Mike Njoroge gives his perspective on Manchester United's big win.
Robin. Van. Persie. The man who has defined many a game decided another. By rising high to head in a Wayne Rooney corner, the Dutch striker once more stabbed a dagger into the hearts of Arsenal. Fans who used to call him saviour now call him Judas and they watched as he gave Manchester United a valuable 1-0 win over Arsenal.
The devil usually is in the detail. Moments after the ball nestled in the back of the net, Van Persie went into rapturous celebration.
In that outpouring of emotions was an outpouring of relief around Old Trafford. It was almost as if all the tension and pressure surrounding a club that is dealing with the departure of Sir Alex Feguson came out in that cry of joy and exhalation.
It is now becoming predictable. For the third year in a row, van Persie’s quality and ability is rising to the top. In doing so, it has on occasion lifted his side. Beyond the comprehension of a team incapable of the required ability, Van Persie once more became the common denominator of a perceived quality.
But while the game was always going to be about the Dutch striker, it invariably was about so much more.
It displayed David Moyes’s relentless managerial capabilities. Never considered the greatest, the United manager worked around his most desired game plan. Like at Everton, he set up the Manchester club in a defensively solid frame that did not allow the opponents the space that they desired.
The only difference to his Everton side was that in the likes of Van Persie, Rooney and Shinji Kagawa, he had the players with the brilliance of touch to create those punching problems. In the process, they ended up denying an excitingly artistic attacking side from reaching its occasional fluency.
Arsenal on the other hand seemed to have suffered the psychological blow of visiting Old Trafford. It was as Wenger acknowledged that his side has not won an important game at the ground for a long time.
In fact, it may very well be that since Sylvain Wiltord scored the winner there to clinch the Premier League title in 2002, Arsenal has not won a game at Old Trafford of similar seismic effect.
It meant that previous class and form turned into tension and nervousness. For long periods, they did not look like the team that has so blazed a trail this season.
While they still retained that ability to pass the ball quickly, they lacked that incisiveness to pierce a well setup defence. In that, they seemingly seemed to be missing the more natural width of Theo Walcott, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski for the first time this season. Certainly, it was the introduction of Serge Gnabry that exposed and stretched United down the left hand side and created their best chances.
It does however still show the potency that this Arsenal side still possess. The Gunners may have misfired on this occasion but they still possess the depth of squad in attacking areas to remain a relevancy to Premier League contention. This is indicated in the League table and certainly displayed itself as they have on constant previous occasion answered the questions that really mattered.
That they did not this time does not provide a quantum conclusion of inefficiency. Instead, it continued a Premier League narrative where only two clubs above United managed to win over the weekend. At the same time, it showed just how open and tight this season’s league might pan out to be. In such a case, nobody can be ruled out.
Thus Arsenal’s ascendency may have taken a slight blow but it is one which comes at the right moment. With an international break coming around and with injured players returning, this represents the ideal moment to regroup.
For United however, this win sent out a message. Slowly, they are growing into their manager’s preferred identity.
But as has been a constant in the Premier League for the past three seasons, the definitive moment came when Van Perise soared.
image: © Gordon Flood