MANCHESTER, England (AP) — David Moyes has been waiting for a signature victory to kickstart his short, erratic tenure at Manchester United.
Who better to get it against than the Premier League leaders? After falling short against title rivals Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City so far this season, United finally delivered when it really mattered by beating Arsenal 1-0 on Sunday thanks to Robin van Persie's 27th-minute goal against his former club.
The reigning champions are back within sight of Arsenal in fifth place and on the march, unbeaten in nine games in all competitions. "I don't think it puts out a statement," said Moyes, who has struggled under the pressure of succeeding Alex Ferguson at United. "I think people have known for years how good Manchester United have been.
"My job and the team's job is to try to show we can do that again. We know we are going to get a few bloody noses along the way." Since leaving north London for Manchester in August last year for 24 million pounds (then $38 million), Van Persie has scored in all three games against Arsenal.
Still unable to forgive the Netherlands striker, Arsenal's away contingent wasn't shy in expressing their feelings toward Van Persie early in the game. The chants were crude and personal. Van Persie responded the only way he could — by scoring. Getting away from marker Olivier Giroud, he met Wayne Rooney's corner with a header that looped into the top corner.
Van Persie scored for the fourth straight match in the league and for a seventh time this campaign, as he looks to become the Premier League's top scorer for a third season in a row. It was one of the few sights of goal in a cagey match in which Arsenal played well within itself, displaying an inferiority complex many thought had disappeared after its strong start to the season. This was only its first defeat since the opening-day loss to Aston Villa.
"I felt we were a bit nervous at the start of the game and didn't play our game and against a team like United who was nervous and a bit insecure, we gave them a little bit of comfort," said Wenger, who was without Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky due to a virus that affected the squad during the days before the match.
The Gunners were flat at the end of a week in which they beat Liverpool in the league and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. A win at Old Trafford would have put them 11 points clear of United. Now, they are just five points ahead of Moyes' improving side.
"We knew we had to win today at all costs," Rooney said. "That was the toughest we've been to break down and we defended really well. We knew we could not afford to lose today, we couldn't let Arsenal get 11 points away from us."
With Rooney often to the fore, United hounded the visitors into sloppy errors early on and kept playmaker Mesut Ozil on the periphery. Arsenal's only half-chance fell to Giroud, and he headed over from the edge of the area from Aaron Ramsey's cross.
The Londoners were given a lift at halftime, however, with United center back Nemanja Vidic not coming out for the second half after being clattered in the head by the hip of his goalkeeper, David de Gea, in the final seconds of the first half. Vidic was taken to a hospital but Moyes said the Serbian defender was conscious, adding: "As far as we know, he's going to be OK."
Phil Jones, who had been shielding the defense brilliantly in central midfield, dropped into the backline and Arsenal's silky midfielders finally had some space to perform. United initially remained in the ascendancy, with Rooney dragging a left-foot shot just wide from the edge of the area on the hour mark.
But Arsenal slowly began to take command, probing around United's area. Two devilish crosses by Bacary Sagna were missed by Giroud then Nicklas Bendtner, Jones denied Giroud with a last-ditch tackle and the France striker slid a shot just wide of the post.
However, De Gea was never seriously tested throughout. For the champions, it could be the victory that sparks their season. "It's another step in the right direction for us, but we have a lot of steps to take here," Moyes said. "It's going to take a while to get it the way I want it to be. But I'm thrilled because the boys put in a great performance."