Wenger: `Our best so far'

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ALEX FERGUSON, the Manchester United manager, could not hide his disappointment at his team's performance yesterday after seeing them lose to Arsenal for the fourth time in a row. Asked whether he felt his players were aware that they had let themselves down, Ferguson replied: "I hope they do.

"I thought Arsenal showed far more determination to win. They earned the basic right to win by sheer effort and we were second best in every challenge, particularly in the first 20 minutes of the match. It was a very disappointing performance by us."

Ferguson believed that Nicky Butt's second dismissal in successive matches did not have a decisive influence on the outcome of the match although he was angry at the decision. "I think at 2-0 it would have been an uphill battle anyway," he said. "According to the referee it was a tackle from the back and he was the last man. Unfortunately for Nicky Butt it was a bad decision but it doesn't alter the fact that Arsenal were far better than us. They were far more determined, they wanted to win it more than we did and I don't like saying that as a Manchester United manager. We have a group of players who have ascended to great heights over the years and it won't be repeated.

"You could see very early on that Arsenal were more determined. They were prepared to give fouls away to win the match. We were tiptoeing into tackles. I thought they played really well and they were better than us.

"But there's plenty of time and plenty of games for us. The players shared in a fantastic experience on Wednesday, probably the best game in Europe for years and they reached levels that were quite unbelievable at times. Today I wanted more movement against the two centre-backs and there were moments when they did quite well, but not enough moments."

Ferguson's opposite number, Arsene Wenger, was understandably delighted. "It was our best performance this season and it carried on from what we did in Lens," he said. "I think we played well in the second half in Lens and today we wanted to go on and improve on that.

"Of course I'm very pleased with the victory, we had our offensive power back and put the Manchester United defence under pressure continuously."

He described Patrick Vieira's dominant performance in midfield as "outstanding, one of his best three performances for us", while of Dennis Bergkamp he said: "It was the best he has played this season. Physically mainly, confidence as well. He just needed a goal today but I would say he was much more aggressive and much more involved in the game."

Wenger had particular reason to be pleased with his new signing, Fredrik Ljungberg, who scored his first goal for the club after coming on as a substitute 10 minutes from time. "His positioning was intelligent and I liked that," Wenger said. "Of course to come on for his first game at Highbury and score against Manchester United will do him a lot of good.