Arsenal rocked Manchester United at the Emirates, battling to a hard earned 1-0 win to allow Chelsea right back into the Premier League title race.
With Cesc Fabregas absent from proceedings after taking a knock in training, it was his deputee Aaron Ramsey who came to the fore, netting an accomplished winner for the Gunners after Robin Van Persie’s cut back.
In a game where Manchester United never really clicked into gear, Arsenal were the better team throughout and their winner early on in the second half was a just outcome for their prolonged superiority in the matchup.
Whereas the result doesn’t quite drag Arsenal back into the title race – with just three games remaining – Chelsea will be thanking Arsene Wenger’s men, after seeing their deficit to United reduced to just three points ahead of their monumental clash next weekend.
The win proved a shot in the arm for the underfire boss, with the assured performance proving contrary to the constant criticism he has faced over his team’s resilience.
Evidently feeling like they had a point to prove, Arsenal started the game in buoyant fashion.
Sustained pressure early on led to a collection of half chances for the hosts – the most glaring of which fell to Jack Wilshere after Nemanja Vidic fluffed his clearance, yet the England man could only drag his shot wide from the edge of the box.
United struggled to impose themselves as the game developed, with Arsenal enjoying more than their fair share of possession. A fluid move culminated in Theo Walcott drifting in from the right flank to meet a whipped Gael Clichy cross, though the lively winger couldn’t keep his effort down.
It then took a fantastic piece of back post defending by Patrice Evra, in stark contrast to the lacklustre start by the Premier League front runners, to further keep Arsenal at bay. Van Persie rolled the ball into the far post and with Walcott again cutting in from the right to great effect and seemingly primed to side-foot home, Patrice Evra intervened to poke the ball out for a corner.
It wasn’t until the 25th minute that United really got out of first gear. A short burst of incisive play from the visitors saw Fabio burst beyond the Arsenal backline, but an effective cut back from the Brazilian, with Chicharito waiting in the six-yard box, never quite materialised.
Ramsey's sweet strike | Aaron wins it for the Gunners
The first half’s major talking point came after Walcott again marauded down the right and sent in an inviting ball to Van Persie in the box. With the lone front man primed to power a header home, the ball took a slight nick off Vidic, diverting it to safety. On closer inspection, the ball definitely caught the Serb’s hand.
As the first half came to a close, Manchester United looked a lot more sure footed, with Wayne Rooney become an increasingly influential figure, though unable to craft any clear cut errors on goal.
The voracity with which Van Persie argued his denied penalty appeal as Chris Foy blew for half-time was an indication of Arsenal’s frustration not to have capitalised on their superiority at the Emirates.
Arsenal emerged for the second half with Andrei Arshavin replacing Samir Nasri but were lucky not to see themselves a goal down almost immediately, after Rooney ominously curled a free kick into the top corner of Szczesny’s net only for the Pole to turn it away at full stretch.
Such danger for the hosts proved an isolated incident, however, as Arsenal eased back into the fluidity that characterised the game’s opening 45 minutes. Though, for all their endeavour, efforts on target came at a premium, with Bacary Sagna’s driven shot from range flying just wide.
Finally a breakthrough came in the 55th minute when Ramsey justified his start by finishing off a Van Persie raid down the right after arriving late in the box. The Dutchman picked up the ball and probed as he entered the visitors' penalty area. With the chance looking like it had been and gone, Ramsey caught up with play, received the cut back and swept an assured finish with his right foot into the far corner.
The goal seemed to shock Manchester United into life though, for once, Arsenal’s defence looked steadfast - especially when confronted with the disconcerting number of sloppy errors made by the visitors in the final third, who were nowhere near their potent best.
As the game entered its latter stages the attritional and niggling nature of the tie worked in Arsenal’s favour. Looking bereft of ideas, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side continued to knock but to little effect, prompting the introduction of Dimitar Berbatov with just under 20 minutes remaining.
The switch almost paid dividends right away, with the Bulgarian releasing Antonio Valencia down the right, yet the winger’s insipid ball across did little to threaten Szczesny, who had previously looked confident in beating away similarly uninspired efforts from Nani and Rooney.
As the clocked ticked down, United were denied their own penalty appeals, most significantly when substitute Michael Owen was chopped down by Clichy. With the impetus on the visitors to snatch an equaliser, Arsenal continued to look dangerous on the counter, yet they remained stout at the back to see out a well-earned victory.
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