By Liam Twomey
Robin van Persie may have done the damage against Arsenal again, plunging another dagger into the hearts of those who once adored him by darting to the near post and heading Manchester United in front on 27 minutes, but few at Old Trafford would argue with the fact that the Dutchman was outshone as the home side's outstanding performer on this most rejuvenating of days for David Moyes.
Before and after his devilishly whipped corner gave Van Persie the chance to settle matters, Wayne Rooney's surname rang out at regular intervals around Old Trafford, as thousands who felt betrayed by their hero for the second time last summer paid raucous tribute to his continued presence and enduring brilliance.
Rooney never seriously troubled Wojciech Szczesny but he was a constant menace, dribbling and passing with purpose in possession and doing more than his bit to disrupt Arsenal's midfield machinations out of it.
Not for the first time this season he led from the front, ensuring the half-time loss of Nemanja Vidic, pale and dazed after a nasty collision with David De Gea, did not deal a knockout blow to United's hopes of claiming what is the first truly significant victory of the troubled Moyes era. His forty-yard dash to close down and then win a throw off Bacary Sagna in injury time was a fitting conclusion to a performance bristling with energy and industry.
Nor was it the first. While many of Sir Alex Ferguson's aging stalwarts struggle to combat the ravages of time and Moyes endures criticism for essentially not being his peerless predecessor, it is Rooney who has surprisingly shaken off the shackles of disillusionment and taken the burden of excellence - at times almost entirely - on his broad shoulders.
In Moyes' darkest hour at the Etihad Stadium back in September Rooney alone shone brightly, refusing to be cowed, and defiantly curling a superb free-kick beyond Joe Hart to deny his countryman a clean sheet. Against Chelsea, a week before the close of the transfer window, he delivered a performance of such startling single-mindedness and commitment that a visibly annoyed Jose Mourinho afterwards challenged him to publicly declare where his future lay.
That question has still not been answered. Despite his insistence that he is happy working for Moyes and enjoying his football again, Rooney remains unwilling to open talks with United officials over an extension to his current contract, which expires in just over 18 months' time. And with every week that ticks by, the balance of power over his future shifts further away from United and towards his agent Paul Stretford.
In the meantime though, Moyes must be credited for reviving a player with whom he parted bitterly at Everton and who had appeared to have exhausted the patience of United fans. For all the world-class names the Scot and Ed Woodward failed to secure in a chastening summer transfer window, they have regained a genuine top-drawer talent at the expense of nothing more than astute management.
Rooney has also emerged as a leader off the field, questioning Arsenal's title credentials in the week leading up to this match and invoking the memory of the day United defeated Arsene Wenger's 'Invincibles' in October 2004 in the matchday programme to rally his team-mates and Old Trafford. These do not appear the words or actions of a man whose mind or heart are elsewhere.
Of course, another ascent to the rarefied air of world-class status suits Rooney whether or not he seeks a new contract with United, leaving him assured of one last giant payday wherever he goes. Moyes has no guarantees that he will be the one to enjoy the fruits of his labour in the long term.
But if Rooney continues to produce the kind of performance which has Old Trafford united in song and propels his creaking team to yet another title in this most open of seasons, few in the red half of Manchester will trouble themselves over such distant concerns.
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