United end Arsenal's unbeaten run
Rooney's late goal gave him a memorable 19th birthday
MANCHESTER, England -- Ruud van Nistelrooy's 73rd minute penalty and Wayne Rooney's last-minute tap-in ended Arsenal's 49-game unbeaten league run and revitalized Manchester United's title challenge at Old Trafford.
United's 2-0 victory was Arsenal's first league loss since they went down 3-2 at home to Leeds on May 4, 2003, but the Gunners still lead the Premiership by two points from Chelsea.
United are now within eight points of their old rivals after winning a scrappy and often niggly encounter.
Van Nistelrooy hit the crossbar from the penalty spot, costing United victory in a stormy fixture at Old Trafford last season but he stepped up unhesitatingly after referee Mike Riley ruled that Sol Campbell had tripped Rooney in the area.
The Dutch striker sent Jens Lehmann the wrong way and fired accurately into the other corner.
Rooney, who had been ineffectual for much of the match on his 19th birthday, made an even more telling contribution in the final minute when he tapped home unmarked after an excellent run and cross from sub Alan Smith.
The whole of the first half was a poor spectacle with many unpleasant challenges which referee Riley chose to treat with tolerance for more than half an hour.
There was little flowing football in the opening period but United had a good chance in the eighth minute only for Campbell to block a shot from Ryan Giggs.
Arsenal were more impressive and were unfortunate when Edu sent Fredrik Ljungberg clear and the Swede appeared to be illegally charged over by Rio Ferdinand. The referee deemed the challenge fair.
United goalkeeper Roy Carroll was alert to thwart Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry as Arsenal continued to create openings and early in the second period Bergkamp shot wide when well positioned from Ljungberg's cross.
Gradually United began to look more dangerous but it needed the penalty award to turn the game their way. Rooney went down under what appeared a fairly light challenge from Campbell but Mr Riley was prompt to point to the penalty spot.
It was his eighth such award in United's favor in eight visits to Old Trafford.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: "I think we were a little bit robbed.I didn't think there was any contact at all.
"Im very disappointed because we were the better side. We had lots of chances but the referee's decision made the difference. From nowhere, Riley has decided the game."
United manager Alex Ferguson said he didn't have a clear view of the penalty incident but added: "I think if someone is brought down in the penalty area, it's a penalty kick.
"The win is a tremendous boost for us. If we continue to work as hard as that, we will get results."
Newcastle moved up to sixth place with a thrilling 4-3 win over Manchester City at St James's Park.
After a goalless first half Newcastle looked to have taken charge with goals from Laurent Robert and Alan Shearer (penalty) in the first nine minutes of the second session.
Shaun Wright-Phillips and Robbie Fowler (penalty) struck in a three-minute spell to level matters but Robbie Elliott sent United back in front two minutes after that.
Wright-Phillips equalized after 77 minutes but with a minute left Craig Bellamy went some way to placating manager Graeme Souness for their recent rows, by hitting the winner.
Middlesbrough trailed to a fourth minute Diomansy Kamara effort for Portsmouth, but then laid siege to the visitors' goal and equalized through Stewart Downing with 18 minutes left.