English Premiership

United kick-start their season

2013-11-10 20:35
Manchester United (AFP)

Manchester - Manchester United have reinvigorated their English Premiership title defence by winning 1-0 at home to leaders Arsenal on Sunday to close to within five points of the early-season pace-setters.

Robin van Persie claimed the game's only goal in the first half, scoring against his former club for the third match running, to condemn Arsene Wenger's side to a first league loss since their defeat by Aston Villa on the opening day.

Victory allowed United to climb to fifth in the table, with defeats for Tottenham Hotspur and local rivals Manchester City earlier in the day enabling them to move above both of their fellow title contenders.

Having seen his side pick up just a point from earlier games against Chelsea, Liverpool and City, United manager David Moyes will hope Sunday's victory marks the end of an awkward bedding-in period at Old Trafford.

He will also have drawn strong encouragement from the performance of Phil Jones, who began the game in midfield but deputised magnificently at centre-back after Nemanja Vidic had to go off through injury.

Arsenal remain top going into the international break, two points above Liverpool, but having overseen an impressive win at Borussia Dortmund in mid-week, Wenger is likely to have been concerned by their toothlessness.

Illness deprived Arsenal of the services of centre-back Per Mertesacker, with Thomas Vermaelen deputising, while Mathieu Flamini replaced Tomas Rosicky after overcoming a groin problem.

United made four changes to the team held 0-0 by Real Sociedad in the Champions League on Tuesday, with Jonny Evans, Michael Carrick, Jones and Van Persie coming into the side.

The stakes, and the opposition, made for an untypically raucous atmosphere inside Old Trafford and the home side made a vigorous start.

Chances were scarce in the game's early stages, save for a deflected Wayne Rooney effort that was comfortably saved by Wojciech Szczesny, but in the 27th minute, United struck.

Rooney curled a corner into the box from the left and Van Persie stole between Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud to glance a header over defender Kieran Gibbs and into the top-right corner.

Seeking to atone, Giroud headed over moments later, but the Frenchman could have handed United a second goal when he appeared to impede Rooney inside the Arsenal box, only for referee Michael Oliver to wave play on.

Szczesny and Vidic each sustained heavy bangs to the head prior to half-time, but whereas the Arsenal goalkeeper was able to continue, Vidic had to go off, with Tom Cleverley coming on and Jones dropping into defence.

Arsenal began to make inroads after the break, with Vermaelen bending a free-kick over the bar and Mesut Ozil hitting the side-netting, before Ramsey struck a low effort straight at David de Gea.

They were unable to get in behind United's defence though, and Rooney came within inches of doubling his side's lead when he drilled narrowly wide with his left foot after Van Persie helped on a Shinji Kagawa flick-on.

Wenger packed an extra creative body into his midfield by sending on Jack Wilshere for Flamini, but although Arsenal continued to push, United's defence held firm.

Chris Smalling squandered a chance to give United breathing space when he miscued a header from a Van Persie free-kick, but he proved more adept at the other end with a superb tackle to thwart Giroud.

Bacary Sagna gave Moyes one last scare with a cross from the right that needed just a touch, but substitute Nicklas Bendtner could not make contact, and United were safe.

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