Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal: Van Persie header the difference as Moyes earns signature win (video)

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David Moyes now has a signature win, the first of his tenure at Manchester United.

The highly built-up match may not have entirely lived up to its billing, but in a game of few clear chances Robin van Persie was just that much more clinical than his former club as Manchester United take the 1-0 victory over Arsenal.

David Moyes’ side started out bright, a good side for the home crowd, dominating possession and taking the early searching chances.  Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, began content with playing on the counter-attack, which Arsenal do so well.

United slowly built in the physical battle, although there wasn’t much in terms of chances for either side.  Until the goal, that is.

Robin van Persie busted the roof off Old Trafford and has given new life to United’s season when he cut behind Aaron Ramsey and beat Olivier Giroud in the air to connect his head to a corner and bury it in the back of the net.  Arsenal sorely missed Per Mertesacker, who was deemed to be too sick with a virus to play.

His goal – and subsequent emphatic celebration – assures his full transformation from Gunner to Red Devil and put Manchester United fully on top in the first half.  They continued to press Arsenal and kept the visiting defenders working hard.

Old Trafford saw a pair of scary moments that reminded us how dangerous the 6-yard box can be. A corner saw Arsenal goalkeeper Wojiech Szczesny end up motionless on the ground after colliding heads with United defender Phil Jones.  Szczesny was soon to his feet, but not after he regained his senses with medical staff crouched over him. Jones puzzlingly received a yellow card from referee Michael Oliver.

Nemanja Vidic himself received a blow to the head on the other end a few minutes later when he went headfirst into the hip of David De Gea and remained on the ground for a number of minutes.  He wobbled off the pitch and into the tunnel with a bloody lip and was replaced after halftime by Tom Cleverley.

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Phil Jones earned himself NBCSN’s Man of the Match award with his work both in the defensive midfield and in central defense.

Arsenal continued to play on the counter-attack in the second half, giving Manchester United tons of time on possession but also building a chance or two. Mesut Ozil fired just high and wide in the 59th minute.

On the other end United began to become dangerous as well. Wayne Rooney had tons of space in the box just minutes later, but he misfired just too far right with a low shot along the ground.  He may have had Szczesny beat had he been on target.

The game offered little after that, as both managers countered with late changes but there wasn’t much there for either side as van Persie’s goal proved the difference.

The work from Phil Jones at the back keeping Olivier Giroud at bay, earning him NBCSN’s Man of the Match award, along with the pace of Wayne Rooney up front were enough to make Santi Cazorla uncomfortable in the midfield and keep Arsenal off their usual game.

Arsenal pushed in stoppage time, with Nicolas Bendtner nearly connecting on a cross from the right and Olivier Giroud firing just wide but the Gunners didn’t have enough.

Arsenal are still in first place following the road defeat, but are now looking over their shoulder with Liverpool still just two points back.  Manchester United jump up to 5th, level with Everton and one behind Chelsea as they now have a view towards reestablishing their annual top-four place.

GOALS:

Manchester United – van Persie 27′

LINEUPS:

Manchester United – De Gea; Smalling, Vidic (Cleverley, 45′), Evans, Evra; Valencia, Jones, Carrick, Kagawa (Giggs, 78′); Rooney, van Persie (Fellaini, 85′).

Arsenal – Sczcesny; Sagna, Koscienly, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta (Gnabry, 82′), Flamini (Wilshere, 61′), Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla (Bendtner, 78′); Giroud.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

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Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

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In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

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In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80