RVP channels Denis Law as Arsenal relegated to also-rans

Posted by Mark Payne

Robin van Persie shot v ArsenalGettyImagesRobin van Persie scores for Man United against Arsenal

It was an instinctive finish. The ball broke to Robin van Persie, and he angled his body before guiding a shot into the bottom corner. He has done it thousands of times in the past and didn't even have time to think before the ball hit the net. As it did so, part of his own heart broke.

For United fans, the comparisons with Denis Law are both obvious and relevant. The King of Old Trafford returned as a City player in 1974 and back heeled a goal that pushed United towards relegation. He refused to celebrate with his sky blue teammates.

Similarly, van Persie raised his arms in an almost apologetic manner, and the strain on his face was telling. The man is pure class, and we at Manchester United are lucky to have him. If there was any doubt about who was centre of attention before the match, it was dispelled after 150 seconds. But it was clear he wished there was another way.

The concession of an early goal in a Manchester United match this season almost seems like a formality nowadays. For the second week on the trot, it was United who meted out the punishment. That is significant progress from the games against Southampton and Fulham, and it seems as though the lessons of United's stuttering start have been learned.

It is extremely rare for Fergie to name an unchanged line up, yet he did so here. This would suggest that he is finally settling on a preferred eleven. After tasting blood against Chelsea, the same team started where it left off at Stamford Bridge.

The game didn’t develop into the free-flowing masterpiece that was expected. This was in no small part thanks to Arsene Wenger's tactic of flooding the midfield to slow down the play. After losing 8-2 at this ground last year, nobody could blame him. Their lack of invention was not the only problem, though. For large parts of the match, they were simply poor.

Arsenal’s young passers found time to express themselves sporadically and deserve credit for holding a lot of possession and often keeping United’s midfielders running after the ball. However, there was little bite in their forward thrusts. The chances they did create resulted from defensive lapses on United’s part and, inevitably, came to nothing.

United were far from perfect themselves. It has been a taxing week for Sir Alex Ferguson's squad, and their double header against Chelsea has shorn them of some precision. On more than one occasion, they should have added a second only for a decent chance to be squandered. Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young were guilty in the first-half. Antonio Valencia, glaringly, in the second.

The game should have been made safe on the stroke of half-time after Santi Cazorla handled in the box and United won their third penalty in four days. Rooney scuffed his shot left of the post and is probably still hanging his head in shame now. That was his second penalty miss against Arsenal to add to the one from Christmas 2010. He is English through and through that boy.

The reprieve could have invigorated Arsenal but didn’t. Wenger must really have been damaged by last year’s result. Theo Walcott stayed on the bench until the 51st minute, and even when he took the field the Londoners were still cautious in intent.

It was no surprise when United did score again. Patrice Evra bundling home the ball after another customary surge towards the Stretford End by the men in red. United fans, unsure of the emotion they were feeling as Jack Wilshere was sent off a minute later, needed to be told that it was 'pity'. How Arsenal have fallen, they are barely a competitor now.

As the game closed out, United had a further two goals chalked off for offside and the Gunners, despite a couple of good moments and Cazorla's injury-time consolation goal, were brought face-to-face with how close they had come to another humbling. At full-time, it wasn’t just RVP with a pained expression on his face, it was every Arsenal fan town. United march on.

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