United boost title hopes and reduce Arsenal’s to shreds

MANCHESTER United manager Sir Alex Ferguson urged Arsenal to go and “batter” Chelsea next weekend after leaving the Gunners’ title hopes in tatters.

Wayne Rooney’s 100th top-flight strike, a Ji-Sung Park effort and a Manuel Almunia own goal did
the damage as United delivered a masterclass in counter-attacking.

Thomas Vermaelen notched a late reply for the home side, who have now been humbled at home by both of their main rivals this season.

Whether they can still be considered challengers for the league is open to question, since they now trail United by four points and Chelsea by five, having played a game more than the leaders. In that context Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge is make-or-break. Ferguson is hoping Arsenal bounce back – and in the process do his team a favour.

“That was a great performance by us. It’s at this time of year that you need to kick on,” he said.

“We need Chelsea to drop points, but Arsenal aren’t out of it yet. I hope Arsenal go to Stamford Bridge and batter them next Sunday.”

Ferguson’s opposite number Arsene Wenger admitted Arsenal would need “something special” to catch United and Chelsea.

“It’s difficult to accept but easy to explain: we were poor defensively and offensively,” he said. “It is a massive blow and massive disappointment. We have to recover from that – it’s part of top-level football. We need something special now to stay in the race. I’m conscious of that.”

United made a mockery of their recent struggle away to the Big Four with a performance that called to mind last season’s Champions League semi-final demolition of Wenger’s men. Rooney scored his 13th in 11 league games, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick prevented Cesc Fabregas from running the midfield and wingers Nani and Ji-Sung Park terrorised the flanks.

And it was glorious trickery from Nani that brought the first goal on 33 minutes, the Portugal star foxing Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri with a ludicrous turn before darting past Denilson and clipping a cross to the far post that the hapless Almunia palmed into his own net.

Five minutes later United doubled their lead when Rooney launched a charge by laying off to Nani, before haring 60 yards upfield and sweeping the return pass first time into the far corner. Eight minutes into the second half it was three, Park sprinting clearbefore slotting past Almunia.

Vermaelen, playing despite a midweek injury scare, fired home a volley that ricocheted off Fletcher in the 88th minute.