Man Utd 0 Arsenal 1
Who said it was all over? Not Arsenal, and after this the Premiership could be
ending up in North London after all.
The Gunners had not triumphed in the Theatre of Dreams since the 1990 "Battle
of Old Trafford" - the season which ended in George Graham's side being crowned
as kings of the championship castle.
But now Arsene Wenger must begin to believe the glittering prize in within his
grasp after the most deserved of triumphs over a United side who have lost their
Marc Overmars was the agent of United's destruction, the flying Dutchman
ghosting through to plant his 11th of the season past Peter Schmeichel 11
minutes from time.
Yet nobody at Old Trafford could really begrudge Arsenal their victory after a
match which they had dominated from the start, showing real quality, real
belief, United out-thought and out-fought.
Only poor finishing had kept United in it as Alex Ferguson's side were a pale
shadow of the side who had seemed on course to romp home just weeks ago.
But with time running out, Dennis Bergkamp and substitute Nicolas Anelka
linked up to put Overmars into the box with United caught square.
Overmars had missed three great chances before hand, but not this time,
drilling low past into the net to clinch the points and leave Wenger's men six
points behind with three games in hand, their destiny in their own hands.
United have now lost seven Premiership games - one more than Ferguson's
"maximum" - and as Arsenal celebrated their triumph, Ferguson's fears
increased, Phil Neville damaging a hamstring and Peter Schmeichel hobbling off
with a knee problem sustained augmenting the attack.
And make no mistake, Arsenal deserved it. Before the game the usual
cocksureness of the United fans was missing, a slight sense of foreboding
floating around Old Trafford.
The absence of Nicky Butt contributed to that, and without the England man
Ferguson drafted in John Curtis at right back, shoved Gary Neville into the
centre and put Ronny Johnsen in midfield.
But what United clearly lacked was width and with Arsenal typically rugged,
resilient and resourceful, that looked to be a crucial factor.
When the home side did push forward they foundered on the defensive rocks of
Tony Adams and Martin Keown, while the Gunners were everything the champions
Simple balls over the top, looking to exploit the pace of Overmars and
Christopher Wreh, unhinged United with worrying ease, watching Monaco coach Jean
Tigana justified in a quiet smile of anticipation.
While Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira were quietly effective, blocking the
holes and throttling David Beckham and Paul Scholes' creative impulses, Ray
Parlour's work down the right emphasised what United were lacking.
Although it was down the other flank that Arsenal came closest, Curtis'
inexperience exposed by Overmars.
In the 14th minute an exchange of passes with fellow Dutchman Bergkamp sent
the winger away clear, Overmars nipping the ball beyond Schmeichel but taken too
wide and drifting his effort from an acute angle across the face of goal.
It was a warning shot, but one not heeded by the home side, Overmars, given
too much space, testing Schmeichel from 25 yards.
United, with Phil Neville looking like a converted full-back on the left, were
getting nowhere, yet might have been gifted the lead when Lee Dixon
unaccountably passed across goal straight to Andy Cole.
Adams moved across to block, but only for the ball to fall perfectly to
Sheringham, who knew he should have done better than drive at the quick-rushing
Within a minute Bergkamp's super ball inside Curtis for Overmars should have
brought a penalty as the England under-21 man mistimed his tackle, Arsenal
furious at Alan Wilkie's shake of the head.
But still the Gunners were in charge, and Wenger must have wondered how they
failed to go in ahead.
Wreh's flick to Parlour was fed on to Overmars, who sped between Curtis and
Gary Neville to poke past Schmeichel but into the side-netting, and then Parlour
ghosted on to Bergkamp's header but again failed to hit the target.
The misses might have been costly if Cole, released by Schmeichel's long throw
with Arsenal expecting a flag, had not struck at Manninger, but still the
visitors were on top.
And the half ended with a move that summed them up. Adams ended a United
attack and five passes later Wreh, fed on the right by Parlour, pulled back for
Petit's first-timer to fly a fraction over the top with Schmeichel a spectator.
Ferguson acted at the break, sending Phil Neville to right-back with Curtis
swapping to the left, but only for the seven minutes before Ben Thornley entered
the fray, and at least United, now with a natural left-sider, had more
No more penetration though, Manninger superbly protected as Arsenal held with
relative ease, still probing for the chance themselves.
It came - and went - in the 62nd minute, Vieira caressing a dinked lob over
the top for Overmars, who momentarily lost the ball as it dropped 12 yards out
before touching over Schmeichel but wide of the gaping target.
Wreh made way for Anelka with 24 minutes left, although it needed an
outstanding tackle by Keown to prevent Cole finding Sheringham in front of
Wenger clearly felt the extra pace of his young protege might be the key, and
Anelka had, after all, scored the opener in the November win at Highbury.
United seemed, at last, to be putting it together. Adams robbed Cole in the
act of shooting, Thornley's effort when the ball fell to him not far wide, and
when Remi Garde replaced Parlour, Wenger seemed to be settling for a draw.
Not so. Anelka showed what might be when rifling a drive over the top and then
Garde sprinted down the right to thud one at Schmeichel from Overmars' pass.
Phil Neville went off feeling his hamstring with 15 minutes left, Johnsen
briefly reverting to defence as Ole Solksjaer came on before David May replaced
And perhaps that was the crucial error. May had not touched the ball when
Bergkamp's touch found Anelka, whose overhead pass sent Overmars into the box.
This time, at last, Overmars was decisive and clinical, the finish brooking no
Anelka, racing past Dennis Irwin, could have finished it off five minutes
later, Schmeichel saving with his legs before joining the frantic late siege.
But the Dane only succeeded in damaging his knee trying to chase back from the
Arsenal, and even a pitch protest - ended by Nigel Winterburn grabbing the
miscreant - did not unhinge the visitors.
This time United could not rescue themselves. The title race is alive again
and Ferguson's Champions' League worries are massive. All changed, changed
Man Utd: Schmeichel, G. Neville, Irwin, Johnsen (May 79),
Beckham, Cole, Sheringham, P. Neville (Solskjaer 77), Scholes,
Berg, Curtis (Thornley 52).
Subs Not Used: McClair, Van Der Gouw.
Booked: G. Neville, Sheringham.
Arsenal: Manninger, Dixon, Winterburn, Vieira, Adams, Bergkamp,
Overmars, Wreh (Anelka 66), Keown, Parlour (Garde 70), Petit.
Subs Not Used: Grimandi, Lukic, Hughes.
Booked: Anelka, Adams, Dixon.
Goals: Overmars 79.