that, on 18 minutes, Phil Jones was the first of four first-half bookings for United after a committed challenge on Arteta. Undeterred, United’s no.4 went on a rampaging run from midfield, linking first with Rooney and then van Persie, whose lofted cross was a glorious invitation to level matters, but Jones’ header was misdirected from eight yards. His first goal of 2012/13 will have to wait.
Arsenal had the better of the early first-half play; always lively in central positions and looking capable of opening up United’s defence. On one such occasion, Lukas Podolski forced a save from De Gea with a powerful shot from a tight angle after 32 minutes. But United grasped control and finished the half as the stronger side and, indeed, on level terms. On 39 minutes, Nani broke away down the left and crossed for van Persie, whose header from point-blank range struck Szczesny in the face, and two minutes later Jones headed wide again from an arcing Antonio Valencia cross.
It was in the 43rd minute that the equaliser arrived. Van Persie capitalised on Bacari Sagna’s mistake and raced into the box. Sagna, attempting to recover, slid in and although he touched the ball he completely wiped out his former team-mate. The Dutchman faced resounding boos as he placed the ball on the spot, but he is just too cool and, totally unflustered, he smashed his spot-kick high into the net to level the scores and complete an entertaining half.
Attacking intent from both teams was equally evident in the second half, but United continued to look the more dangerous in front of goal as Rafael fired a 54th-minute shot over the bar and two minutes later Rooney latched onto a Patrice Evra cross but headed the ball into the ground, which Szczesny held. The tackles continued to fly in too, and Sagna could consider himself lucky to stay on the field for a wild, late challenge on Evra.