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Nov 3, 2012

Robin van Persie guides United to victory

Robin van Persie struck inside three minutes against his former club as Manchester United eased to a comfortable 2-1 victory over 10-man Arsenal at Old Trafford on Saturday.

United moved to the top of the Premier League table with the win and holds a one-point lead over Chelsea, which tied Swansea later Saturday.

The prolific Dutchman was taunted throughout by visiting fans but reminded them of his talents in the opening moments in a contest United dominated from the outset.

Wayne Rooney missed United's fourth penalty of the season but Patrice Evra added a second goal and Arsenal's misery was compounded by the sending off Jack Wilshere before Santi Cazorla hit an injury-time consolation.

Wilshere had been making only his second appearance for the Gunners after a 14-month injury layoff.

United was superior in almost every department against a side it fought out a bitter rivalry with in the last decade, but Sir Alex Ferguson was far from satisfied with United's performance.

"It wasn't a close game," Ferguson said. "I think it was a lack of urgency in the game throughout, far too casual. It wasn't a usual Manchester United-Arsenal game. I know there was a lot of bookings."

The sight of van Persie in United's ranks will have hurt, and the Arsenal fans made clear from the moment his name was first read out what they now thought of their former hero.

"It was a special day, it was quite a game. I think we played well," van Persie told Sky Sports 2. "We had a few chances, we should have scored two or three more but in the end we're happy with the three points which is all that matters."

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger said the fact it was van Persie on the scoresheet was inconsequential.

"We don't care who scores the goals, we want to win the games," the Frenchman said. "That doesn't matter."

Van Persie's eight-year stint in north London culminated in last season's magnificent 37-goal campaign but he was cheered when he slipped in the opening minute.

But the 29-year-old needed little time to remind the Gunners of what they lost when he left the Emirates Stadium in a 24-million-pound ($38.5 million) move over the summer.

Arsenal's defensive frailties were again in evidence as United swept forward and Antonio Valencia bypassed Andre Santos by releasing Rafael down the right with a deft backheel.

The Brazilian whipped in an awkward low cross that caught Thomas Vermaelen off balance and his attempted clearance rolled straight to van Persie, who fired past Vito Mannone from inside the box.

It was his 10th goal for United in 13 games but he avoided antagonizing Arsenal supporters further by deciding not to celebrate.

Van Persie said he still has great affection for his old club.

"I think it speaks for itself. I played there eight years and had a fantastic time there," van Persie told Sky Sports 2. "I have respect for the fans, the players, the manager and the whole club."

Conceding so early may have led to some anxiety in the Arsenal camp after its 8-2 loss in the same fixture last season.

United may not have threatened a repeat of that scoreline but continued to control the game, and the best response the visitors could initially muster was a wayward long-range drive from Santos.

That was a rare moment of opportunity for Santos, who found himself under considerable pressure at left back.

United may have seemed content to build a patient game but attacking Santos' flank seemed a fruitful avenue for the hosts, with Valencia troubling the Portuguese at every opportunity.

Van Persie went close again as he raced onto a defense-slitting pass by Rooney, but Mannone saved well.

Arsenal did show some positive intent with Aaron Ramsey, the only starting member of its side who played in last year's thrashing, reaching the byline, but David de Gea pushed away his cross.

Valencia predictably beat Santos to cross and Michael Carrick clipped the ball to Rooney after Bacary Sagna had half-cleared.

Rooney steadied himself to shoot but Mannone produced another good save and van Persie headed straight at the goalkeeper after the ball was worked back in.

United could have doubled its lead on the stroke of halftime after Cazorla handled an Ashley Young cross at point-blank range just inside the box.

The Spaniard felt the award was harsh and he could argue he was protecting his face, but it did not matter as Rooney dragged the resulting spot kick wide.

Another goal might have been the least United deserved for its first-half superiority, but it was a reminder of United's early season deficiencies from 12 yards.

Questions will certainly be asked as to why the in-form van Persie did not take the responsibility.

United was close to doubling its lead again after another Vermaelen error early in the second half allowed van Persie to break, but Valencia could not turn in his low ball.

Carrick then shot wide from distance after a shot by Rafael was half-cleared as far as the England midfielder.

Arsenal continued to lack a spark but Olivier Giroud almost provided one after a neat touch beat Rio Ferdinand and gave him a shooting chance, but he could only hit the side-netting from a tight angle.

Van Persie was booked after a late challenge on Sagna but was back in more familiar position just after the hour as he was picked out by a fine cross by Ashley Young, but Mannone got a vital hand to his low shot.

Arsenal could not hold out much longer and from a short corner routine Rooney crossed for Evra and the Frenchman planted a firm header inside the post.

The Gunners' agonies grew as Wilshere, booked in the first half and fortunate to escape a second yellow card for a bad tackle on van Persie, was penalized for one bad tackle too many, this time on Evra, and saw red.

"It was not deserved, he went for the ball," Wenger said. "His game is commitment. I will have to see the game but it didn't look to me like he went on purpose over the ball."

Van Persie and substitute Anderson both thought they had added a third for United but were both correctly denied by an offside flag.

United played out the closing moments with little alarm until Cazorla netted a fine consolation from the edge of the box with what proved the last kick of the game.

Information from Press Association was used in this report.

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