Manchester United striker Robin van Persie revealed he downplayed his celebrations after scoring the opener against Arsenal out of respect for his former club.
Manchester United: Van Persie 3; Evra 67
Arsenal: Cazorla 90
Van Persie switched north London for Old Trafford this summer and he gave the Gunners an unfortunate reminder of his predatory talents by netting after three minutes in a 2-1 victory which sent United to the top of the table for the for the first time this season.
The prolific Dutchman spent eight years with Arsenal and admitted he still has great affection for them. “I think it speaks for itself. I played there eight years and had a fantastic time there,” Van Persie said. “I have respect for the fans, the players, the manager and the whole club.”
Despite the close scoreline, United dominated for long periods and should have won by a greater margin.
Patrice Evra doubled United’s lead in the 67th minute shortly before Arsenal’s afternoon was compounded by Jack Wilshere’s dismissal for a second bookable offence.
Although Santi Cazorla halved the deficit in injury time, it came much too late for Arsenal to pursue an equalising goal.
“It was a special day, it was quite a game. I think we played well,” added Van Persie. “We had a few chances, we should have scored two or three more but in the end we’re happy with the three points which is all that matters.”
Wayne Rooney was guilty of shooting wide from the penalty spot after Cazorla was adjudged to have handled in the area.
“I think we had plenty of chances but we should be taking care of games,” the former Everton striker said. “That could cost us in the future so we need to make sure we’re more clinical.”
Arsenal’s defensive frailties were again in evidence for Van Persie’s opener as United swept forward and Antonio Valencia released Rafael down the right with a deft backheel. The Brazilian whipped in an awkward low cross, which caught Thomas Vermaelen off balance and his attempted clearance rolled straight to Van Persie, who fired past Vito Mannone from inside the box.
United could have doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time after Cazorla handled an Ashley Young cross at point-blank range just inside the box.
The Spaniard felt the award was harsh and he could argue he was protecting his face but it did not matter as Rooney dragged the resulting spot-kick wide.
In the 67th minute, from a short corner routine, Rooney crossed for Evra and the Frenchman planted a firm header inside the post.
The Gunners’ agonies grew as Wilshere, booked in the first half and fortunate to escape a second yellow card for a bad tackle on Van Persie, was penalised for one bad tackle too many, this time on Evra, and saw red. United played out the closing moments with little alarm until Cazorla netted a fine consolation from the edge of the box with what proved the last kick of the game.
The win sent United to the top of the Barclays Premier League although Sir Alex Ferguson was far from satisfied with their performance.
“It wasn’t a close game,” the Scot said. “I think it was a lack of urgency in the game throughout, far too casual.”
He did, however, reserve special praise for Van Persie. “It was good for Robin [to score the first goal],” Ferguson added. “He was fantastic today. His movement, his penetration was fantastic.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said the fact it was Van Persie on the scoresheet was inconsequential. “We don’t care who scores the goals, we want to win the games,” the Frenchman said. “That doesn’t matter.”