Rooney, Man U top Arsenal to stay one back of leader Chelsea

The Canadian Press
1/31/2010 3:49:12 PM
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LONDON -- Wayne Rooney scored his 100th Premier League goal Sunday as Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-1 to subdue a title rival while maintaining the pressure on leader Chelsea.

While Rooney claimed the goals milestone, the blistering pace of Nani was the key ingredient to securing United's third straight win and its first in the league at the Emirates Stadium.

"That was my best game. I played well, scoring and getting an assist," Nani said. "I can feel the confidence of my teammates, the fans and the manager."

The opener came after 33 minutes when Nani stormed down the right and goalkeeper Manuel Almunia palmed in his cross when trying to swat it away. Nani was the provider again four minutes later, squaring for Rooney to score.

Any hopes of an Arsenal comeback were ended by Park Ji-sung ripping through the defence before slotting home seven minutes into the second half, although Thomas Vermaelen scored a late consolation goal.

United finishes the weekend still a point behind Chelsea, which has a game in hand, but four ahead of Arsenal. First plays third next weekend in a match that could end Arsenal's title bid.

"It's that time of year when we really need to kick on," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "We need Chelsea to drop points. Arsenal are not out of it, I hope Arsenal go to Stamford Bridge and batter them."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger didn't share Ferguson's optimism.

"We need something special now to stay in the race. It's a massive blow today," Wenger said. "It's difficult to accept, but easy to explain because we were poor defensively and offensively. That's why we were well beaten. We gave them too much room and we were naive."

The Frenchman's comments contrasted with his pre-match declaration that Arsenal is a "different animal" to the one that meekly capitulated to United in last season's Champions League semifinal here.

For a team without a trophy since 2005, this was a wasted chance after spending the two months since being trounced 3-0 by Chelsea, slashing the 11-point gap from the top.

Vermaelen did make a series of crucial clearances to thwart United, having been passed fit after fears he broke his leg in Wednesday's draw at Aston Villa.

But Nani tormented the Gunners, demonstrating he can fill part of the large void left by fellow Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo's exit.

For the first goal, he skipped past two Arsenal defenders before cutting past Cesc Fabregas and raising the ball toward the far post, where Park was lurking, only to see Almunia tip it into his own net.

"I put the ball into the goal so it should be my goal," Nani said. "I did everything to make it happen. I was very confident and the dribble worked very well."

Arsenal tried to provide an immediate response, but after Fabregas' shot was blocked, United launched an electric counterattack, started and ended by Rooney.

The England forward picked up the ball inside his own half and galloped forward before feeding Nani, who returned the ball for Rooney to claim his 22nd goal of the season.

"Rooney was unbelievable. He was the key player and they couldn't handle him," Ferguson said. "He's down to earth and won't change because that's who he is. That's refreshing in this day and age of celebrity-type footballers with lots of money, but he never changes when some people do change with success."

United, chasing a fourth straight title, dominated play in midfield and the third goal came as Michael Carrick and Park combined on the break at the start of the second half.

Carrick chipped the ball forward the onrushing Park, who faced little resistance before beating Almunia to essentially put the game beyond reach.

"Counterattack has always been a part of our game, particularly away from home," Ferguson said. "Arsenal play a lot of good football and get to the edge of the box regularly, so if you can get the ball, you've got a chance against them."

Arsenal pulled one back in the 80th when Samir Nasri's cross was headed back by William Gallas and Vermaelen's diving scissors kick took a deflection off United defender Jonny Evans.

"We must prepare to come back stronger. It's our job not to feel sorry for ourselves," Wenger said. "Chelsea is a good opportunity to show we are united and strong."

There will be no new faces in Arsenal's squad by Sunday, with Wenger ruling out any business before the transfer window closes Monday.

Wayne Rooney (Photo: CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)


(Photo: CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
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