Manchester United strikers gun down Arsenal

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Elation: He also captained the Gunners in his final season as the club

Premier League champions Manchester United have defeated league leaders Arsenal by a goal at Old Trafford. Courtesy of a sublime header by Robin Van Persie, United have reduced the gap at the top of the table to 5 points.

Going into the fixture, it was expected that the game meant more to United than to Arsenal. A loss to their competitor from North London would have meant a huge 11 point deficit for United. In a season when Arsenal is clinically winning games against the mid and bottom table teams, that deficit could have been difficult for United to cover up by May.

David Moyes must have been glad to have the services of Jonny Evans and Michael Carrick as both were labeled major doubts before the game. He made certain changes to line-ups that faced Fulham and Real Sociedad and they seem to have worked for most parts.

Take him on: Shinji Kagawa attempts to dribble past Bacary Sagna

Moyes paired Carrick and Phil Jones in the center of the field and played Kagawa wide on the left. This tactical shift did wonders for the team as the free-flowing Arsenal found it difficult to control the game in the center of the pitch, let alone making it to the final third.

David De Gea was a mere spectator for the entire first half as the midfield combo of Jones and Carrick intercepted passes and won tackles on a regular basis. A crafty Kagawa, even though did not have a substantial impact, made sure that his dribbles and off the ball movement kept Sagna pinned back in his own half.

Unsurprisingly, United were the most threatening side in the 1st half and their relentless pressure resulted in them getting the crucial goal which eventually won them the match. Van Persie scored a brilliant header from a perfectly taken Wayne Rooney corner in what looked like a set-piece out of a training ground drill.

Big goal: Robin van Persie's header gave Manchester United all three points in their clash with Arsenal

What must have surprised everyone was the manner in which Van Persie celebrated his goal. Much had been said over the past few days about the relationship between RVP and Arsenal. Arsene Wenger even went as far as calling him an “Arsenal Man”. Well, if anyone had any doubts about his status, his celebration must have clarified that for all. After getting booed by Arsenal fans in both the fixtures last season and in today’s game and after being taunted by the Arsenal fans for the past 15 months, the Dutchman never said a word, but his reaction said it all.

Unfortunately for United, Captain Nemaja Vidic, who had totally bullied Giroud in the 1st half, had to leave the pitch at the end of the half because of a head injury. That caused Moyes to bring in Tom Cleverley. A change that favored Arsenal as Jones was shifted back to Central defense and Arsenal found more freedom and space in the center of the park.

Arsenal enjoyed majority of the possession from then on but failed to break down a resolute United defense. Arsenal’s record signing, Mesut Ozil, dropped deep in the 2nd half as he was finding it difficult to influence the game. Both teams had a couple of decent chances in the final half but could not convert them.

Credit must also go to the young defenders – Smalling and Jones, who marshaled the penalty box extremely well and made some crucial tackles in the box to help De Gea keep a rare clean sheet.

This is the 1st game in which Arsenal have failed to score a in this year’s premier league. For Moyes to catch up the gunners, he would hope that this is the first of many.

Crucial: David Moyes praised his team's performance after securing a hard-fought 1-0 win

United usually start picking up pace in the league from mid October onwards. Their next 6 fixtures are not as difficult as the ones for the other title contenders. Tottenham, Newcatle and Everton will be tough tests, but a performance like today’s can win them these matches.

Manchester United are by no means out of the title race. If they are able to get 5 wins in their next 6 games, we could very well be seeing them in the top 2 come Boxing Day.

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