Valencia stars as Man United wins 2-1 at Arsenal
Updated: January 22, 2012, 14:20
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LONDON(AP) Manchester United's Antonio Valencia gave his best impression of Cristiano Ronaldo on Sunday, scoring one goal and setting up another to give his side a 2-1 win at Arsenal that keeps the pressure on Premier League leader Manchester City.
Rekindling memories of Ronaldo's seven stellar years with United, Ecuador winger Valencia headed United into the lead in first-half injury time and darted into the area with nine minutes left to present Danny Welbeck with the chance to smash a winner past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Robin van Persie's 71st-minute equalizer - his 19th league goal of the season - counted for little.
The result kept the defending champions within three points of City and further threatened the Gunners' chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League.
"We created an amazing amount of chances and to only score two is a bit disappointing,'' United manager Alex Ferguson said. "We should have rammed home our advantage in the first half.
"We were really adventurous, positive and had a great belief in ourselves.''
Arsenal is five points behind fourth-place Chelsea and 18 behind City.
Home fans jeered manager Arsene Wenger's decision to substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with the score at 1-1, and many left after watching the young winger's replacement - Andrey Arshavin - decide not to challenge Valencia as he broke forward to set up the winning goal.
"I can understand that fans are upset about the substitution, especially when it doesn't work,'' said Wenger, adding that Oxlade-Chamberlain was tired and carrying a calf problem. "People pay their tickets and are free to express their emotions and we have to deal with that.
"That doesn't mean they are right always.''
Wenger also left fan favorite Thierry Henry out of the squad, and the on-loan New York Red Bulls striker watched from the stands while Ryan Giggs showed the difference a veteran can make to big games.
The 38-year-old former Wales international showed a glimpse of his old pace by twisting and turning up the inside right channel to win a free kick on the edge of the area.
That chance amounted to nothing but his next significant contribution was to float in the left-wing cross that Valencia headed in at the far post.
United enjoyed plenty of possession with Michael Carrick probing patiently from deep and Giggs, in his 48th game against Arsenal, showing mobility and vision to consistently put the ball into dangerous areas.
Wayne Rooney was too deep to be a real goal threat, and Nani wasted United's best first-half chance when he rolled the ball across goal with both Rooney and Welbeck unmarked and screaming for a pass.
Van Persie made United pay for its missed chances, atoning for an uncharacteristic earlier miss with a first-time finish across goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard and in at the far post.
That roused the home fans but Valencia showed quick feet to cut into the area, exchange passes with substitute Park Ji-sung and lay the ball off to Welbeck. The striker, who had few opportunities to impress until then, thrashed the ball into the net.
Van Persie was largely isolated by Wenger's decision to play a five-man midfield and the only time winger Theo Walcott looked truly menacing was when United right back Phil Jones collapsed with what looked like a serious injury and left his opponent unopposed.
When he next got the ball in a promising area, Walcott leaned back and smashed Oxlade-Chamberlain's 25th-minute cross high over the bar and into the crowd.
But United's victory came at a cost, with Jones carried off the field in the 17th with what appeared to be an ankle injury, Nani limping off in the second half and Rooney hobbling at the end following a heavy challenge from Alex Song.