MANCHESTER // Two goals and a man down, the visiting supporters broke into a chorus. "We want our Arsenal back," they sang. But their Arsenal, a man in keeping with the club's greatest traditions, was a reason for their defeat. Arsenal were beaten by their past.
All too predictably, Robin van Persie set Manchester United on their way to victory against his former team. Patrice Evra added to the Dutchman's third-minute goal before Jack Wilshere was dismissed but a reunion nevertheless revolved around Van Persie.
The scorer of 132 goals for Arsenal opted not to celebrate a first against them.
"He's done the right thing," said Sir Alex Ferguson. He behaved properly in front of goal, too, Van Persie latched on to Thomas Vermaelen's poor clearance to angle his shot past Vito Mannone, the former Arsenal striker benefiting from an error from his successor as captain.
The goal had its roots, however, in a right-wing break with Antonio Valencia deceiving Andre Santos with a deft flick to release Rafael da Silva to cross.
"It was a special day," said Van Persie. Had he scored a second, it would have been still more special.
Mannone flung himself to his right to palm away a shot by the Dutchman, supplied expertly by Wayne Rooney. Indeed, the Englishman should have doubled the lead. One stinging shot was parried by Mannone before he dragged a penalty wide after Santi Cazorla handled Ashley Young's cross.
United's only regret was their profligacy.
"We should have scored five or six," Ferguson said. Valencia and Van Persie were other culprits before the second goal came from a more unexpected source. For the second time in a month, the diminutive figure of Evra headed in.
The game's final goal was also its finest, a glorious but irrelevant strike by Cazorla, who curled a shot into the top corner.
"We had a lot of the ball but we were not very efficient in the final third," Wenger said. Their problems were compounded by their mistakes in defensive areas and the departure of the man who inherited Van Persie's No 10 shirt.
On the second game of his comeback, Jack Wilshere collected a second caution and was dismissed.
"It was not deserved," Wenger said. "He went for the ball." But he missed it and, like Tom Cleverley, had already received a final warning from Mike Dean, the referee. Ferguson promptly substituted his midfielder, while Wenger left his on, only to see him go off anyway.
Van Persie, too, diced with danger when he chopped down Bacary Sagna. Otherwise, however, he was not surprisingly outstanding.
"I thought Robin was fantastic," said Ferguson. And for Arsenal, there was an unfortunate inevitability about it.