Wenger furious as Van Nistelrooy calls halt to Arsenal's record run

Manchester United 2 - Arsenal 0

There have been occasions, in Arsenal's previous 49 Premiership matches, when the luck went with them, when a fortuitous refereeing decision kept their unbeaten run going. Ask Portsmouth, who were denied victory at Highbury a year ago after Robert Pires took a tumble to win an undeserved penalty.

It is an accepted truth that in football these incidents eventually even themselves up and at Old Trafford yesterday Arsenal's luck ran out. Unfortunately for them it was in the biggest match of the season that the champions found themselves on the wrong end of two decisions by referee Mike Riley which brought Arsenal's unbeaten run to a halt and breathed fresh life into Manchester United's uneven season.

The first decision came 18 minutes into a tight first half. Edu threaded a pass through United's square defence for Freddie Ljungberg to run on to. Rio Ferdinand came across to cover, but as he went to challenge the Swede poked the ball out of his reach. Ferdinand kept going and bowled Ljungberg over. It should have been a free-kick to Arsenal and a red card for Ferdinand, but Riley, who was some way distant, waved play on. Ferdinand went on to play superbly as Arsenal, for the first time this season, failed to score.

The second decision came 17 minutes from the end with the contest still stalemated. Kolo Touré lost the ball to Ruud van Nistelrooy. United worked the ball to the right and Wayne Rooney wriggled his way into the box. As he pushed the ball past Sol Campbell the defender briefly put out a foot then quickly withdrew it. Too late. Rooney seized his opportunity and fell towards the turf. To Campbell's fury Riley, who has a habit of giving United penalties at Old Trafford, awarded them his eighth in eight appearances here.

Van Nistelrooy, who in this fixture last year missed a last-minute spot-kick which would have defeated Arsenal, calmly sent Jens Lehmann the wrong way. Gary Neville's run along the touchline and goalline, arms outstretched and face wreathed in smiles, illustrated how much this meant to United.

In injury-time, with Arsenal pushing forward, Louis Saha led a counter-attack. It ended with Rooney sweeping in Alan Smith's cross to commemorate his 19th birthday and give the scoreline a misleading certainty.

To those who regard Arsenal as unfortunate, United will argue that they should have had a second penalty eight minutes after the first when Ashley Cole brought Cristiano Ronaldo down. But goals change matches and that incident might never have happened if Arsenal had not been committed to attack. The victory cuts the gap between the clubs to eight points and keeps Arsenal's lead over second-placed Chelsea at two. It also means the 58-match unbeaten run Milan achieved in Serie A under Fabio Capello a decade ago will remain the best in the major European leagues.

Less easy to discern is the long-term psychological impact this result will have. United's confidence will be restored, especially as they won without Roy Keane. Arsenal, who were able to field Patrick Vieira, will no longer feel unbeatable. When Milan finally lost in March 1993 they won only one of their next nine games. That will not be Arsenal's fate but their response underlined how much defeat hurt with rumours of a post-match fracas in the tunnel. As players and coaching staff from both teams argued, Ferguson reportedly had food and soup thrown at him and had to change his shirt before giving a post-match interview.

Lehmann had started a row with the entire United team after the second goal and at the final whistle Thierry Henry argued with Roy Carroll, and Campbell, Cole and Dennis Bergkamp harangued Riley. When they were dragged away Arsène Wenger took over. The Arsenal manager complained about Riley's errors and his failure to protect Jose Antonio Reyes, who he felt was the victim of a systematic campaign to kick him out of the match. It did look that way but United could say the same of Ronaldo who was clattered after just 39 seconds by Cole. Riley was lenient then, and remained so, not reaching for his yellow card until the 35th minute. He eventually cautioned five players. In the stands Arsenal fans, in a reference to the American tycoon with designs on United, chanted "USA, USA" and "there's only one Malcolm Glazer".

Though the game was always absorbing, clear chances were sparse. A Vieira error gave Paul Scholes, then Ryan Giggs a sight of goal after eight minutes but Touré, then Campbell, bravely blocked. In the second period Arsenal again had the bulk of possession but United created the best of the few chances. From one Ronaldo headed over while Lehmann made a good save from Gabriel Henize's deflected, swerving drive. Then came the penalty. After it Arsenal pressed but Carroll was never threatened and United would have wrapped up the match in normal time had Giggs beaten Lehmann when freed by Scholes.

Goals: Van Nistelrooy (73) 1-0; Rooney (90) 2-0.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Carroll; G Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze; Ronaldo (Smith, 85), P Neville, Scholes, Giggs; Rooney, Van Nistelrooy (Saha, 90). Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Brown, Miller.

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Lehmann; Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Cole; Ljungberg, Vieira, Edu, Reyes (Pires, 70); Bergkamp, Henry. Substitutes not used: Van Persie, Taylor, Fabregas, Cygan.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

Booked: Manchester United: G Neville, P Neville. Arsenal: Cole, Vieira, Edu.

Man of the match: Ferdinand.

Attendance: 67,862.

Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
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

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

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own