Park uses his head to strike telling title blow for United

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0

This is the Premier League title race that no-one wants to predict but at Old Trafford last night they were revelling in one old certainty: this current Arsenal team just cannot land a punch on Manchester United.



It is now six games and more than two years since Arsène Wenger's side last won a game against United and last night was no different. This is a good Arsenal team and they threatened United briefly but there is an experience and toughness to Ferguson's side that still sets them apart.

If there was a consolation for Wenger then it was the gulf in quality between his side and United was not as great as in that 3-1 defeat at the Emirates last season even if the story ended up with same sorry old conclusion for Arsenal. As with his team's defeat to Chelsea earlier in the season, we have been down this path before.

There were complaints from Wenger about the state of the pitch and a veiled dig at United's defensive approach after Park Ji-sung's goal had given them the lead but as ever we waited and waited for Arsenal to take control of the game and that moment never arrived.

Had Wayne Rooney not blasted a debatable second half penalty awarded to United into the Stretford End then Arsenal might have had a greater claim to be aggrieved. As it was this was the 10th defeat in the last 11 games they have played against their principal title rivals United and Chelsea.

As for Ferguson it has been a wonderful four days. First the Carlos Tevez affair exploded at Manchester City then Chelsea dropped more points at Spurs and last night Arsenal were put right back in their place. While Wenger waited dolefully by the touchline for the traditional reluctant post-match handshake, Ferguson embraced his kitman and high-fived the supporters around him.

Back at the top of the Premier League, United go to Stamford Bridge on Sunday still unbeaten in the league this season. As the title race unfolds in its own haphazard fashion it is United who look in the best position now to take advantage of the Christmas period. If they beat Chelsea that will send them roaring into the New Year as the team to beat.

Not that this was a vintage performance from United – and Wenger was right when he said that it is the determination of their defending that sets them apart – but it will do for now. Arguably Arsenal's best chance of the game came 11 minutes into the second half when Edwin van der Sar pushed Samir Nasri's towards Marouane Chamakh and Nemanja Vidic threw himself in front of the shot.

Vidic's block said everything about this United team's current run. For flair and excitement they do not compare to the United team that won three consecutive Premier League titles but defensively they are just as hard to beat.

Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were excellent in defence, although the latter was fortunate to get away with a very high boot that caught Bacary Sagna in the midriff. In midfield the partnership of Darren Fletcher and Anderson was too much for Arsenal and Jack Wilshere in particular who had a night he would probably sooner forget.

The young England international found himself caught in possession by Anderson, pushed around by Fletcher and the injured party in a painful collision with Michael Carrick. It was no surprise when Wilshere was one of two to make way for Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie after the hour. The 18-year-old will have to put this one down to experience.

It would have been a very different game for Wenger had Fabregas and Van Persie been fit to play the whole game and the Arsenal manager will no doubt identify that as one reason for his team's failings. But as they bemoan the absence of key players again so the chance to impose themselves on another title race slips away from Arsenal.

The decision to play the third-choice Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, 20, was a big one for Wenger who preferred him to Manuel Almunia, not even on the bench, and Lukasz Fabianski. Szczesny rose to the occasion although he could not get a hand to Park's winner, a strange kind of goal that owed much to the spin put on it by the original deflected cross.

Before then Park had struggled to have much effect on the game. On 41 minutes, Nani's cross took a touch off Gaël Clichy's boot and was spinning wickedly when it reached Park who guided the ball with his head just out of the reach of Szczesny

For much of the first half, Wenger's team did little more than live up to Ferguson's accusation that they had gained a reputation as one of the dirtiest teams in the league. In the first 14 minutes alone there were seven fouls committed by the men in yellow shirts and they were not picky about whom they targeted.

Wilshere got a piece of Patrice Evra, Arsenal's harshest critic, and even Tomas Rosicky, hardly a midfield assassin, dispatched Anderson. Long before then, Ferguson had been on the touchline making his feelings known to the fourth official. Arsenal finished the game with four bookings although United should have had at least one.

Arsenal were better in the second half but the best chance they created was that spilled shot that fell to Chamakh. They conceded the penalty with 18 minutes left, the linesman Dave Bryan flagging when the ball struck Clichy's hand as he slipped in front of Nani. It looked harsh at first glance but there was no doubt that the ball had hit his hand.

In his approach to the ball Rooney moved in an arc to his left and then ran quickly at the ball striking it hard and ludicrously high into the crowd. It was probably Arsenal's first slice of luck all night but they still came up well short.

Manchester United (4-3-3): Van der Sar; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson (Giggs 85); Nani, Rooney, Park. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Brown, Berbatov, Smalling, Hernandez, Obertain.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny; Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy; Nasri, Song, Wilshere (Van Persie 64); Rosicky (Fabregas 64), Chamakh, Arshavin (Walcott 77). Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Denilson, Djourou, Bendtner.

Booked: Arsenal Chamakh, Arshavin, Nasri, Song

Man of the match: Anderson

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire)

Attendance: 75,227

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