Having returned to winning ways the previous week by beating Bolton Wanderers, United travelled down to London to face Arsenal in a crunch game for the reds. Traditionally, the fixture between United and Arsenal has been one full of controversy and excitement, as the two great rivals collided to decide the fate of the league title. However, with Arsenal languishing outside of the top four and fresh off the back of two back to back defeats, United were strong favourites going into the clash despite having a relatively poor record at the Emirates stadium. An injury to Rio Ferdinand saw a forced change at the heart of United’s defence, with Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling charged with dealing with the prolific Robin Van Persie.
With Arsenal ravaged by injuries themselves especially in the full back area, United went about systematically exploiting the flanks in the first 45, with Nani and Evra marauding down the left hand side exposing Johann Djorou. An early set back to Phil Jones, who was stretchered off with an ankle ligament problem dented United briefly, as Arsenal forged some decent opportunities through Chamberlain and Ramsey. It was United however who wrestled control of the game, and began to get in behind the frail Arsenal back four, only to criminally waste promising opportunities, Nani in particular undoing initial good work with poor delivery. A strong United performance was seemingly going unrewarded, until the brink of half time, United turned to their tried and tested in the form of Ryan Giggs, who afforded the time to cross picked out Valencia at the back who nodded past Szczesny to give the reds the half time advantage.
Having encountered relatively little Arsenal resistance, United were sure to endure a more uncomfortable second 45 if they were to come away with a vital three points. Arsenal sensed the reds feeling of unease, and began to forge some clear cut opportunities, firstly through Van Persie, who inexplicably missed from 6 yards out with the goal at his mercy, and then Ramsey bursting into the penalty area fired his shot narrowly over. In a game which ebbed and flowed, United could have doubled their lead minutes later, as Welbeck burst through on goal, lobbed Szczesny, but saw his shot agonizingly cleared off the line by Per Mertesacker. United were made to pay, as with 20 minutes remaining, van Persie latched onto Ramsey’s reverse pass, and made no mistake in slotting his shot into the far corner to bring Arsenal back on level terms.
With the game very finely poised, it was a tale of substitutions which made the telling impact, with Arsenal introducing Andrei Arshavin for the impressive Chamberlain, and United introducing Scholes and Park to bolster the midfield. With 10 minutes left on the clock, it was United who stole the points, as the superb Valencia drove inside past a feeble Arshavin challenge, before delightfully interchanging with Park and cooly laying off to Welbeck who made no mistake of slotting home from 10 yards to put United back in front. An Arsenal onslaught ensued, but despite an aerial bombardment in the closing stages, some heroic defending from Chris Smalling denied the home side and ensured United headed back up north with a crucial 3 points secured.
Lindegaard – 6 Relieved pressure with some key catches at the death.
Jones – Injured early.
Evans – 7 Some very fine defending against in form Van Persie.
Smalling – 7 Heroic defending at times, always put his head on the ball.
Evra – 8 Hopefully the beginning of a resurgence.
Valencia – 8 MOTM Crucial goal, and magical assist for United winner.
Carrick – 7 Controlled the midfield.
Giggs – 6 Added creativity in first half especially, telling cross for opener.
Nani – 6 Gave Djourou a torrid time, final ball was poor however.
Rooney – 5 Worked hard but final ball wasteful.
Welbeck – 8 Could have had a hat trick, constant threat.
Rafael – 6 Balanced well between attack and defence.
Scholes – 6 Brought calm in final stages.
Park – 6 Telling lay off for United winner.