Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0
(van Persie 27)

It was in the end, a game too far for the Gunners. Having responded with positive answers when questioned by Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, the ask to get a positive result at Old Trafford proved to be beyond Arsenal, as a now familiar foe in Robin van Perise struck a rather fortunate winner off his shoulder. The Gunners had their ammunition spiked – and who knows what else – prior to kick off when the hitherto healthy and fit Per Mertersacker and Tomas Rosicky had to return to London after an overnight bout of mysterious sickness. Mikel Arteta was another Arsenal player suffering from the ill affects of a bug going around Arsene Wenger’s side. Whatever the reasons however, Arsenal could show what can only be described as sluggish apetite for the fight, yet they remain at the Premiership summit albeit with now just a two point advantage over second placed Liverpool.

At his Friday press conference, Wenger chose to describe van Persie as ” still and Arsenal player.” That bizarre statement along with telling Alex Ferguson that ” He’s better than you think,” having sold his one time striker to United will have left Arsenal fans more than a touch bemused.

When Wayne Rooney swung over the corner that would lead to the Manchester United goal, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud seemed slow to respond from their zonal marking positions. Van Persie had a free run before the ball caught him on the shoulder, flying in past Wojciech Szczesny.

The Gunners had been a goal down at The Hawthorns and responded well to earn at point through Jack Wilshere, but here the Arsenal midfielder was named on the substitutes’ bench. Thomas Vermaelen came in for Mertersacker and Mathiu Flamini returned after his groin injury to replace Rosicky. Flamini was his robust self but picked up a yellow card, his fith of the season which will mean he sits out the game against Southampton.

The Gunners were not at their best, and worryingly Mesut Özil has been distinctly off his game recently, and that will concern Wenger. Santi Cazorla has been coming back to the form he showed last season, but press and probe as Arsenal did, United chose to sit back and defend in numbers. Not perhaps what the paying United public will want to see, but with three points to the reigning Premiership champions, the result and the win were above anything David Moyes will have wanted.

With clear cut chances at a premium, Szczesny had a worrying moment when clattered into by Phil Jones. The Arsenal ‘ keeper required lengthy on field treatment, but got back to his feet. Jones was yellow carded for the challenge. Nemanja Vidic was later caught by David De Gea, and was forced to leave the game with a precautionary visit to the hospital.

Arsenal asked more of United in the second half and should have drawn level after they finally pierced the red wall, only someone from Giroud, Ramsey and Wilshere forget to shoot at goal. Kieran Gibbs and Ramsey tried optimistic long range efforts as the Gunners poured forwards in search of the leveller. Özil had struck the side netting and Vermalen skied a free kick.

United still had the will to counter attack. Smalling could only head downwards from van Persie’s free kick. Rooney broke and got the better of Sagna but his shot thankfully fell wide of Szczesny’s upright. Giroud needed support and Wenger turned to Nicklas Bendtner. The Dane has been more miss that hit in his cameo roles of late, but could have been the hero late in the game. Sagna produced two exquisite crosses that troubled the United defence, the latter begging for a touch that Giroud didn’t anticipate racing onto, while Bendtner just poked a leg out that couldn’t quite get to the ball.

Arsenal failed to score for ther first time this season, and suffered their first away defeat since March 3rd. Going into the international break however, the Gunners can take heart from still being in pole position in the Premiership. Time for Wenger and his men learn from the loss and to take stock of what is needed at this level to sustain a push for the title.