Two top Premier League sides took the pitch at Old Trafford on Saturday, but something resembling a Championship fixture broke out. There was very little quality on display from both Manchester United and Arsenal in a very poor match, but the mediocre Red Devils were just a bit better than the abysmal Gunners in a 2-1 victory.
United took the lead after just three minutes, which was about the worst thing that could have possibly happened to the match from a neutral perspective. Robin van Persie was set up for the goal against his own team by an awful miscontrol by Thomas Vermaelen, who was attempting to clear a poor cross by Rafael. The ball popped up perfectly for van Persie, who placed a classy finish from the edge of the box to the far post.
With United up a goal, the match turned into a fairly lifeless and sloppy one. Arsenal appeared to have a plan to sit back a bit early and didn't adapt quickly after the goal, while United had no reason to attack with a lead. The first half was low on shots and even lower on clear scoring chances, as players regularly misplaced passes and played too conservatively to bomb forward into the opposing penalty area.
Just before the stroke of halftime, Santi Cazorla gifted United a way to take over complete control of the match. After a short corner, he inexplicably put up his hands to block a cross, then looked baffled when the ball hit his hands and referee Mike Dean granted a penalty. Wayne Rooney stepped up to take, but hooked his penalty wide left top keep the score 1-0.
The first half was extremely poor from both sides, but Arsenal showed very little going forward while making numerous defensive mistakes, and was very lucky to go into the half down just one goal. Unfortunately for them, they didn't improve at all in the second half, while United started to look a bit sharper.
It only took one minute for United to create a brilliant chance, but true to the theme of the match, they found a way to throw it away. Following yet another horribly botched clearance by Vermaelen, van Persie played a perfect ball across to Antonio Valencia, who appeared to have a tap-in, but he made terrible contact and came nowhere near hitting the goal.
Jack Wilshere, making his second league start since returning from injury, looked off the pace all match and was extremely lucky not to get sent off in the 55th minute. He picked up a yellow card in the first half and was given the benefit of the doubt when he cleaned out van Persie from behind. The next time, he wouldn't be so lucky.
The Arsenal midfielder's sending off came eventually, following the United goal that all but ended the match. On a corner kick, following a save by Vito Mannone on a likely offside van Persie, the Gunners lost track of Patrice Evra. Rooney played in a cross after a short corner and found the head of Evra, who placed the ball past Mannone easily.
Just one minute later, Wilshere committed his third yellow card offense of the match and was rightfully sent off, completely killing off Arsenal's chances of getting back into the match. The following 25 minutes of football featured some decent half-chances for both sides, but was entirely inconsequential. With literally the last kick of the game, Cazorla scored an absolutely world-class goal, which did nothing but offer some consolation for Arsenal.
They haven't been convincing in either match, but in two consecutive weeks, Manchester United have recorded wins over two of their biggest rivals in the Premier League.