South Korea international Park Ji-Sung’s sixth goal of the season sent Manchester United two points clear at the top of the Premier League table after they beat former leaders Arsenal 1-0 at Old Trafford here on Monday.
United, who also have a game in hand over all their title rivals, could even afford the luxury of a missed penalty 17 minutes from time when Wayne Rooney fired wildly over the bar after Gael Clichy was adjudged to have handled inside his own area.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was delighted by Park’s display, telling Sky Sports: “His record against Arsenal is very good and he’s been in fantastic form, the lad.”
Meanwhile Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger tried to downplay the defeat, with the Frenchman saying: “I don’t think we failed to deliver; we lost a game and that can happen here.”
This was United’s first league game in 16 days. Ferguson’s team have been eliminated from the League Cup, held by Valencia in the Champions League and knocked off the Premier League summit since they struck seven past Blackburn last month.
There was little to choose between the two teams in a predictably tightly-fought first half in which chances were at a premium.
Wenger sprang a major surprise before kick off by handing young Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny, half the age of United’s 40-year-old veteran Edwin van der Sar, his first league start as Lukasz Fabianski was unfit.
It was apparent that one moment of quality would secure the points and just as Arsenal thought they had done enough to go in at the interval on level terms, United broke the deadlock in the 41st minute through Park.
Despite being one of the smallest players on the pitch, the midfielder was allowed to leap above the visitors’ defence and direct the ball past Szczesny after twisting to get on the end of Nani’s deflected cross.
Sensing victory, United went for the kill but Szczesny rescued the visitors after dashing off his line to block Anderson's shot following Rooney's intelligent 54th minute pass.
Indeed, United would have won by a more handsome margin had Rooney not been so wasteful from the penalty spot, the striker blazing over the bar in the 73rd minute after Clichy was adjudged to have handled.
"It was an unusual penalty, normally Wayne always keeps them down, I've never known him to hit one over," Ferguson said.
Rooney was handed an opportunity five minutes from time to atone for his error but was denied by Szczesny, who clawed away a well-struck chip.
Wenger slams pitch as ‘unfit’
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger criticised the Old Trafford pitch as "not good enough to play good football" after Monday's 1-0 defeat by Manchester United cost them top spot in the Premier League.
"On both sides you have seen technical mistakes because the pitch is not good enough to play good football," Wenger told a news conference. "(It is) bouncy and slippery as well. The technical quality of the game was average on both sides because the pitch is very poor in my opinion and the game suffered a lot for it," he said.
“ALLARDYCE LACKED VISION” say owners
Sam Allardyce was sacked because his football vision did not fit in with that of Blackburn Rovers' new Indian owners, who believe the club should be fourth or fifth in the Premier League.
"We do not mean anything bad for Sam Allardyce but we feel that we need to take the club up in the league and grow," Venky's chairman Anuradha Desai said. "We want Blackburn to be fourth or fifth in the league or even better. It is nothing against Sam but we have a different vision looking forward.”