Robin van Persie took less than three minutes to score against Arsenal as Manchester United eased to a 2-1 Premier League win against Arsenal at Old Trafford.
Patrice Evra added a second-half header to Van Persie’s early strike, while United were so comfortable that Wayne Rooney could afford to miss a penalty in first-half stoppage time.
Santi Cazorla smashed in an emphatic consolation with the last kick of the game, but by that stage Arsenal were well beaten.
Arsenal finished with 10 men after Jack Wilshere’s red card for two bookable offences, while their mutinous fans reacted to a dismal performance with unflattering songs about chief executive Ivan Gazidis.
United have now won eight of their last nine home games against Arsenal, and while this did not boast the extraordinary scoreline of last season’s 8-2, it was every bit as emphatic a victory.
Having conceded a combined 10 goals in their midweek Capital One Cup games, Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger restored the same XIs that had won their last Premier League games against Chelsea and QPR respectively.
Van Persie’s first game against his former club dominated the pre-match build-up, and we did not have to wait long for the Dutchman to make his presence felt.
United’s first serious attack saw Rafael cross weakly from the right. Thomas Vermaelen had plenty of time to make an easy clearance, but scuffed the ball to Van Persie who despatched a first-time right-foot finish from the edge of the box.
As has become the vogue for players scoring against their former employers, Van Persie celebrated in restrained fashion – this after exchanging smiles and hugs with his old team-mates during the pre-match handshakes.
Despite this chastening start, Arsenal failed to get into gear as they were outpassed by a slick United side throughout the first half.
The visitors endured particular pain down the left, where winger Antonio Valencia ruthlessly exposed Andre Santos’s inept defending. When not caught out of position, Santos repeatedly found himself embarrassed by the Ecuadorean who provided United’s most reliable supply line into the box.
Santos defended so poorly that he resembled a competition winner allowed to play in a proper game, an impression reinforced by way he asked for – and got – Van Persie’s shirt when the teams went off at half-time.
However, United could not press home their advantage as Vito Mannone made smart saves from Rooney and Van Persie, whose movement throughout was exceptional.
In first-half stoppage time, referee Mike Dean gave United a golden opportunity to double their lead when Cazorla was adjudged to have handballed.
The Spaniard raised his arms to protect his face from Ashley Young’s cross, but it looked a harsh award – Cazorla’s was an act of self-defence, not an attempt to stop the ball illegally.
Justice was arguably done, then, when Rooney dragged a poor penalty wide of the left-hand post. Amazingly, he is the fourth United player to miss a penalty this season after Van Persie, Javier Hernandez and Nani.
The second half offered little respite to Arsene Wenger’s beleaguered side, and Valencia missed a gold opportunity within 60 seconds of the restart from Van Persie’s low cross.
Rafael and Carrick also failed to make the most of their chances after Arsenal repeatedly failed to clear the danger from an Ashley Young cross.
Olivier Giroud had Arsenal’s best chance to equalise when he received the ball with his back to goal and turned well before striking his shot against the outside of the post, as the visitors threatened to punish United’s profligacy.
Even Van Persie was guilty of failing to convert as Mannone saved his weak one-on-one effort, but Evra doubled United’s lead when he headed home from the resultant corner.
Two minutes later, it was game over when Wilshere saw a second yellow card for a rash tackle on Evra. Wilshere had already got away with a risky challenge while booked and a cannier manager might have taken the 20-year-old off.
In fact, that is exactly what Ferguson did with Tom Cleverley who was in an almost identical situation to his future England colleague.
Cazorla’s peach of a strike from the edge of the box was an irrelevant beauty. It will do little to mollify the visiting fans who chanted: “We want our Arsenal back.”
This used to be the Premier League’s best rivalry – it is not only the club’s support but the league itself that needs its Arsenal back.