Ferdinand never doubted United
Rio Ferdinand insists Manchester United's rapid rise up the Premier League has not taken him by surprise.
It is just a calendar month since United were spinning towards a damaging defeat at Aston Villa at the end of a week that had started with a narrow escape against Wolverhampton Wanderers and a tame derby draw with Manchester City.
United appeared incapable of sustaining a title challenge and major questions were being asked of the quality in Sir Alex Ferguson's squad. The turnaround in fortunes since then has been staggering. In the final ten minutes, goals from Federico Macheda and Nemanja Vidic secured a point even Ferguson admitted his side did not deserve at Villa Park.
That result has been followed by three successive wins, including a seven-goal mauling of Blackburn Rovers and last night's deserved success over Arsenal, and as their rivals have struggled, now United find themselves two points clear and also have a match in hand thanks to that postponed trip to Blackpool earlier this month.
Most Red Devils supporters are scratching their heads at exactly how it has happened. But Ferdinand insists he never lost faith. "I do believe it," he said. "When I look around the changing room I see a fantastic bunch of players. I never doubt them or what they are capable of. If we concentrate and are focused on doing the things we are asked, we are difficult to play against."
In a season when the input of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville has reduced markedly, Ferguson's present side are proving they retain the same obdurate traits. Whilst at Villa they required fortitude and a refusal to accept defeat, last night was more about defensive discipline.
The balance of play may have favoured Arsenal but clear cut chances mostly fell United's way. Indeed, Arsenal's only clear sight of goal came when Edwin van der Sar parried Samir Nasri's shot into the path of Marouane Chamakh, only for captain Nemanja Vidic to make an excellent block.
"I have always maintained it is not just about defending as a back four and a goalkeeper," said Ferdinand, who scooped the man-of-the-match prize. "We score together and we concede together. If we are defending right from the front we are a hard team to play against.
"The game plan was get in their faces and put pressure on them. We couldn't afford to give a team like Arsenal time. If you do that they will hurt you because they have quality players all over the park. I am glad to say we didn't."
Victory extended United's unbeaten start to 16 matches, a new club record. More importantly, they can approach Sunday's trip to Chelsea relieved of pressure, knowing it would not be a disaster if they found themselves held to what would be an eighth draw of the campaign.
Ferguson even had the satisfaction of leaving Dimitar Berbatov on the bench for the entire game, the first United had played in the league since he scored five against Rovers. It is decisions such as that which maybe prove United have more strength in depth than most observers believe, and could yet propel them towards a coveted 19th championship.
Not that Ferdinand is allowing himself to look too far ahead, or read too much into statistics. "It is not about trying to go through the season unbeaten," said the England captain. "It is about what you finish up with at the end of the year.
"This was a very big result for us. It is not a defining result but it is the kind of result you are looking for against one of the teams who are also at the top of the table. Last year we probably didn't do as well against the big teams as we should have. This was a good way to start."