• England striker says defeat of Arsenal is 'massive lift'
• Arsène Wenger says Gunners too nervous in first half
Wayne Rooney described Manchester United's 1-0 win over Arsenal as a "massive lift" after the champions cut the deficit on the leaders to five points, with Robin van Persie greeting his winner by celebrating for a first time against his former club.
It was a good day for United as two of their title rivals, Manchester City and Tottenham, both lost, and Rooney said: "We knew we had to win today at all costs. That was the toughest we've been to break down and we defended really well. We knew we could not afford to lose, we couldn't let Arsenal get 11 points away from us.
"The other results today and yesterday also gave us a boost and we are right back in it now. It's a massive lift, a great weekend for us ahead of the international break. Our aim is to be top or thereabouts at the new year."
Van Persie had scored in each of his previous two United games against Arsenal, but had refused to celebrate. This time, following his 27th-minute header from Rooney's corner, he ran to a section of the home support with unbridled emotion.
Of the Dutchman's contribution, David Moyes said: "Great players score great goals in big games and he is a great player. I have got to say, his sidekick today played great as well, Wayne, the two of them were fantastic, Wayne made it, Robin scored it.
"I always hoped that Robin would show that and he has done since I came here – he has been great. The two forwards, one scoring the winning goal and one making it, their performance merited the title of big players. They really did. In the big game, they came up trumps."
After a difficult start to a first season as successor to Sir Alex Ferguson that has featured defeats by Liverpool, Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion, Moyes described this as the best win. "Yeah, especially in the first half. A resilient job was required in the last 20 minutes but overall it was a good three points against a very much in-form Arsenal team. It's another step in the right direction for us. We have got a lot of big steps to take here. It is going to take a while for me to get it all the way I'd like it to be.
"I don't know if it puts out any statement. Everybody for years has known how good Manchester United have been. My job and the team's job is to make sure that we do that again. We know that we are going to get a few bloody noses along the way."
Arsène Wenger said that with Arsenal not having won at Old Trafford since September 2006 the tension of being in title contention had affected them. "I just think we were too nervous in the first half," he said. "Maybe with the fact we haven't won for a long time here and it was a big game and, once again, it is a tight game that has been decided on a set piece. That is what we will keep from this game. We knew this could happen but after that we had a go and gave everything until the last minute. This team has a great heart. I feel sorry for my players tonight."
The only real setback for United came when Nemanja Vidic was taken off at half-time and went to hospital with a facial injury. Moyes said: "It's quite a horrific-looking one. As far as I know he is OK, he is conscious. We will get a scan but as far as we know, we hope he is going to be OK."
After the furore over Hugo Lloris at Spurs, United's was a sensible course of action though Arsenal risked controversy by leaving Wojciech Szczesny on the pitch following a clash of heads with Phil Jones.
Wenger said: "I listen to the doctor. If he says to me he has to come off, he comes off – no matter if we have seven men on the field, I do it. You have only one life and you have 60 games per year."
A spokesman for the brain-injury charity Headway, which was critical of the decision to allow Lloris to continue against Everton last week, said: "I don't want to get involved in judging the decision of Szczesny – every situation is unique and different and the medical team have made a call. With Vidic they have taken him off after the medical team deemed him not fit to continue. He was unsteady on his feet, there were more obvious signs."