LONDON: Manchester United are back on top of the Premier League, where manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes they always belong. His delight was enhanced by the sight of Robin Van Persie taking them up there after a highly significant 2-1 victory over 10-men Arsenal.
Van Persie spent eight years with the north London club, culminating in last season’s 37-goal campaign. He has carried that form with him to United. His latest goal – after only three minutes – took his tally this season to 10 in 13 games. Respectfully, Van Persie did not celebrate his goal but he was still jeered throughout the game by visiting Gunners fans at Old Trafford.
Wayne Rooney missed United’s fourth penalty of the season just on half-time but Patrice Evra added a second and Arsenal’s misery was compounded by the sending off Jack Wilshere before Santi Cazorla hit an injury-time consolation.
England midfielder Wilshere had been making only his second appearance for the Gunners after a 14-month injury lay-off.
Manager Arsene Wenger, mistakenly, missed the chance to substitute Wilshere for his own protection after an earlier booking. By contrast Ferguson ‘saved’ the combative Tom Cleverley by replacing him when he started to tread a dangerous line.
Van Persie said later: “It was a special day, it was quite a game. I think we played well. We had a few chances, we should have scored two or three more but in the end we’re happy with the three points which is all that matters.”
Arsenal were a mess. Centre-backs Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen, in particular, were embarrassed by the pace and understanding of Van Persie and Rooney; leftback Andre Santos was ripped apart by United right winger Antonio Valencia. Indeed, Santos clearly expected to be replaced at half-time, judging by his strange attempt to swap shirts with Van Persie at the interval.
Lukas Podolski received little useful service of the ball and United should have won by a far more decisive margin such was their command.
Old Arsenal captain Tony Adams remains a great admirer of Wenger but baffled by the club’s strategy.
He said: “Santos scares me. I think they need to toughen up the back four but Arsene doesn’t think like that. The destroying side of the game is not in his nature. They’re not serious championship contenders.
“You need to keep hold of your best players and we’ve let them go too easily. You don’t let players like Van Persie go into the last year of their contracts and run them down; you put them on long contracts and look after them but for some reason Arsenal have chosen not to do that.
“The next big one now is Theo Walcott. It doesn’t help persuade him to stay that he scores a hat-trick in midweek in the League Cup but then is left on the bench at the weekend.”