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Robin van Persie struck inside three minutes against his former club as Manchester United eased to a 2-1 victory over 10-man Arsenal at Old Trafford.
The Netherlands striker reminded the visiting supporters of his talents in the opening moments in a Barclays Premier League contest United dominated from the outset. Wayne Rooney missed United’ s fourth penalty of the season but Patrice Evra added a second and Arsenal’s misery was compounded by the sending-off of Jack Wilshere before Santi Cazorla curled in an injury-time consolation.
Van Persie needed little time to remind the Gunners of what they lost when he left the Emirates Stadium in the summer. Arsenal’s defensive frailties were 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 antagonising Arsenal supporters further by deciding not to celebrate.
United 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’s flank seemed a fruitful avenue for the hosts, with Valencia troubling the Brazilian at every opportunity. Van Persie went close again as he raced on to a defence-slitting pass by Rooney but Mannone saved well.
Arsenal did show some positive intent with Aaron Ramsey reaching the byline but David de Gea pushed away his cross. At the other end Valencia 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 their lead on the stroke of half-time after Cazorla handled an Ashley Young cross at point-blank range just inside the box but Rooney dragged the spot-kick wide.
United were close to doubling their 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 in front of goal. 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 which he fired against the near post from a tight angle.
Van Persie was booked after a late challenge on Sagna but was back in a 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, who was booked in the first half, was penalised for one bad tackle too many, this time on Evra, and saw red.
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.
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