United took on second place Arsenal in what was billed as a clash between two serious title contenders. With Chelsea waiting next for the reds, victory over Arsenal was imperative as we approach what United fans have come accustomed to as being our strongest part of the season. With United’s unbeaten premier league record on the line, Fergie opted for a more conservative line up, with Fletcher accompanying Carrick and Anderson in midfield, and Rooney playing as a solitary striker. The emotional farewell of a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before kick off played its part in generating a crackling atmosphere for arguably United’s biggest home game of the season so far.
From the outset, both sides aired on the side of caution, with the game being dominated by the midfield and little action in the way of chances. Nani came close to breaking the deadlock after a half cleared Darren Fletcher cross, only for the Portuguese winger’s shot to narrowly miss the target. At the other end, United’s back four were in imperious form, with the in form Samir Nasri finding very little room to operate under the watchful eye of Patrice Evra. United’s goal came just on the brink of half time, after some good play down the right, Nani’s deflected cross was steered over the despairing Szczesny by Ji Sung Park. How much Park knew about the finish remains ambiguous, but in the big games, it doesn’t matter how they go in, as long as they do.
With the crucial first goal secured, the second half was sure to be a test of United’s character and resilience, with the inevitable Arsenal onslaught to come. Fergie’s men passed with flying colours, as attack after attack was repelled by the magnificent United back four, all of which put in match winning shifts. Arsenal were limited to half chances from the edge of the box, and United’s only real scare of the night came after Van Der Sar could only parry Nasri’s shot to Chamakh, only for Vidic to intervene in typically committed fashion.
For all Arsenal’s possession, it was United who looked the more threatening on the break, with Anderson being denied by Szczesny, and Nani proving wasteful from some good opportunities. 1-0 seemed a dangerous score line for the reds, and they were presented with a golden opportunity on 70 minutes, after Clichy was adjudged to handle the ball in the box. Up stepped Rooney with the chance to seal the game for United, only to see his penalty sail high over the bar and into the Stretford End. Rooney’s miss seemed to have set up a tense last 20 minutes for United, however despite Wenger throwing on Fabregas and Walcott, Arsenal never really threatened Van Der Sar as United condemned Arsenal to their 5th defeat in the last 6 meetings between the two sides.
Although it wasn’t a vintage United performance, Ferguson knows better than anybody that 3 points in a game of this magnitude could prove pivotal come the end of the season. Especially so considering the close proximity of all the title contenders, and the massive game against Chelsea next week. United will go to Stamford Bridge full of confidence, especially if we can defend as resolutely as against Arsenal, and hopeful that we can pick up the 3 points as we march on striving for title number 19.