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

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice