Arsenal 1 United 3- Mathiesons verdict

Last updated : 01 February 2010 By Manchester Evening News

Some might even had more faith in the American owners coming good than the £18m import in 2007 doing the business for the Reds.

When Sir Alex Ferguson publicly trumpeted his star buy, there were quiet chuckles privately and accusations of blind faith.

The betting was that the ex-Sporting Lisbon player would take a flight home permanently when his national colleague Cristiano Ronaldo left last summer.

Rather than opening the entrance door for his pal, it was more a case of probably United leaving the Old Trafford exit door ajar for him.

That wasn't being cruel to the winger - it was a majority held verdict that he had been a largely anonymous disappointment despite a couple of spectacular goals and equally spectacular celebrations.

But we are all having to re-evaluate Nani now.

Last May, at the Emirates Nani wasn't even in Fergie's 17 stripped for action against the Gunners in the Champions League semi-final.

He had appeared as a sub for 16 minutes in the league match at Middlesbrough sandwiched between the two big Euro games - so clearly wasn't considered a vital cog in the well-oiled Old Trafford winning machine.

But that May evening in London was Ronaldo's night and wherever Nani watched his mate's exhibition, he must have wondered if he would ever deliver a similar display.

On Sunday, in the capital at the same venue Nani drew many comparisons with his first-half performance that smashed Arsene Wenger's title plans that had been developing nicely in north London.

In a re-run of United's scintillating second-leg effort nine months ago, the Reds took Arsenal to pieces with speed and clinical finishing as their recent confidence rebuilding programme came to fruition.

Described as the biggest game of the season by the United boss, his side certainly took the importance of the occasion on board and proved that once again this title race is going to be contested by just two horses.

But it was very much nip-and-tuck effort between these pair of veteran gunslingers until Nani's piece of magic in the 33rd minute completely knocked the stuffing out of the Gunners.

Just like Ronaldo, he had to suffer howls of derision from the Arsenal crowd who believed he'd made a meal of a tackle by Song that saw the midfielder booked.

But like his right-wing predecessor, he was impervious to the abuse or more likely responded positively to it.

The £80m world-record transfer fee man couldn't have opened up Arsenal's left flank with more ease than Nani did when he baffled Clichy and Nasri to jink out of a tight corner and glide past Denilson.

He then guided in a cross that was drifting sublimely towards Ji-sung Park at the far post before desperate keeper Manuel Almunia got a touch to help it home.

To cement the comparisons to United's European semi-destruction of the Gunners, the Reds streaked away after 37 minutes when Wayne Rooney released Nani to steam forward just as Ronaldo did for the Reds' third goal last May.

The Nani-of-old might have kept going head down and blazed a chance over but he kept his head, waited for assistance and then delivered a perfect ball for Rooney to sweep home his 100th Premier League goal with his right foot.

Had Nani been able to show the same composure in the 41st minute he'd have capped a sensational first-half contribution.

That particular clanger when he drove wide a great opportunity didn't matter too much because Arsenal, without a goal-scoring spark of note, were effectively a spent force.

Any hope from Wenger that he might engineer a comeback of sorts was buried when Park also showed a clean pair of heels to an Arsenal defence who couldn't keep up with the Reds again in this kind of mood.

Michael Carrick unleashed the Korean and for once while everyone was barking for him to feed Nani he showed that there is a cool finisher in there as he ignored the possibilities of securing a simple assist for himself by slotting home.

Arsenal managed to cook up a decent finale with United's help as they executed a late flourish that had the champions wobbling at times.

Those nervous minutes were sparked by Vermaelen driven strike in the 80th minute when United struggled to clear.

It turned a picnic into something of a panic as the Reds discovered what it is like for opponents when they famously turn on all the burners late on.

United survived, and Arsenal, who now face Chelsea - 3-0 winners at the Emirates in November - probably went home realising the two sides who will contest the Spring run-in were the ones to clearly prove their credentials on the Gunners' manor.


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Source: Manchester Evening News

Source: M.E.N.