MANCHESTER, England // Manchester United went two points clear at the top of the Premier League after Park Ji-sung's 41st minute goal gave Alex Ferguson's side a 1-0 victory in the high-stakes game with Arsenal at Old Trafford yesterday.
United was the better side throughout and would have won by a more handsome margin had Wayne Rooney not missed a 73rd-minute penalty after Gael Clichy had handled inside the area.
Arsenal, who started the game at the top, failed to sparkle and struggled to test the United defense.
United never looked troubled once it took control with Park's sixth goal of the season four minutes before half time, a clever header from Nani's deflected cross.
Ferguson praised Park's performance and admitted the midfielder will be missed when he links up with South Korea for the 2011 Asian Cup tournament in Qatar, Jan. 7-29.
"He's in fantastic form and we lose him after Dec. 26 for the Asian Cup for seven matches which is disappointing," Ferguson said.
"Arsenal came back in the second half and pegged us back, but we had some good chances on the counter attack and deserved the victory."
Arsenal gave a Premier League debut to 20-year-old Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny and he made some crucial saves, including a spectacular stop to deny Rooney in the 85th minute, but United still edged it.
The match was seen by some as a chance for Arsenal, which has not won a trophy since 2005, to prove its title credentials, but manager Arsene Wenger insisted the team's supporters should not lose hope.
"It's a big frustration, a big disappointment," he said. "What's important is that we bounce back in the next game against Stoke on Saturday.
"After what I've seen tonight, there's no reason not to believe."
The match between two of the Premier League's powerhouses was watched at Old Trafford by a capacity crowd including 23 of the Chilean miners who were rescued in October, as well as United's former midfielder David Beckham.
They were not treated to a classic as both sides struggled to create clearcut chances.
Szczesny, half the age of United's 40-year-old veteran keeper Edwin van der Sar, had his fingers stung by Rooney from 22 yards (meters) in the ninth minute, but it was the one of few saves the youngster was called to make.
Arsenal responded through Marouane Chamakh but his 12th-minute header failed to trouble Van der Sar.
United started with Dimitar Berbatov, the league's leading scorer with 11 goals, on the substitutes' bench, and his side looked to be missing his impact when Nani fired wide after Sebastien Squillaci failed to properly clear Darren Fletcher's 23rd-minute cross.
Both teams had claims for a penalty turned down, Chamakh's appeal waved away by referee Howard Webb after he appeared to be blocked by Rafael da Silva before Chamakh was lucky to escape at the other end when the ball seemed to strike his hand.
But with half time approaching, United took control through Park. Wenger may want to know why his defenders allowed one of the smallest players on the pitch to head Nani's deflected 41st minute cross past Szczesny, but it was still an impressive finish as the South Korea international managed to bend backward and direct a looping header in.
United was superior after half time without managing to build on their lead.
Szczensy rescued Arsenal after dashing off his line to block Anderson's shot following Rooney's intelligent 54th-minute pass, then Nani fired wastefully over the bar after slack defending by Clichy before Rooney's penalty miss in front of watching England manager Fabio Capello.
Wenger sent on Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie midway through the second half but the attacking change failed to rescue Arsenal.
Indeed, Rooney was handed an opportunity five minutes from time to atone for his penalty blunder but Szczesny managed to scramble the striker's chipped effort away.