Arsenal agony as Van Persie strikes to send Man Utd top
'We should have scored six,' laments Alex Ferguson as United let awful Arsenal escape with their dignity
Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1. It was inevitable that Robin van Persie would have a major impact on Manchester United's clash with Arsenal on Saturday and it took the former Gunner just three minutes to find the net against his old club at Old Trafford. But perhaps the most notable thing about his performance was that he failed to notch a hat-trick as United somehow managed to score only twice in as one-sided a match as you are likely to see this season.
Arsenal made the worst possible start and United took the lead seconds into the match when the Dutch striker swept home a poor clearance from Thomas Vermaelen to silence the away fans, who had made their feelings about Van Persie clear.
United went on to waste a host of chances to punish the visitors. Wayne Rooney even missed a penalty and Van Persie squandered a one-on-one with Vito Mannone as time and again they failed to deliver a knock-out blow, even though the Gunners seemed punch drunk for much of the match.
It was not until the 75th minute that Patrice Evra made it two, and shortly afterwards Jack Wilshere ended any hopes Arsenal may have had of an unlikely comeback when he got himself sent off for a nasty lunge on the United full back. Wenger tried to defend his player afterwards but in truth he was lucky not to have been sent off earlier, and after 17 months on the sidelines the young midfielder now faces another period as a spectator.
Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla gave the score an air of respectability when he curled in from the edge of the box with the last kick of the game, but, like Van Persie earlier, he did not celebrate his goal. The game was already up.
Afterwards Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson seemed almost as perplexed as Gunners boss Arsene Wenger. "Far too casual," was Ferguson's verdict on United's performance. "You look at that scoreline 2-1 and you think it was a close game, but it wasn't a close game.
"We should have scored five or six or maybe even more than that. I'm disappointed by our inability to hammer home the advantage."
Having lost the title on goal difference last season, Ferguson's ire was understandable. But compared to the furious Arsenal fans he was a picture of jollity. Gunners defender Andre Santos, who had another poor game, was lambasted afterwards for swapping shirts with Van Persie, an act of treason in the eyes of the supporters. And during the match the Gunners could be heard calling for the head of Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis, and singing "We want our Arsenal back".
They might soon vent their anger on Wenger himself - after all this is now the Gunners' worst start to a season since the Frenchman arrived in London.
United's victory meant they were top of the table when Chelsea kicked off against Swansea, and they were still there when the final whistle went at the Liberty Stadium as the Blues were held to a 1-1 draw with the Swans. Victor Moses gave Chelsea the lead after the hour mark but a late equaliser from Pablo Hernandez earned the Welsh club a share of the spoils.
Manchester City now lie in third after a 0-0 draw with West Ham. Under-pressure City boss Roberto Mancini presided over another worryingly toothless performance and appeared to have another falling out with ineffectual striker Mario Balotelli, who could be seen giving his manager plenty of lip after he was hauled off.
Everton stay fourth after an entertaining 2-2 draw with Fulham at Craven Cottage in which they came from behind only to see Fulham grab a late equaliser to salvage a point. Spurs were booed off by their own fans after being comprehensively outplayed and beaten 1-0 by Wigan at White Hart Lane. Andre Villas-Boas was also jeered for taking Jermain Defoe off in the second half.