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Monday, Nov. 5, 2012

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Trading places: Manchester United's Robin van Persie scores past Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen during United's 2-1 Premier League win at Old Trafford on Saturday. AP

Van Persie sinks Arsenal as United returns to league summit


LONDON — Robin van Persie helped Manchester United to the top of the English Premier League on Saturday, punishing former club Arsenal with a goal in a 2-1 win as Chelsea's 10½-week stay at the summit came to an end.

Chelsea was held to a 1-1 draw at Swansea after conceding an 88th-minute equalizer to Spanish winger Pablo Hernandez, falling a point behind United after 10 games.

Manchester City could have joined United in leapfrogging the European champions but stayed third after failing to turn dominance into goals in a frustrating 0-0 draw at West Ham.

United is the form team of the three expected title contenders, and in Van Persie it now has the league's top scorer after the Dutchman grabbed his eighth goal of the campaign to set the hosts on their way to a comfortable win at Old Trafford.

Van Persie's low drive in the third minute, after poor defending by Thomas Vermaelen, was added to by Patrice Evra in the 67th, meaning United wasn't forced to pay for Wayne Rooney's missed penalty in first-half injury time.

"It's the first time I've ever played against a former club, so it's a special day," said Van Persie, who refused to celebrate his goal against the side that sold him for £24 million ($38 million) in August.

Everton conceded in the last minute in a 2-2 draw at Fulham but climbed a place to fourth above Tottenham, which was jeered off after surprisingly losing 1-0 at home to Wigan.

Norwich and Aston Villa moved clear of the bottom three by grinding out 1-0 victories, against Stoke and Sunderland respectively.

Van Persie has settled seamlessly into the United team and he showed his old employers just what they are missing this season, shooting low into the corner after Vermaelen fluffed his clearance.

He could have added more goals against an Arsenal team that lacked urgency and pace and looks far from the side that used to regularly contend for titles with United and Chelsea.

Jack Wilshere, playing his second game back after 17 months out injured, was sent off for Arsenal two minutes after Evra's goal for picking up a second booking. The visitors managed a stoppage-time consolation through Santi Cazorla, who handled the ball to concede the penalty to United, but Arsenal remained sixth on 15 points.

"We had a lot of the ball, but we were not very efficient in our final third or in their final third," manager Arsene Wenger said. "Then you feel the domination was a bit illusionary — they created more chances and deserved to win the game."

Hernandez's low strike means Chelsea has won just one of its last four matches in all competitions.

After two straight draining matches against United — a 3-2 loss in the league and a 5-4 extra-time win in the League Cup — Chelsea lacked spark.

"Mentally and physically, it was very demanding playing two times against United," said Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo. "When you are so close to winning away from home, you are always disappointed."

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