Red mist at Old Trafford

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Patrick Viera became the 54th player to be sent off for Arsenal in a match that has once again shrouded the game in controversy.

Arsenal’s players, led by Martin Keown, seemed to confront the Dutchman – Ruud van Nistelrooy – after the final whistle blew, and seemed to physically attack him. Other players involved included Lauren and Ashley Cole.

Viera, who had hardly made an impact in the game, was sent off after intentionally kicking out at Van Nistelrooy after he had fouled him. Van Nistelrooy was then made the primary target of abuse from the Arsenal players.

The first half was played at almost walking pace, with very few chances for either side. Arsenal looked comfortable on the ball with some good one-touch passing, but Henry was very minimally involved. Manchester United were finding it hard to find their feet in the game, with passes going astray, they hardly troubled Arsenal’s goalkeeper in a slow passive opening 20 minutes.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the only bright spark of the game, with his mazy runs and stopovers troubling the Arsenal defence, especially Ashley Cole, who found it hard to contain the youngster, and was consequently nibbling at his ankles to get the ball of him, only to concede a number of free kicks.

Giggs, who has taken on the role of free kick-taker for United, could have opened the lead with a curling free kick 35 yards out, which was left by everyone, including the Lehmann, who could only stand and watch as the ball flew by him and hit the outside of the post.

United began to find their hold on the game and with Ronaldo being felled by Cole near the corner flag, United were awarded another free kick. Giggs again whipped in the ball as Lehmann, unconvincingly came for the ball, to no avail, and the ball ended at the back post, where Ruud Van Nistelrooy – who is so lethal in that situation – could only direct his header on to the roof of the net.

Roy Keane was reprimanded with a yellow card after his late challenge on Lauren, but there were no signs of fiery passion as the tackles were limited and the game failed to gather momentum with a stop start play.

Arsenal’s real first chance came in the 25th minute, after the Gunners counter from their own box saw Henry outpace the defence on the left hand side before slipping it in for Cole, who powered through before unleashing his shot from outside the box, just wide of the right hand post.

There was a moment of controversy when Van Nistelrooy found Ronaldo on the right, whose cross was blocked by Ashley Cole, according to television replays, by the use of the arm, but united only won a corner.

Arsenal looked the livelier of the two teams in the opening minutes of the second half, creating more opportunities, but it was United who had the best chance of the second half after Van Nistelrooy found the young Portuguese open on the right.

Toure, who was uncomfortable in the first half, fouled Van Nistelrooy and was given a yellow card, although the referee could have allowed play to continue as Ronaldo was in possession in acres of space.

United moved the tempo to another level as they ran attacks on the Arsenal goal, but were kept out with some desperate defending.

Van Nistelrooy had the best chance after Gary Neville threw a long ball but Van Nistelrooy couldn’t find the right angle and his shot was comfortably collected by Lehmann.

Arsenal didn’t have any real attempts at goal with none of their six shots on target, whereas United landed six of their eight at Lehmann’s goal, though there was no venom in any of them.

Arsenal’s disciplinary record worsened with the sending off of Viera, who was booked for a challenge on Fortune on the touchline. Viera was sent off after reacting to Van Nistelrooy, who jumped for a header but only ended up taking him down, but stupidly, Viera lashed out with dangerous intent at the Dutchman and was given his marching orders. Van Nistelrooy was also booked for the initial challenge.

The final minutes contained more action than the whole of the match.

Within injury time, United had put together a number of passes and got the ball wide to Gary Neville, who put in a beautiful low cross that Forlan was destined to reach, but veteran Arsenal defender, Martin Keown, tried to prevent the ball reaching Forlan and instead brought him to the ground for a United penalty.

Up stepped "Mr Reliable", Van Nistelrooy, who had missed his previous two penalties, came up pumped, and all United fans, including the manager, expected the ball in the back of the net. How disappointed they were.

As Lehmann danced on his line, Van Nistelrooy prepared to put United in front, but to his agony, blasted his shot on to the cross bar. Lehmann was clearly shown to be off his line before the ball was struck, and to some, that would be seen as double standards as goal keepers have been made examples of in other matches for moving of their line, which results in a re-taken penalty kick.

United will see this as two points dropped, while Arsenal will be happy to regain top position in the Premiership. We will have to wait and see what the referee and the FA make of the incident after the final whistle. A few suspensions and fines look likely to Arsene Wenger, who surely did not see the incident.