Premier League: Van Persie haunts nervy Arsenal as Moyes enjoys best United day

Frank Dalleres
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ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger blamed nerves after his Premier League leaders were brought back down to earth by familiar foes, Manchester United and their former Gunners striker Robin van Persie.

His first-half header earned United boss David Moyes the biggest triumph of his nascent tenure, lifted them to within five points of Arsenal and ended the north Londoners’ 15-match unbeaten away record.

Illness disrupted the visitors’ preparations but Wenger rejected that explanation, instead insisting that his team had failed to rise to the occasion as the champions so convincingly did.

“It’s disappointing to lose because I felt we were a bit nervous at the start and didn’t play our game, against a Manchester United that was a bit insecure,” he said. “We had opportunities but we missed always a few inches to push the ball in the net and they were well focused to defend and try to catch us on the break.

“I just think we were too nervous in the first half and until the end we looked like we could score and were always dangerous but lacked a little bit of quality with the final ball and sharpness on crosses, but the opportunities were there.”

Arsenal’s pre-match buoyancy, fuelled by successive wins over Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, was pricked by flu ruling out defender Per Mertesacker, meaning a recall for out of favour captain Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian did well enough but the towering German was missed at set-pieces, not least when Van Persie rose above Olivier Giroud to head Wayne Rooney’s corner from the left in across goal.

It continued the former Arsenal striker’s 100 per cent strike rate in three matches against his old team and was just reward for a tireless United first-half display which suffocated the Gunners.

Wenger’s men emerged from the interval with fresh purpose, midfielder Mesut Ozil hitting the side netting, although they ought to have conceded again when Rooney dragged a left-foot shot inches wide. It was a rare clear sight of goal mustered by either side, as crosses flashed across both goals without the contact required to add to the scoresheet.

United defender Chris Smalling could not direct a header goal-wards from one such opening, while Arsenal right-back Bacary Sagna whipped in two inviting centres, the second of which substitute Nicklas Bendtner’s outstretched leg failed to reach.

Giroud went closest to an equaliser six minutes from time. First Smalling was smartly dispossessed as he shaped to shoot and then, seconds later, the Frenchman’s turn and shot was deflected wide.