By Richard Clarke
A goal four minutes from time by Emmanuel Adebayor gave Arsenal a richly-deserved win at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Having missed a 13th minute penalty, one feared for Arsène Wenger's side against the Premiership leaders. However they responded with a performance of guts and heart.
Gilberto, who missed from the spot, and Adebayor epitomised that spirit. Therefore it was thoroughly fitting that the Togolese striker should grab the winner at the death. The industrious Cesc Fabregas forced an error from Ronaldo and Adebayor raced in to prod the ball past Tomasz Kuszczak.
It was Arsenal's first Premiership win of the season and, once again, proved that the writers of this team's footballing obituary had jumped the gun.
For once Wenger's team had got their points their play had merited. In years to come, Sunday, September 17, 2006 just might be seen as a pivotal day for this emerging Arsenal side.
Injuries to Thierry Henry (foot) and Robin van Persie (hip) left Wenger few options in attack. The manager chose to use a lone frontman -Adebayor - and play five in midfield so Freddie Ljungberg was drafted in having missed Champions League tie at Hamburg in midweek.
Manchester United made a surprise change. Edwin van der Sar dropped out with illness so Kuszczak came in for his debut. The Pole would have a big part to play in the first half.
The home side had the early pressure. However their best chance went begging when the sliding William Gallas denied Darren Fletcher as he raced into the area.
Arsenal had barely got out of their own half up to this point but, in the 13th minute, they had the best possible chance to go ahead. Hleb sent Adebayor clear in the area and the Kuszczak brought him down. With Van Persie and Henry absent it was left to Gilberto to take the spot kick. His effort at Hamburg on Wednesday had been excellent; this time his left foot slipped from under him as he took the penalty. Kuszczak saved with ease.
Manchester United failed to clear their lines and Arsenal won a couple of corners. From the second, Adebayor's header was touched onto the post by the diving Kuszczak and Paul Scholes just managed to clear before Gallas could turn the ball home.
The penalty miss seemed to affect Arsenal in a positive way. They had the better of the half after that and pushed back the home side consistently without ever forcing a better save out of Kuszczak. Although Tomasz Rosicky's long-range effort did extend the Polish keeper.
Manchester United had their chances of course. Lehmann's clearance eventually fell to Ronaldo and the Portuguese winger returned the ball with interest only for the keeper to save gymnastically.
Then in the dying seconds Fletcher's deep cross eluded Emmanuel Eboue and Ronaldo controlled the ball before lashing the ball at Lehmann from point-blank range. The ball hit the German square in the face and he needed treatment for a couple of minutes.
It was the best chance of the half barring the penalty. However just before the whistle, Gary Neville denied Ljungberg at the far post.
Wenger would have been content with his side's efforts in the first half and that sense of satisfaction continued at the start of the second. Adebayor rifled a shot over the bar and Gallas nodded wide. In response Louis Saha's header drifted wide of the far post with Lehmann stranded.
In the 63rd minute Eboue robbed Wes Brown on the right and sent Adebayor clear. By the time the beanpole striker had reached the area, his Ivorian team-mate had caught him up and was clear in the right channel. However Adebayor did not see him and wastefully sidefooted a shot at Kuszczak.
Julio Baptista replaced the tiring Hleb in the 68th minute. A couple of minutes later, Toure fired just wide from over 30 yards out. Arsenal were flexing their muscles and looking to be the stronger side. Now they had to find the goal to provide their effort with its just desserts.
With 10 minutes left, Baptista nearly served it up. He collected John O'Shea's lose pass, drove forward and bewitched Rio Ferdinand before whipping a shot just wide.
It seemed that Manchester United had settled for what they had but Arsenal were in no mood for compromise. Fabregas manufactured an error from Ronaldo and Adebayor held off Brown before steering the ball home.
Lehmann saved wonderfully from Ole Gunner Solksjaer immediately afterwards and then Brown volleyed in the German's hands.
But the points belonged to Arsenal.
- Lehmann Yellow Card
- Toure Yellow Card
- Hleb 68
- Adebayor 88 Goal!
- Flamini 88
- Julio Baptista 68
- Silvestre 23
- Brown Yellow Card
- Scholes 78 Yellow Card
- Evra 23
- Carrick 78