United pick up famous victory
By Patrick Goss. Last Updated: 01/02/05 9:45pm
A breathtaking match at Highbury saw Manchester United come from behind to pick up a famous 4-2 victory over Arsenal - in a match that contained just about everything.
Arsenal had twice taken the lead in the first half - with Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp scoring either side of Ryan Giggs's goal for United.
But the Welsh winger inspired a wonderful second half come-back, laying on two goals for Cristiano Ronaldo.
United were forced to cling on through the last 21 minutes after Mikael Silvestre was dismissed for headbutting Freddie Ljungberg - but despite mounting pressure from the hosts - it was The Red Devils that claimed the goal on the break when a fine move allowed John O'Shea to chip Manuel Almunia and seal the points.
A pre-match scuffle in the tunnel was reminder enough that rivalries of this nature are very difficult to keep from boiling over - and the passion through the opening half was a joy to behold.
Ashley Cole was guilty of a simply dreadful dive in the box early on when Roy Keane bared his fangs, and Roy Carroll had to be alert to smother at Ljungberg's feet.
The pressure was building, and sure enough a corner gave Arsenal an early lead - with Gabriel Heinze unable to deal with Vieira's physicality allowing the Gunners skipper to nod home from close range.
United had looked bewildered before the goal - but the deficit appeared to galvanise them as a unit - and when Sol Campbell carelessly gave the ball away to Paul Scholes, the visitors found a route back into the game.
Scholes's pass out to Rooney was perfectly judged, but the England international chose not to take the ball on himself - cushioning into the path of Giggs, who lashed home courtesy of a big deflection off of Cole.
A good block by Campbell then denied United the lead - with Rooney escaping down the right and picking out a fine ball for Ronaldo to run on to and shoot first time.
Arsenal should have been given a penalty soon after - Graham Poll missing a clumsy dive in from Silvestre on Robert Pires.
Tempers were boiling over on both sides; Pires was rightly carded for a kick out at Darren Fletcher and Rooney nearly talked himself into Poll's book.
It was one of the calmest heads on the pitch that restored Arsenal's lead - Flamini and Henry combined well to engineer an opening for Bergkamp down the right and he hammered the ball through Carroll's legs at his near post.
Rooney, in his typical pugnacious style had attracted the boos from the crowd, but he missed a fine chance to silence the voices, when he showed Pascal Cygan a clean pair of heels but saw his effort well saved by Almunia.
The pace of the game suggested that the second half would be a tamer affair - but if anything the rivals cranked up the pressure, as United produced an astounding turn-around to get themselves in front.
Giggs had already scored himself, and the scintillating Welshman was at the heart of the United renaissance.
After again being given the ball too cheaply in the middle, United broke superbly - the ball was fed to Giggs and he picked out Ronaldo on the left, allowing the Portuguese gem to slam home superbly across Almunia.
With Arsenal still reeling, Rooney cannoned a free-kick off the angle of post and bar - but the effort appeared to rattle Almunia more than the woodwork.
The Spaniard almost immediately gifted United their third, rushing out unwisely as Giggs cantered down the right, finding himself rounded with ease and watching in horror as the winger's cross fell perfectly for Ronaldo to stub home on the line.
Moments of madness were not in short demand at Highbury - and a rush of blood, figuratively for Silvestre and literally for Ljungberg, saw the United defender shown red.
Silvestre was walking away from an angry confrontation with Bergkamp, and butted Ljungberg as the Swede confronted him right in front of Poll - leaving the referee little choice but to dismiss the Frenchman.
Ljungberg nearly took advantage of the extra space soon after, with Carroll down well to collect as United furiously reorganised in an attempt to cling on to their lead.
Thierry Henry - contained brilliantly for much of the match by Rio Ferdinand - lashed an effort narrowly wide with ten minutes remaining, but Arsenal's night got worse when Campbell limped off with an ankle injury.
Henry's audacious overhead was straight at Carroll, and then, to the disbelief of the Highbury faithful, Heinze's break overstretched Arsenal, Scholes picked out O'Shea, and he found a wonderful chip over the onrushing Almunia to put another nail into the coffin of Arsenal's already fading title challenge.
Click here for Arsenal v Man Utd player ratings
|Arsenal||Team Statistics||Manchester United|
|2||1st Half Goals||1|
|9||Shots on Target||7|
|3||Shots off Target||2|
Barclays Premier League
|12||West Ham United||38||47|
|13||West Bromwich Albion||38||44|
|20||Queens Park Rangers||38||30|