Football: Ronaldo double knocks Arsenal out of race in Highbury battle

ARSENAL v MANCHESTER UNITED; Arsenal 2 Manchester United 4

EYES BLAZING, toe to toe, so the most enthralling match of the Premiership season began with Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane facing each other down in the tunnel. The fuse was lit, the old enmity of two rivals sparked before a ball had been kicked. And when we finished 90 minutes later, the 10 men of Manchester United had made a booming statement about the shape of English football.

The title might well be Chelsea's, but Sir Alex Ferguson is back with a vengeance, from 11 points behind Arsenal in October to two points ahead this morning. This was a sensational game that was made ragged by emotion and fury but ultimately exposed the weaknesses at the heart of Arsene Wenger's defence. after Arsenal were twice in the lead, their goalkeeper Manuel Almunia was at fault for United's decisive third goal and, when Mikael Silvestre was dismissed, not even Thierry Henry could deliver an equaliser.

From the moment Keane intervened in the tunnel to stop Vieira from, as he said, "intimidating" Gary Neville, to the full-time handshake between Wenger and Ferguson, this was a game that took the breath away. There was the ugly spectre of diving, there was a penalty that was not given and, looming over it all, was the edgy brilliance of Wayne Rooney that threatened to explode at times. Ferguson said his team included no "wimps" and on this evidence it was hard to disagree.

The story of how Arsenal lost an unbeaten run at home that started in May 2003 began with Freddie Ljungberg's soft fall to the ground in the first minute under Gabriel Heinze's supervision. A crowd of red shirts buzzed around the referee Graham Poll and, in the circumstances, you had to wonder what chance the official had of running the game.

Within three minutes, Ashley Cole had dived under Keane's challenge in the area. There was no reward forthcoming but within eight minutes Arsenal had taken the lead. From Henry's corner, Vieira shrugged off Heinze's challenge and glanced his header past Roy Carroll.

It felt like we were clinging to the edge of sanity as Heinze and Ryan Giggs were booked. Only an apology from Rooney, when he caught Lauren, saved the teenager from the book. Then, from one tiny error by Sol Campbell on 18 minutes, United's ruthless attacking unit cut through Arsenal for a spectacular equaliser. The Arsenal centre-back had a clearance charged down by Paul Scholes and, when the ball found its way back to the United No 18, he chipped perfectly to Rooney in the area. The United striker laid the ball back out to Giggs whose shot deflected off Cole past Almunia. It was made by Rooney's pass and his influence was growing fast.

There was barely time to contemplate United's equaliser before Silvestre's trip on Robert Pires on 22 minutes cried out for the reward of a penalty. Pires's frustration boiled over minutes later when, grounded, he kicked out at Darren Fletcher. Suddenly, in the aftermath, Rooney was goading the Frenchman and, once again, the ground gasped in anticipation of a riot.

Arsenal took the lead again on 35 minutes when Vieira's long ball found Henry and, with his back to goal, he was allowed to turn by Rio Ferdinand. The striker tucked a through ball to Dennis Bergkamp, who beat Roy Carroll from close range.

We almost lost Rooney in the late stages of the first half as his temper and precocious touch took centre stage. After 40 minutes he was stopped by Almunia and then, moments later, he chipped for goal just a second after the whistle. When Poll pulled out the yellow card, unnecessarily it seemed, the rage across Rooney's face made you fear for his further involvement in the game.

United's equaliser came on 55 minutes on the end of a brilliant move. The ball swept from Rooney to Giggs and then down the left to Ronaldo, who slapped his shot across Almunia and into the far corner.

The balance had shifted. Just before the hour Giggs tapped a free-kick to Rooney and his curling shot eluded Almunia to clip the angle of post and bar. Moments later the Spanish goalkeeper was not so lucky. As Giggs sprinted down the right, Almuniarushed to the edge of his area to tackle him and was beaten. Giggs crossed and Ronaldo tapped home. Wenger called his team's defending "worrying" - disastrous would be more accurate.

Silvestre's dismissal on 68 minutes was the first of his United career and he barely bothered to wait for the red card. The French defender squared up to Ljungberg and butted the Swede on the nose.

United's midfield regrouped and, with two minutes left, Scholes found the substitute John O'Shea in acres of space to chip Almunia. The title might be lost, but United's response will echo across English football for some time to come.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Lauren (Fabregas, 82), Cygan, Campbell (Hoyte, 81), Cole; Ljungberg, Flamini (Reyes, 72), Vieira, Pires; Bergkamp, Henry. Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Van Persie.

Manchester United (4-5-1): Carroll; G Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre (Brown, 70), Heinze; Giggs (Saha, 76), Fletcher (O'Shea, 60), Keane, Scholes, Ronaldo; Rooney. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), P Neville.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Premiership table, page 45

Flashpoints on and off the pitch

-5 mins: Keane and Vieira have altercation in tunnel as teams line up. Keane told by referee Poll to "leave it, leave it in here".

5: Heinze elbows Ljungberg.

11: Heinze booked for body-checking Ljungberg.

14: Giggs booked for late tackle on Cole.

15: Rooney stamps on Lauren's toe. Spoken to by Poll.

21: Silvestre upends Pires in area, but no penalty.

27: Pires kicks out after being barged over by Fletcher. Rooney gets involved and makes mocking gesture at Pires. Spoken to again by referee.

42: Rooney booked for dissent. Continues to argue with referee, who summons captain Keane to calm the teenager down.

45: Rooney makes clumsy tackle on Vieira in full flight. Referee takes no action.

Added time: Henry angers Ronaldo with patronising tap on the head

57: Ronaldo booked for over-doing celebrations of his second goal

59: Keane argues with referee after Fletcher is innjured. Fletcher replaced by O'Shea.

68: Silvestre sent off after head-butting Ljungberg. Play had already stopped following Silvestre's tussle with Bergkamp in the area.

Total: 1 red card, 6 yellow

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant in secondary school Manchester

£11280 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Teaching a...

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits