New Year cheer had to be put on hold after 2011 fizzled out with defeat against Blackburn and 2012 began on a similarly flat note at Newcastle.
But a subsequent run of victories meant Sir Alex's men finished the month level on 54 points with Manchester City at the top of the table.
The month began at St James' Park, where Sir Alex made a point of praising the travelling Reds for their “absolutely fantastic” support. But stunning strikes from Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye condemned United to a second successive Premier League defeat, with a Phil Jones headed own goal capping off a shocking night in the north-east.
Joy was restored four days later, though, when Paul Scholes announced his surprise return from retirement and helped United to a 3-2 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup. Scholes, on as a second half substitute, slipped back into the old routine immediately, emerging from the experience with a 97 per cent pass completion rate.
There was more good news as United returned to league action the following weekend. And it was Scholes who set the ball rolling in a comfortable 3-0 victory over Bolton by tucking home a Wayne Rooney cross just before the break.
The Reds expected much more of a challenge at the Emirates, and with City netting a late winner against Tottenham in the day's earlier kick-off, a good performance was vital. United passed the test with flying colours, helped by a man-of-the-match showing from Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian headed the Reds in front and, by now filling in at right-back, marauded into the Arsenal box to set up Welbeck’s winner. There was no 8-2 scoreline on this occasion, but the three points were every bit as welcome.