Fletcher's combination of steel and self-control shows Wilshere's limits

Arsenal had two pre-match observations to take some motivation from: Patrice Evra's claim that they are a "training ground team" who will win "no trophy, nothing", and Sir Alex Ferguson's claim in last night's programme notes that they are not as "lilywhite" as they seem. It was easy to imagine when Evra made his comments on Canal+ last week that Ferguson would have been irritated at the unnecessary source of inspiration but as Arsène Wenger's side went about their work you sensed that it had provoked rather than primed them.

Arsenal's football in the first half was not quite the "anti-football" that Wenger described at this stadium two years ago, but the sight of Andrei Arshavin ploughing through Darren Fletcher, Jack Wilshere squaring up to the same player and Marouane Chamakh upending Nani, suggested a case of Evra's comments going to their heads.

It was in that chaotic and intemperate phase of play that Fletcher calmly climbed to intercept and head on the ball which set in train United's goal – Rooney sending it on to Nani whose spinning cross was headed home by Park Ji-Sung on the same arced trajectory.

A less temperate player than Fletcher would not have been composed to make that critical header, given that Wilshere had only just finished squaring up to him, but Fletcher was only proving his assertions of the past week – that there is a difference between malice and determination. "I am not a dirty player. I go to win the ball and sometimes you give away fouls doing that but it's not malicious or dirty and it's all part of the British game," he said a few a days ago. Wenger's barb seemed to have cut him deeper than we thought.

His contribution thereafter was equally unlaboured – a foot in here, a tackle there – but by the midpoint of the second half when Anderson was picking off possession from Wilshere in front of the Arsenal box and sprinting into a counter-attack, the contrast between the two midfielders was unmistakable.

Opposition players sense a weakness like Wilshere's and in the next phase of play Fletcher pounced on him as he dawdled in possession. The dot matrix board was raised soon afterwards and the Englishman was on his way to the touchline. Taken with his removal at half-time at Goodison last month, Wilshere looks like a player under development. It has been a season of indifference for him at times and even Anderson had much more to take away from last night than him.

It was no more a vintage display from United than a perfect match which suggested either side will stride away to the title. Perhaps it was the sense that, with Chelsea faltering, that this fixture means so much that gave it a more ill-tempered and untidy complexion than many between these two.

Nani was an epitome of the frustration from a United perspective, tormenting Gaël Clichy in the first half before spinning the vital cross off the defender's boot for Park to twist in with his head. Yet the way he wasted that breakaway move Anderson created was a scandal. First, Nani was dispossessed in his exuberance, and then, having won back the ball and then raced in again, he blasted high and wide – indifferent to the awaiting, infuriated Rooney.

But their degree of comfort – Edwin van der Sar was not troubled – gives United reason to believe that they can process onwards towards the title, with that unbeaten record increasingly becoming a source of psychological strength. The draws which plagued United earlier this season seemed like an impediment to their progress at the time. Now we remember that Arsenal drew 12 games en route to their title as "Invincibles", their combination of flair and steel proving decisive. United are beginning to become intrigued by the idea of going all season undefeated – "an interesting challenge" is how Fletcher has described it.

Fletcher also expected more from this opposition. "The physical presence of Alex Song in midfield, the aerial prowess and physicality of Chamakh definitely helps them," he said last week. Little did he imagine that when it came down to it, that physicality would prove a hindrance.

Man for man

Manchester Utd

Edwin van der Sar: Veteran had little to do in the first half and dealt well with what was thrown at him. 6

Rafael da Silva: Got forward at every chance, including one fine dribble into Arsenal area. 6

Rio Ferdinand: Recovered from hamstring injury to add a reassuring presence to back line. 7

Nemanja Vidic: Continued his fine season, snuffing out danger and posing a threat at set pieces. 8

Patrice Evra: Target of chants from the away fans. Forced to focus on defensive duties. 6

Darren Fletcher: Hard-working as always, mopped up at the back and kept attacks moving. 7

Michael Carrick: Responsible for breakdown of one attack with a poor choice of pass. 6

Anderson: Buzzed around, but not always to great effect. Enjoyed battle with Clichy. 7

Nani: Screwed one half-volley just wide but generally United's best attacking player. 7

Park Ji-sung: Adapted superbly well to guide Nani's cross inside the far post for only goal. 7

Wayne Rooney: Continues to persevere as he searches for return to form. Awful spot-kick. 7

Substitutes

R Giggs (for Anderson, 85) Provided an experienced head for final minutes 6

Arsenal

Wojciech Szczesny: Confident display on league debut, making some important saves. 7

Bacary Sagna: Advanced at will when the visitors were in possession but erratic crossing. 6

Sébastien Squillaci: Less convincing than his fellow centre-back but stood up well to the test. 5

Laurent Koscielny: Made a number of key interceptions to keep Gunners in contention to the end. 6

Gaël Clichy: Mistake let in Nani for chance and gave away penalty to the same player. 5

Alexandre Song: Mixed performance. Sloppy in possession early on but a strong presence. 6

Tomas Rosicky: Shot across face of Van der Sar's goal after one promising move. Ineffective. 5

Jack Wilshere: Struggled at times but feisty, and creative when given time on the ball. 6

Samir Nasri: Continued recent form. Had free reign of midfield at times but limited effect. 7

Marouane Chamakh: Got very little out of Ferdinand and Vidic, and fluffed his one good chance. 6

Andrei Arshavin: Not one of his better displays. Unsure of best pass and ran into blind alleys. 5

Substitutes

Fabregas (for Rosicky) 6; Van Persie (for Wilshere) 5; Walcott (for Arshavin) 6.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor