United knocks off Arsenal as ‘fantastic’ Park strikes
MANCHESTER, England - Manchester United knocked Arsenal off the top of the Premier League as they stifled their rival’s attacking flair with a 1-0 win, thanks to a lone goal by Park Ji-sung’s on Monday.
United went ahead four minutes before halftime when Korean midfielder Park twisted to get his head on a Nani cross from the right, which had taken a slight deflection off Arsenal defender Gael Clichy. The goal was Park’s sixth of the season and the most goals in a single season for a Korean player in the English Premier League.
They squandered the chance to go up 2-0 when Wayne Rooney fired a penalty well over the bar with just more than a quarter of an hour left after Clichy had handled in the area at Old Trafford. The hosts, unbeaten in the league this season and with the best home record, were facing the best road team but Arsenal came up short and they now sit second on 32 points, two behind United, which has a game in hand.
While delighted by Park’s agile 41st minute header at Old Trafford that saw United climb to the summit, Manchester manager Alex Ferguson was frustrated by the midfielder’s impending absence on international duty. Park is set to link up with Korea for the Asian Cup, which takes place in Qatar from Jan. 7-29, and Ferguson was left ruing his departure at a key stage of the season.
“He’s in fantastic form and we lose him after Dec. 26 for the Asian Cup for seven matches, which is disappointing,” said Ferguson.
United’s win over Arsenal means they will go on Sunday to champions Chelsea, now three points adrift, with sky-high confidence. Victory at Stamford Bridge will ensure they spend Christmas Day at the top of the table for the first time since 2006.
And a win on Sunday would be an ideal way for Ferguson, who will then have been in charge for 24 years, one month and 14 days, to mark his achievement in surpassing fellow Scot Sir Matt Busby as United’s longest-serving manager.
“We had to play well against Arsenal and we wanted to perform and we did in the first-half,” Ferguson said. “We played very, very well. I don’t think it was a feisty game, also the referee was lenient in the first half and in the second half he showed yellow cards at the right time.
“You have to expect the two top teams to compete like that.”
Ferguson added: “You have to play well and we have been playing well. Monday was another good performance. Arsenal came back in the second half and pegged us back but we had some good chances on the counterattack.”
Arsenal, which was on top before the game, trails United by two points, with like title rivals Manchester City, also on 32 points, playing one game more. But manager Arsene Wenger is refusing to press the panic button and insists the title is still a realistic target for his side, searching for their first major trophy since the 2005 FA Cup.
“It’s a big frustration, a big disappointment,” he said. “What’s important is that we bounce back in the next game against Stoke on Saturday. After what I’ve seen tonight, there’s no reason not to believe.
“How do I feel? What I feel doesn’t matter. We lost the game. The game was very intense and I think Manchester United defended very well.”
Watched by some of the Chilean miners who were rescued in October after being trapped for more than two months underground, a patchy encounter will have tested the patience of even those miners.
It also did little to endorse either side’s title credentials as they struggled to keep possession when they got near the box.
Wenger criticized the Old Trafford playing surface, saying: “The pitch was very poor in my opinion and both sides suffered because of it.
“[United] made technical mistakes as well because of the pitch. The pitch [is] not good enough to play good football.”
But Wenger cautioned against making too much out of one result.
“You have to be calm and realistic.”