Robin van Persie scored the only goal against his former club to give Manchester United a crucial victory over league leaders Arsenal
A clenched fist from Robin van Persie and an embrace with David Moyes. The Dutchman's goal against his former club, the league leaders no less, is enough to earn a massive win for Manchester United, who might just be in business now. This wasn't a great performance - far from it. But if you can't win well, win ugly. Win 1-0. That's what United did and now they're five points behind Arsenal, not 8 and not 11. For Arsenal, it's the first time they've lost in the league since the opening day. Unacceptable! Crisis! Where has it all gone wrong! They looked tired after their exertions in Dortmund and that illness, which deprived them of Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky, wasn't particularly helpful either. All in all, it's another miserable Old Trafford experience for Arsene Wenger. Some things never change.
Arsenal are in crisis.
90 min+2: Nicklas Bendtner! So close to redemption! Sagna sends in another great cross. It bounces awkwardly, no United defender wanting to score an own goal and at the far post, Bendtner stretches out a leg, trying to prod it home. But he's not quick enough and the ball dribbles away to safety. He looks aghast.
90 min: There will be three minutes of added time. Arsene Wenger isn't happy - he wanted more. Expect to hear about this via the medium of whinge later.
88 min: Bendtner, the big galoot, wastes more time with a foul on Carrick.
87 min: "As an Arsenal supporter, I am taking great satisfaction with the way this expected loss has gone so far," says Daniel Finucane. "The Gunners always play their tentative worst against United, and United always play their suffocatingly angriest best against Arsenal. It's all psychological, much like the edge the Gunners have over Spurs, and the edge City seem to be building against the Red Devils. It may seem defeatist, but I'll consider this a step in the right direction."
85 min: Robin van Persie is replaced by Marouane Fellaini, who doesn't have much time to pick up his yellow card.
84 min: This time Giroud does shoot. He didn't score, but he shot. Ramsey skedaddled into the area, a scramble ensuing. Eventually the ball came to Giroud and on the turn his shot was deflected wide for a corner. It's cleared.
83 min: Gnabry is involved straight away, speeding down the right after being released by Ramsey. He cuts it back to Giroud, who has a clear sight of goal from the edge of the area, but he takes too long and he's eventually muscled out of it by United's defence. Just shoot, man!
82 min: Mikel Arteta off, Serge Gnabry on.
81 min: Jack Wilshere, who hasn't done much, does this: a foul on Evra, for which he is booked. From the resulting free-kick, Chris Smalling should wrap it up. Van Persie sends it to the far post, Bendtner switches off and lets Smalling run off him, but he can't get the right contact on it, stooping and heading wide.
79 min: "Two legends introduced," says Karim Nanji. "One of his time and one in his own mind."
78 min: Ryan Giggs replaces Shinji Kagawa. This is the 50th of his 951 appearances against Arsenal. By way of retribution, Arsenal bring on Nicklas Bendtner for Santi Cazorla, who was utterly anonymous.
75 min: Kagawa and Cleverley exchange passes on the edge of Arsenal's area. Cleverley can't quite fasten on to the pass but the ball runs to Kagawa, who skitters into the area on the right. He only has Van Persie to aim for and his low centre is dealt with well by Koscielny. Rooney is then booked for clattering Vermaelen.
73 min: In space on the right, Sagna flashes a wonderful cross into the six-yard box. Evans has a glance, Giroud doesn't really attack it, Gibbs can't reach it and the ball spins behind for a corner, which comes to nothing.
72 min: Ozil has not been very good at all. What should be a simple pass through to Giroud goes straight to Jones.
70 min: What was Ozil playing at here? Ramsey curled a lovely ball over the top, in between Evans and Evra, for Ozil to chase. He runs into the gap and into the area, but despite the ball being there to be attacked, he decides to do nothing and let it go to De Gea instead.
68 min: Arsenal are winning 68%-32% at the moment.
67 min: Van Persie, who has been quiet apart from his goal, scampers back to nab possession back off Arteta inside Arsenal's half. He really wants that goal to be the winner. The ball breaks to Valencia on the right. He attacks Gibbs, before rolling the ball inside to Rooney, whose attempted chip isn't troubling anyone.
66 min: Cazorla slips a pass round the corner for Wilshere to chase down the inside-right channel. His first touch is good, but Jones is too strong and quick, and eventually Wilshere clips his heels as the ball is ushered behind. His look of innocence will fool no one.
64 min: "This 'illness' affecting the Arsenal squad," says Matt Dony. "Some kind of karmic food poisoning?" Sack the chef.
61 min: Arsenal make their first change, Jack Wilshere replacing Mathieu Flamini.
60 min: United should be two up. But they are not two up. A clever header from Kagawa catches Arsenal out, Van Persie causing all sorts of bother for Vermaelen. He can't quite get the ball under control but it runs to Rooney, who looks like he might blooter a volley past Szcznesy from the edge of the area. Instead he feints to shoot, a lovely piece of skill duping Koscielny, and then, with the ball on his left foot, he drags a shot inches past the far post, Szczesny not moving a muscle. What an escape for Arsenal!
59 min: Ramsey shoots from 30 yards out but David de Gea is not Massimo Taibi.
58 min: Ozil's cross from the left takes a nick but De Gea catches it before it goes out. A corner is given anyway. De Gea is not impressed. And he really wouldn't have been impressed if this had gone in. The initial corner is cleared but Arsenal keep pushing forward. Sagna's cross from the right bounces all the way to Ozil on the left. He takes a touch and can only find the side-netting, De Gea covering his angles well.
57 min: Smalling cuts inside and slides a pass down the inside-right channel for Kagawa, who forces Vermaelen to give away another corner. Szczesny catches it easily enough.
56 min: Arsenal don't seem to have much of an idea as to how they might extract themselves from this situation. De Gea hasn't really had to do anything. Maybe that illness is dragging them down.
54 min: This is so messy. Both sides are making so many errors.
51 min: Arsenal are causing a few problems here and there now. Ozil zips through the middle, drifting away from Carrick and Cleverley. He plays a one-two with Giroud but the two-three doesn't come off.
49 min: Giroud wins a free-kick for Arsenal, going down under the attentions of Cleverley. Thomas Vermaelen decides he's a set-piece genius, despite no evidence existing to back him up, and wafts a dreadful effort over the bar from 30 yards.
47 min: Arsenal have a shot! Flamini pokes a pass through to Ozil, in space on the right of the United area. He goes for one more pass but the ball gets stuck under Ramsey's feet and his weak shot is blocked. "I feel I should draw attention to the fact that if it weren't for an untimely gust of wind the mighty Saints would be one point of the top in second as things stand," says Nick Hart. "When I not-so-fondly recall watching us go bottom at the Hawthorns exactly a year ago with the leakiest defense in the league, the words 'laughing', 'now' and 'who's' come to mind."
46 min: Nemanja Vidic does not re-emerge for the second half. Tom Cleverley is on in his place, Phil Jones stepping back to partner Jonny Evans in central defence. Marouane Fellaini stays on the bench, then, and watches on as United attack down the right, Rooney and Valencia combining to win a corner.
Robin Van Persie 1-0 Arsenal.
45 min+4: Vidic is awake again. United haven't made a substitution. They'll end the half with 10 men.
45 min+2: Now Vidic is down with a head injury, his face thigh-butted by De Gea, who had to punch a cross away with Flamini lurking. They're calling for a stretcher.
45 min: There will be two added minutes.
44 min: Mathieu Flamini is booked for a retribution lunge on Jones. There's a pleasing needle developing here. It's just like 1997-2005.
42 min: Phil Jones is booked even though he was going for the ball. Harsh. And Szczesny will stay on, news editors across the land rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of a story to fill up the back pages during international week.
41 min: From the corner, Szczesny punches away but is knocked out cold as he does so, an accidental collision between his face and Phil Jones's head the reason. After Hugo Lloris last week, it will be interesting to see if he stays on. The stadium went very quiet.
40 min: Michael Oliver makes up for it by giving United a corner when he should have given Arsenal a goal-kick, the ball coming off Kagawa last, not Sagna.
39 min: United appeal loudly for a penalty. This was a bit too Old Arsenal for Wenger's liking. A cross from Evra was cleared by Koscielny, only for a ludicrously heavy touch from Giroud to send the ball straight back into the area, where Rooney was waiting. He cut back inside and was then bumped over by Giroud. It was clumsy but Michael Oliver says no.
36 min: Arsenal have dominated since falling behind but they're not threatening that much. United's Two Banks of Four are frustrating them now. Though, here's a rare sight of goal for Giroud - but he can't emulate Van Persie and sends his header too high.
33 min: Cazorla lines one up on the edge of the area but then decides to take an extra touch, which gives Jones enough time to throw himself in front of the shot. Arsenal keep pressing, though, and Giroud wins a corner off Evans on the left. Arsenal take it short and Cazorla's dangerous inswinger is punched away by De Gea.
32 min: "I read this - "United are playing without any cohesion, wit or inventiveness" - and my heart leapt, as if it were the goal that I knew then would surely come," says Nev Pierce. "Thank you Jacob." Point stands - they've done bugger all in open play but have scored a goal from a set play against Arsenal. They might as well be Stoke.
30 min: Arsenal look to respond with a set-piece of their own but Ozil's free-kick from the right doesn't beat the first man. United counter and Evra is tripped by Sagna, who earns a booking. That's a little harsh.
Who else? Robin van Persie scores his third goal in three matches against Arsenal to give United the lead. Wayne Rooney, having made the corner, went over to the left to take it and he whipped it towards the near post. Giroud didn't do enough and Van Persie leapt high to direct a brilliant, firm header towards the top-left corner, the ball flying above the jumping Kieran Gibbs on the line. Szczesny didn't move. United haven't done a lot to deserve this lead, but they won't care.
27 min: This is a minor improvement. Rooney makes something out of nothing on the left, breaking into a sprint to keep the ball in play. He sends in a cross towards Van Persie, Koscielny heading over the bar at the expense of a corner. From which...
26 min: United are playing without any cohesion, wit or inventiveness. Arsenal haven't looked flustered once. This is poor from the home side.
24 min: Cazorla tries to play Sagna in on the right. He fails. Then Carrick tries to set Van Persie clear on the left, but he hasn't got the legs on Koscielny. I'll level with you here, this is a very boring match at the moment. Here's a gallery.
21 min: "Onus," says Adrian Fowell. "Really?"
Of course - how silly of me. It's Arsenal who are in eighth place.
20 min: Phil Jones, with all the subtlety of an episode of Two and a Half Men, tries to bulldoze his way through the Arsenal defence, which stands firm. He is not Mesut Ozil. Quite effective at breaking up play, though, something he's already done twice.
19 min: Let's call this a slow start. United have been average, Arsenal not much better. But the onus is on the home side.
16 min: Here's the first piece of menacing football from Arsenal. A long ball over the top is plucked out of the sky by Giroud in acrobatic fashion. It runs to Ozil on the edge of the area but he can't quite get the ball under control and is instead flattened - legally - by Phil Jones by way of punishment. United promptly hand the ball straight back to Arsenal as a goodwill gesture.
15 min: This is just like a game of chess. "Matt Dony has more in common with Natalie Imbruglia than he does with rest of the Liverpool fanbase," says Richard Sherwood. "The rest of us will be cheering Arsenal goals today."
13 min: Rooney slips by Arteta on the left, suddenly enlivening the crowd with a hint of that old burst of pace. But he waits for Sagna to catch him up, checks and then clunks the ball out of touch with a horrible piece of control.
11 min: Is Chevrolet the official sponsor of United's bench?
10 min: Kagawa zigzags inside from the left and finds Rooney, around 25 yards out. He has a shot but it's deflected and Szczesny saves easily. He's called into action a few moments later, off his line to collect a ball over the top that was intended for Van Persie.
9 min: Arsenal step out of their half for the first time, taking the sting out of the occasion with a neat spell of passing. It's all in front of United, though, and ends when Gibbs passes straight to Valencia. There hasn't been too much to get the pulse racing yet.
7 min: United are absolutely murdering Arsenal on the possession stats here. Then again, so did Dortmund, and look what happened there. Evra locates some space on the left but his cross is too high, making it a simple catch for Szczesny.
6 min: Van Persie wriggles away from Koscielny but then pokes the ball through to Szczesny BECAUSE MAYBE HE STILL THINKS HE'S AN ARSENAL PLAYER. "As a Liverpool fan, I'm torn," says Matt Dony. "My head says 'We couldn't really challenge for the league anyway, so hopefully Arsenal will win, and damage another side's top 4 chances'. But my heart, my heart, my fragile heart is dreaming. A Utd win closes the gap. Just maybe..."
5 min: Five minutes into the third live football match of the day and nothing's happened yet. Oh Sky!
3 min: Giroud, looking to make his presence felt, catches Evans late as he plays the ball forward. That was a bit painful and Evans is limping as a result of the challenge. Giroud isn't booked, though, and Evans stays on the pitch without any treatment.
2 min: Vermaelen concedes a corner, battling with Rooney on the right. Robin van Persie trots over to where the Arsenal fans are housed. He gets a pleasant reception from them, before his corner is headed away. "One box left unticked by Mr. Dunne," notes Mac Millings. "He is not Mr. Naylor."
The minute's silence done, the match begins. United, kicking from left to right, get the game going and we hear that one or two Arsenal players are feeling a bit ill. Maybe they had the lasagne. United give the ball away inside 10 seconds but they're soon racing forward, Kagawa sauntering past Sagna and crossing to no one in particular.
Here come the teams of Manchester United and Arsenal.Nicklas Bendtner's hair is silly. One must assume he owns no mirror. Manchester United are wearing red shirts and white shorts, while Arsenal are wearing Newcastle's kit from earlier. "I do like that photo of Arsene - he looks like he's auditioning for the Ministry of Silly Walks," says Mark Gillies. "Ryan Dunne forgot to mention 'alcohol dependency', surely?"
Sunderland have beaten Manchester City 1-0. Tottenham have lost to Newcastle too. It's been a good day for the north-east and, indeed, for Manchester United and Arsenal. But it's about to take a turn for the worse for one of those sides. "I assume Lord Dunne's question was rhetorical?" says Simon McMahon. "I think he ticks all the boxes."
"Hawrite the "increasingly dumbfounded" Jacob Steinberg!" says Ryan Dunne. "Am currently, for the first time in my life, getting wired into The Smiths/Morrisey, and am wondering if anyone else can boast more ticked boxes than me in Stereotypical MBM-er bingo (my MBM-missives tending to be interspaced by Radiohead's Creep, geekery, Larkin, Seinfeld and - of course - Not Talking to Girls)."
"As well as the return to playing with genuine striker partnerships this season by a number of leading sides, it's noticeable that for much of the time Arsenal have been fielding a pretty settled side week after week rather than rotating (at least to the extent I've noticed)," says David Wall. "With the big man up front in Giroud (albeit with a very good touch) it's as though we're all a bit nostalgic for the 80s and 90s. With some of that in mind might it be to Arsenal's detriment when Walcott, Oxlaide-Chamberlain, and others return to fitness to wake Wenger from that reminiscence and start tinkering again?"
No. You can't go through the season playing the same time week after week. Arsenal are probably the most settled side in the league but they don't have as many options as United, City and Chelsea.
Here are some pictures of Tim Krul's afternoon in north London. He had fun.
Oh look, Ashley Young isn't even on the bench for United. To be fair, that was a nasty fall he suffered against Real Sociedad. Maybe he's injured.
Something to cheer up Sky on this, the most difficult of weeks.
Manchester United, with Michael Carrick back and partnered by Phil
Neville Jones: De Gea; Smalling, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Jones, Carrick, Kagawa; Rooney, Van Persie. Subs: Lindegaard, Giggs, Hernandez, Nani, Cleverley, Fellaini, Januzaj.
Arsenal, with Thomas Vermaelen in for the ill Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Flamini in for the ill Tomas Rosicky: Szczesny; Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Flamini, Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Giroud. Subs: Fabianski, Wilshere, Monreal, Bendtner, Jenkinson, Gnabry, Hayden.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
There were rumours - well, Twitter rumours, started by a bored punter probably, but taken very seriously by Richard Keys - that Robin van Persie wasn't playing. He is playing. You'll note that your trusty Guardian MBMer didn't get involved. The full teams will be with you just as soon as Arsenal name theirs.
The last time these two sides met, Arsenal were forced to give Manchester United a guard of honour. On their own ground. The humiliation of it. But just look at the shift in power since then: Sir Alex Ferguson has done one, David Moyes has done little, United are eighth, Arsenal are top and they have Mesut Ozil, not Marouane Fellaini. Arsene Wenger is enjoying life. Life is good.
This is another test of New Arsenal's credentials. So far, they've passed most of them with flying colours but their recent history of spectacular collapses at the first sign of trouble means that their chances of silverware are still being viewed with the requisite suspicion. But you can't argue with what they've done until now - or since beating Bayern Munich in March. Since then, there has only been one defeat in the league, the mini-crisis of the 3-1 reverse to Aston Villa on the opening day, and they arrive at Old Trafford having taken Liverpool to the cleaners before Aaron Ramsey's sucker-punch stunned Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night. Backs were firmly against the wall in Germany, but it didn't matter: Arsenal aren't playing like nervous children any more. Ramsey has grown, they're defending properly, Olivier Giroud has been superb and Mesut Ozil has been Mesut Ozil. Life is good.
So, the side at the top of the league, are favourites against the side in eighth. But Arsenal's recent experiences at Old Trafford have been harrowing. Just look. Last year, the embarrassment of Andre Santos asking for Robin van Persie's shirt at half-time. The year before, 8-2. The year before, Park Ji-sung scored in the league and United's reserves won 2-0 in the FA Cup. And so on and so forth, on it goes, all the way to September 2006, the last time they won at Old Trafford, Emmanuel Adebayor grabbing a late winner. On the other hand, every title Wenger won featured a big performance at Old Trafford: Marc Overmars's momentum-shifting winner in 1998, Sylvain Wiltord's title decider in 2002 and Ruud Van Nistelrooy's missed penalty in 2003. So history isn't on their side. But, in another way, it sort of is.
They'll fancy their chances of going 11 points above the champions, then. Although, without playing very well at all and with Ashley Young's antics becoming more cringeworthy with each passing game, United have gone eight matches unbeaten. Are there signs of life for Moyes' boyz? Well, you write off Manchester United at your peril. Especially as they've got Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie up front. Goals can hide a lot of flaws.
Kick-off in the last of the Sky Sports hat-trick: 4.10pm.