Arsenal 1 - 0 Manchester United: match report

There's only one.

1 - 0 Aaron Ramsey 57'

Arsenal defeated league leaders Manchester United for the first time in seven attempts today after Aaron Ramsey's goal served to separate the two sides in what was surely the Gunners' best match in nearly two months.  Although the result most likely will not affect Arsenal's final standing in the league, aside from keeping them in the top three, it should provide a boost for the squad going into the summer.

Also, it just feels good, you know?

In typical Arsenal fashion, the home side began very much in the ascendant.  Cesc Fabregas was a late scratch with a thigh injury picked up in training, so Aaron Ramsey made his second start since his broken leg last February, and he would make the most of it, dominating the midfield play with Jack Wilshere and Alex Song in the opening fifteen minutes.

Wilshere would have the first good chance of the match three minutes in.  After patient buildup play, Jack found some space and let a shot go from twenty yards out, but it went well wide of Edwin van der Sar's far post.  United came back down to the other end only for Nani to blast well over.

Clichy slid in a low cross a few minutes later which Theo Walcott just about turned home, but he put it over the bar.  It was a tricky chance, in fairness.  Arsenal continued to pile the pressure on as United sat back looking for an opportunity to counterattack, and 20 minutes in, they got it.  Fabio da Silva broke through on the right but couldn't find a shot, only winning a corner.  It was a dangerous moment, but Wojciech Szczesny did well to cut off the angles.

The pivotal moment of the first half came 32 minutes in, however, when Walcott crossed towards Robin van Persie, who looked set to get his head to the ball before Nemanja Vidic intervened.  van Persie immediately went into referee-berserker mode, and the replays made it clear that Vidic had tipped the ball away with his hand.  Chris Foy and the linesman both missed it, however, even though both were looking directly at it.  Ramsey and Anderson both had shooting chances before the half arrived, but neither found the back of the net.

The first half ended with Arsenal having probably the better of the play.  Anderson and Park Ji Sung were both kept mostly quiet by the Arsenal midfield, Alex Song working hard to also mark Wayne Rooney, and Chicharito had almost no impact, Laurent Koscielny doing well to silence the in-form Mexican striker.

Samir Nasri came off for Andrei Arshavin at the start of the second half, the Frenchman suffering from a hamstring problem.  Wayne Rooney won a free kick shortly after the restart, but Wojciech Szczesny did well to parry it wide.  Bacary Sagna cut inside but shot wide of the far post, and Nani sent a long free kick wide as United worked their way into the match.

They looked to make an attacking change, bringing on Antonio Valencia for Anderson, but one minute later, the change was overshadowed.

Alex Song broke up a United counter as he had done well all day, and pushed the ball up to Ramsey.  The Welshman sprayed it wide to van Persie and immediately chugged up the pitch.  Van Persie, rather than aimlessly crossing as Arsenal had done often, waited and held the ball up at the right hand side of the penalty area before locating Ramsey trailing the play.  Ramsey met his pass first time, hitting it through Michael Carrick's legs and past a diving van der Sar for his first goal since last January.  It was a goal reminiscent of Arsenal's second against Barcelona earlier this year, and a testament to how effective intelligent, decisive counterattacking that doesn't involve high crosses can be for Arsenal.

After the goal, tempers started to flare up a bit, Alex Song and Park Ji Sung both earning yellow cards.  Dimitar Berbatov, more physical than Chicharito, entered the fray, but could do little, despite United's fervent crossing as the end approached.  Szczesny saved well against a clean-through Nani as United kept countering, and Michael Owen replaced Carrick as United went all out.  In the 87th minute, Owen had a penalty claim turned down by Chris Foy as Gael Clichy trod on his calf, the non-call perhaps balancing out the Vidic handball in the first half.  Arshavin was throwing himself into tackles almost recklessly as he worked to keep Fabio and Valencia at bay on the right, and Nani's free kick into the wall in the 94th minute was the final significant action.

Arsenal, just when they looked at their most vulnerable, had held out against the league leaders, who now face the prospect of slipping behind Chelsea next weekend as the Blues will line up across from them.  For Arsenal, third place now looks more secure, a disappointing finish to the season if so, but beating their Premier League archrivals helps assuage the pain a little bit today.

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