Arsenal slipped to only their second Premier League defeat of the season when they went down 1-0 at Manchester United on Sunday.
The only goal came midway through a drab first half when Robin van Persie headed home Wayne Rooney’s corner.
Arsène Wenger’s side were much better in the second period and pressed back their hosts. However they never quite managed to carve out a clear enough opportunity.
This was Arsenal’s first away defeat since March 3 and, on another day, they might have grabbed an equaliser.
However Wenger’s men are still top by two clear points and have answered many of the questions posed to them during a big week.
It is just a shame they could not grab something at Old Trafford this afternoon.
SETTING THE SCENE
The manager was forced to make significant changes in his side this afternoon. Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky were both sent home from the squad due to sickness. Thomas Vermaelen started his first Premier League game since April 13 while Mathieu Flamini returned after a groin injury.
Mikel Arteta and Serge Gnabry were also feeling the effects of the same sickness but retained their places in the squad and the bench respectively.
Before kick-off, Old Trafford went silent in remembrance of those who had fallen in the two world wars. It was immaculately observed.
Manchester United took the game to Arsenal early on; they controlled the tempo and the territory. But they had little to show for it. Wojciech Szczesny made only one save of note and even that came from Rooney’s deflected shot.
Arsenal enjoyed only sporadic success on the break and the game seemed to be drifting with neither pace nor direction when the home side took the lead in the 27th minute.
Vermaelen did well to head away Rooney’s vicious low cross. From the corner, Van Persie darted in front of Olivier Giroud to steer a header over Kieran Gibbs and inside the far post.
Arsenal responded to the goal but they were not fluent in the first half and Giroud’s tame header over in the 33rd minute represented their first chance on goal.
Szczesny needed treatment late in the half after clashing heads with Phil Jones as they jumped for a corner.
Mathieu Flamini also picked up his fifth yellow card of the season for a foul on the same player
At the break, neither side had been impressive but Arsenal needed to lift their game in order to change their predicament.
Manchester United made a change after the interval. Nemanja Vidic had needed treatment just before the whistle after colliding with David de Gea. He did not return.
Tom Cleverley came into central midfield and Jones dropped into defence.
Arsenal were better. Ramsey had a shot blocked, Vermaelen blasted over from a free-kick and Mesut Ozil drove into the sidenetting.
They were not clear chances. But they were better than Arsenal had mustered in the first half.
However Manchester United would nearly grab a second when Rooney thumped an effort just wide with Szczesny a spectator.
Wenger swapped Jack Wilshere for Flamini on the hour. The Englishman settled immediately and helped Arsenal press still further.
As we entered the final quarter of the game the visitors were now asking all the questions. Sagna’s exquisite cross flashed across the face of the goal despite needing the merest touch to beat De Gea.
Arsenal were on top and Manchester United’s best chances were stolen on the break. Chris Smalling just missed Van Persie’s free-kick at the far post. Then the centre back made a crucial intervention to stop Giroud weaving into space 10 yards out.
In injury time, Sagna fired over another excellent cross but substitute Niklas Bendtner just failed to connect.
At full time you could only feel disappointment. Arsenal arguably deserved more.
However the Premier League table makes for happy reading.
Referee: Michael Oliver
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