Belfast Telegraph

No-one can stop Manchester United this season

This was the sort of match and result that decides titles. Not surprising then that Manchester United came out on top — to go top.

They are going to be hard to stop now.

Suddenly there is a champion feel about Sir Alex Ferguson's team.

The Red Devils are at the head of the Premier League table again — a familar position — and have a game in hand over their chief title rivals Arsenal and Chelsea.

And this having stuttered through most of the campaign.

Last night in beating Arsenal 1-0 at Old Trafford the sprint to the finish began.

Over the past two decades United have been masters of the race towards the line.

They may have missed out on title number 19 last season, but Liverpool fans should prepare themselves. It's coming next May.

Then the United fans will reflect on the importance of Ji-Sung Park's first half goal against the Gunners.

They may even forget about Wayne Rooney's missed penalty — one of the worst spot-kicks ever witnessed at the famous Theatre of Dreams.

Compelling from start to finish, this was a thrilling night of football. Arsenal played their part and were easy on the eye but lacked a cutting edge.

While United will go from strength to strength on the back of this, I wonder will the mental frailties of Arsene Wenger's side surface once more with their challenge fading quicker than an X-Factor singer.

United deserved this victory and the 75, 227 people inside the ground knew it.

Before the match there was magic in the air — a real sense of expectancy.

It was helped by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Prior to kick-off the legendary striker, who scored that iconic European Cup and treble clinching winner in 1999, said a fond farewell to the United faithful.

Returning to Norway to manage Molde FK, Solskjaer was given a rapturous reception by the home fans who took him to their hearts in his 14-year stay as a player and reserve team boss.

Ole wasn't the only hero in the ground waving to all and sundry.

The Chilean miners, who mercifully survived that infamous disaster, were also accorded the warmest of welcomes, having been invited by Sir Bobby Charlton.

The Chileans thanked their lucky stars after escaping from that mine. And their fortune continued, though obviously to a lesser degree, because they were attending a match at Old Trafford in which the United supporters were loud and proud.

Too often in this magnificent arena, you think that around 75,000 people are taking part in a sponsored silence.

Not last night.

It was deafening at times, though for most of the first half the volume was turned up in the direction of referee Howard Webb for failing to book Arsenal players.

In the dying moments of the opening 45, Webb finally relented by showing yellow cards to Marouane Chamakh and Andrey Arshavin (below).

By then United were deservedly one up having taken the lead through Park's rather fortunate 41st minute goal. Nani's deflected right wing cross was met by Park whose header looped over Wojciech Szczesny and into the net.

Only Park will know if he meant it but give him credit for getting in the box in the first place. Showing the energy that his manager loves, Park raced 50 yards to put himself in the danger area and reaped the rewards.

Rooney played a minor part in the goal which just about summed up his evening.

With Dimitar Berbatov on the bench, Rooney was too isolated up front. Interesting selection by Ferguson leaving the Bulgarian out.

He may trust Berbatov to score a hat-trick against Liverpool or five

against Blackburn but in the BIG games, Sir Alex clearly doesn't fancy him.

He loves Nemanja Vidic though and no wonder. His captain blocked a certain equaliser from Chamakh after Edwin van der Sar made a meal of a Samir Nasri drive.

The longer the match wore on the better it became with the Gunners striving to level things up and United breaking with intent to secure the points.

Anderson and Nani had chances to do just that but in their usual frustrating way failed to capitalise leaving Rooney aghast and then angry at his team-mates’ wastefulness.

He had an even better opportunity himself in the 73rd minute when Webb's assistant decided that Gael Clichy had handled inside the box when challenging Nani. Questionable.

Rooney stepped up to take the penalty and promptly blazed the ball over the bar. At crucial moments like that composure is king, but Rooney lost his.

Thankfully for Rooney though, Arsenal, even with the introduction of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott, didn't make him pay, with the excellent Vidic and his outstanding defence standing firm.

United are top dogs. Avoid defeat at Chelsea on Sunday and they’ll stay there for the rest of the season.

Belfast Telegraph


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