With a vibrant mix of old standards and new favourites, Arsenal gained a small measure of consolation for losing their chart-topping place to United last year as they inflicted the first defeat on them in 1999. A further blessing was provided by the identity of their leading player, Kanu, whose performance suggested Nicolas Anelka would soon be forgotten, if not forgiven.
While the oppressive heat, midsummer timing and under-strength nature of the sides made assessment difficult, the Charity Shield did indicate that both will need further strengthening if they are to succeed in this year's European and global aspirations.
Despite Kanu's display, Arsenal, with Anelka Madrid-bound and Dennis Bergkamp injured, often looked uncertain in front of goal. "We are looking for two strikers," Arsene Wenger, their coach, said. One of these is Thierry Henry; the other is likely to be a more predatory player, like Robbie Fowler - though Wenger said the Liverpool forward was no longer a target.
In the absence of a natural goalscorer Kanu did his best, converting a 66th-minute penalty then creating Ray Parlour's winner 10 minutes later.
United had taken the lead after 36 minutes when Dwight Yorke saved the officials' embarrassment by following up a David Beckham free-kick which had crossed the line unacknowledged. However, they again showed signs of midfield weakness in the absence of Roy Keane. Sir Alex Ferguson said afterwards that he hoped Keane and Gary Neville would play their first matches this week.
They were not the only missing stars, with each team fielding only a half-dozen regulars from last season. More indicative of the campaign to come was the presence of just nine English players in the starting 22; even the fringe performers, the Gilles Grimandis and Jordi Cruyffs, were foreign.
Arsenal took early control of the midfield but their makeshift attack of Fredrik Ljungberg and Kanu struggled to turn possession into penetration.
Only a first-minute shot from Silvinho, which Bosnich pushed over the bar, stretched the new United goalkeeper with neither striker able to get a touch when, in the 20th minute, both Silvinho, from the left, and Lee Dixon, from the right, whipped inviting balls across the six-yard box.
An unexpected but much appreciated cloudburst and a spate of bookings enlivened the match, with Beckham receiving the first yellow card of the season for swearing. Though generally played in a good spirit a flare- up, provoked by Nicky Butt tumbling over Martin Keown's challenge, briefly revealed a lack of charity on the pitch and this was even more apparent on the perimeter as Teddy Sheringham, warming up at the Arsenal end, joyously waved three fingers to the supporters who have abused him for so many years. A clearer case of inciting a crowd could not be imagined but no official seemed concerned. Maybe that was best - the Gooners had their own unprintable response and honours seemed even.
On the pitch United were gaining ascendancy and a Yorke header was blocked a yard from the line by Andy Cole, who then brought a fine diving save from Alex Manninger with a 15-yard snap-shot. Then Dixon fouled Cruyff 34 yards out, Beckham took the kick and struck the underside of the bar. The ball appeared to bounce behind the line but neither referee nor the better-placed linesman signalled a goal. Fortunately for both, Yorke rose above Keown to head in the rebound. It did not save the linesman from a verbal volley from Ferguson.
The second period drifted for 20 minutes, both sides conserving energy in the heat, but was then kicked into life by the effervescent Parlour.
Beating Denis Irwin on the Irishman's left he shot across Bosnich and struck the far post. As Arsenal worked the rebound back into the box Patrick Vieira took advantage of Irwin's repeated attempts to tug him back by taking a theatrical tumble. It was a dive, but a foul had been committed and justice just about done when Kanu converted.
Yorke and Cole both had chances to restore United's lead - opening up Arsenal's defence worryingly easily - before Kanu, having won the ball in the centre circle, burst forward and released Parlour. This time the finish was inside the far post.
The subsequent celebrations made clear that, though pointless, the match was far from meaningless where supporters and players were concerned, but we must be careful not to read too much significance into the result. Last year Arsenal defeated United 3-0 with Anelka embarrassing Jaap Stam to score. By the end of the season Stam had a trio of medals and an aura of respect; Anelka, though widely recognised as a striker of class, was medalless, friendless and sliding into a summer of sulk.
"The match showed we were ready for the season, that our spirit had not been dissipated [by the Anelka saga]," Wenger added. "It was psychologically important to beat United, especially after the great run they have had."
"It takes time to recover from the miles we have travelled," Ferguson said. "Our plan is to have them ready for the start of the season and this showed we have some work to do. How significant was the result? As significant as last year."
Goals: Yorke (36) 0-1; Kanu (pen 66) 1-1; Parlour (76) 2-1.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Keown, Grimandi, Winterburn; Parlour (Luzhny, 88), Vieira, Petit, Silvinho (Boa Morte, 64); Ljungberg, Kanu. Substitutes not used: Malz, Vernazza, Wreh, Taylor (gk), Lukic (gk).
Manchester United (4-4-2): Bosnich; P Neville, Berg, Stam (May, h-t), Irwin; Beckham, Butt (Sheringham, 80), Scholes, Cruyff (Solskjaer, 6); Cole, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Curtis, Greening, Wilson, Culkin (gk).
Booked: Arsenal: Keown, Vieira. Manchester United: Beckham, Butt, Yorke.
Referee: G Barber (Tring)
Man of the match: Kanu.
Attendance: 70,185.Reuse content