Playing well wasn’t on the table for both teams, only Manchester United executed first. Robin van Persie scored once more, this time in an apologetic manner, but it was Wayne Rooney who made everything happen for the league leaders, doing everything and being everywhere for 90 minutes.
In replacing Shinji Kagawa, he has given United a bit more balance because Alex Ferguson doesn’t add another striker, while doing the link up job between the defensive midfield and the striker(s) and wingers much better at this point. Rooney even played as a defensive midfielder at times, helping Carrick and Cleverley against an overload of Arsenal central midfielders, who didn’t amount to much for almost an entire match.
United didn’t look as good as they did for certain moments in their 3-2 win over Chelsea from last week, but they were quick enough to score and the better side for almost the entire match. Even when they gave up their dominance for certain stretches, Arsenal were so slow in their build up that even the Manchester United defense were able to handle the opposition. Hardly any crossing, which has been a problem, and certainly nothing fast and clever that came from the Gunners.
One of the bigger keys to United playing like they have on the offensive side in the last few weeks has been the return of Ashley Young from injury. There are more talented wingers than Young, but the former Villa man is perfect for United’s style and Ferguson’s love for speedy wingers who dominate the gameplay. Antonio Valencia has been one of the team’s most consistent and better performers for quite some time, and the return of Young, as opposed to the weak Nani or out-of-position Danny Welbeck, Young’s crossing and ability to move into the middle changes the balance on a lot of United attacks.
A special day for Robin van Persie? You wouldn’t have guessed it. It barely took him two minutes to put Arsenal completely behind him. He didn’t celebrate (although I never understood that ritual of not celebrating against a former club; sucking up to fans in my opinion), but was the most dangerous man on the pitch, although his goal did come from a huge mistake by Thomas Vermaelen and not some brilliant build up play. When you’re on a roll, you don’t have to be playing well to score. Just make the most of what you’re given.
If there was thing that made Rooney’s performance slightly less than perfect was his missed penalty kick. Despite not being the best and most gifted scorer on the side, when he’s on the pitch, it’s still his role to assume. Maybe it was a bit of karma, as Santi Cazorla’s handball wasn’t something that deserved to be called as he was defending his face, which the ball would have hit anyway, but United at Old Trafford, and anywhere else, tend to get these calls.
Rooney’s execution was poor, unlike the rest of his performance. He made up for it with an accurate cross in the second half that put the game to bed, finding the head of Patrice Evra and clinching the top spot in the Premier League for the first time this season.