This Premiership season is baffling its audience with the finesse of a great illusionist. Manchester United, who looked for much of the day as if they had too much know-how for the opposition, were transformed into losers over the closing seven minutes. Elsewhere, of course, authoritative
Arsène Wenger's promising line-up is still at the development stage and it appeared that the manager would take no more from this fixture than notes on all the areas needing improvement. Many visitors to the Emirates leave only one player in attack once the ball has been lost, but United had not been bogged down and, thanks to the passing of men such as Michael Carrick, they could sit deep without becoming vulnerable.
Or so it looked. Although an opener from Wayne Rooney did not inspire an immediate surge from Arsenal, there is talent in the ranks and it can always splutter into life. With 83 minutes gone, Tomas Rosicky's deep, low cross from the right was beautifully converted by the substitute Robin van Persie from an angle beyond the far post.
By then nothing could be trusted any more, not even the apparently failsafe defending of Nemanja Vidic. It was equally unwise to assume Thierry Henry was stuck in the doldrums. Emmanuel Eboué worked a one-two with Rosicky and Henry exploited a pocket of space behind the Serb to head the full-back's delivery high beyond Edwin van der Sar.
Arsenal had been toothless. It is iro
Arsenal had nothing much to look back on other than speculative grievances. Henry wanted a penalty in the 37th minute when Gary Neville stuck out a leg and then pulled it away again, but it was hard to tell if there had been significant contact. In view of the course of the match, it made sense that United should go on to take the lead.
With 53 minutes gone, Ronaldo passed down the left to the overlapping Patrice Evra and his long delivery was headed home from an angle by the poorly marked Rooney. The visitors had the aura then of a seasoned team and no one could have supposed that the steady and accomplished Evra would find Arsenal exploiting his flank in their recovery.
The goals for Wenger's side, all the same, were nudges to remind observers of the quality this manager possesses. They were agonising pokes in the ribs to United, who could not have anticipated such telling crosses or such sharp marksmanship by Van Persie and Henry. As it is, United have been beaten home and away by Arsenal in this Premiership campaign. That is out of kilter with the authority Ferguson's line-up has exuded over recent months and this game, as well, had largely gone to plan before everything went radically wrong.
Sometimes football moves in very mysterious, very mischievous ways. Just when Manchester United were preparing to celebrate a victory that would have brought the title within touching distance, Arsenal knocked the
The story of United leaving Ashburton Grove empty-handed, following long spells in control, can only be told through the visitors' rare defensive lapses and the remarkable resilience of the hosts. Arsenal just refused to give up, echoing the great trait of United under Sir Alex Ferguson. "Football, bloody hell!" as someone famously once remarked.
As the 83rd minute was reached at the Emirates Stadium, with United leading through Wayne Rooney's header and seemingly content to run down the famous clock, too many question marks clung to second-placed
The Premiership race was surely run. Rooney was revitalised, Scholes majestic, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra unbeatable. Arsenal were still a work in progress,
How fortune can turn in seconds. Take Evra. United's full-back had been outstanding for 83 minutes, electric down the left, even creating Rooney's goal just after the break. But then he was caught out by Tomas Rosicky, whose cross was rammed home by Robin van Persie.
Lady Luck was now smiling on Arsenal, and utterly deserting Vidic. United's tall Serb had been a colossus, repelling everything on the ground and in the air, proving the very model of the muscular, mobile modern centre-half.
Yet when Emmanuel Eboue sped past Evra deep into injury time, Vidic lost Thierry Henry, whose header thudded into the net like an arrow into United's heart. Again the sporting gods were in quixotic mood. Henry himself had done nothing of note until then, apart from heading straight at Edwin van der Sar in the first half. But the dauphin of the grand flourish produced one moment of marvellous athleticism and timing, climbing high to his head into the headlines. Abramovich has always admired Henry, even bidding £50 million for the elegant predator, and the Russian's regard will have intensified yesterday. Henry, and Van Persie, have kept
Having threatened to sue him a little more than a year ago, Arsène Wenger does not make a habit of doing favours for José Mourinho, but yesterday he gave the put-upon Portuguese a glimmer of hope in more ways than one. With Arsenal scoring twice in the last ten minutes to complete a remarkable comeback, Manchester United's lead at the top of the Premiership remains six points, although of perhaps greater significance was the manner in which the visiting side threw away a game they had appeared to be controlling.
If three points can be sacrificed so casually, Mourinho will tell his players, then what else will slip through United's grasp before the end of the season? With
After Wayne Rooney's first goal in eight matches produced little response, even Wenger was assuming that United would be crowned champions, but he reckoned without the contributions of his own strikers, Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry.
It was not all good news for the Dutchman as he suffered a fractured metatarsal while bringing his side level. He met Tomas Rosicky's low cross at the far post in the 83rd minute before Henry won the game in the third minute of stoppage time, heading Emmanuel Eboué's cross past Edwin van der Sar. Pity poor Patrice Evra, who had been the game's outstanding player.
There are four months left in the Premier League's title marathon but, according to the Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, Manchester United were "10 minutes from being champions" yesterday. Then Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry scored for Arsenal, transforming a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory over the League leaders.
However, Wenger's joy was tempered by the news that Van Persie had broken the fifth metatarsal on his right foot in scoring his goal. It is the same injury Wayne Rooney suffered before last year's World Cup and can be expected to keep the Dutchman out until April.
Arsenal's victory completed a compelling weekend's action at the division's summit which has resulted in bringing Arsenal and Liverpool, who beat
Arsenal won at Old Trafford earlier this season and Henry said: "Doing the double over them is a pleasure. A win against Manchester United is always special but especially the way we did it today. It can't be better than to be 1-0 down and come back at the end and win."
Henry, who wasted a chance when he put a free header straight at the United goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, in the first half, added: "I scored with my head so it must have been pretty special. I wanted to make sure to at least make it difficult for Edwin and I got the ball in the back of the net."