed the suspicion that the attacker is coming within reach of his old standard.
It was a taxing privilege for Szczesny to be confronted by an eager United, who showed more enterprise before the interval. A half-cleared cross by Darren Fletcher fell to Nani and his shot flew marginally beyond the far post from an angle on the right. Arsenal felt the strain caused by United's persistence, even if the referee, Howard Webb, disregarded hopeful appeals for penalties.
The goal came in any case, with Nani confirming his rising value. After 41 minutes, his deflected cross was directed into the top corner of the net by Park Ji-sung, who adjusted his body well to produce so clean a header. Arsenal, for all their good intentions, had not been so dangerous.
To the visitors' frustration, the industry of United was enhanced by Ferguson's shrewdness in calling upon Park. Arsenal did achieve some pattern in the 53rd minute, when Wilshere worked the ball to Bacary Sagna and the right-back's deep cross caused a disquiet that had not been witnessed before.
The necessity to attack suited Arsenal and, with their one vivid opportunity, they would have been level in the 56th minute, but for a pair of interventions. Samir Nasri's effort from the left was parried by Edwin van der Sar and Nemanja Vidic then blocked Marouane Chamakh's attempt. Even in that spell, though, United had shown the endeavour, with Szczelny having to prevent Anderson from establishing a 2-0 lead after the midfielder had been set up by Rooney.
Play did become more stretched and a penalty was awarded, although Gaël Clichy, who had lost his balance, did not intend to touch a ball from Nani that came off his right arm. Webb took the decision on the advice of the assistant Dave Bryan but after Clichy and Nasri had been cautioned Rooney sent the ball over the bar in the 72nd minute. Despite that waywardness United always knew precisely where they were going.