IN the space of a few seconds towards the end of the first half at the Emirates Stadium yesterday, Wayne Rooney demonstrated precisely why Manchester United are preparing to offer him the biggest contract in the history of the club. Unlike Cristiano Ronaldo, his predecessor as United's talisman, the England forward cannot wait to sign it.
Rooney has been leading his side's charge for honours for some time, but his 100th Premier League goal may come to be remembered as the clearest illustration of his special gifts.
This was the all-round footballer the nation was promised when a fresh-faced and pale Scouser burst on to the scene as a teenager, possessing a unique blend of skill, vision, athleticism and a rare finishing ability. Rooney's goal, like the player himself, had everything.
World-class sprinters would have been proud of the lung-busting run that took Rooney more than 60 yards from deep in his own half to the edge of Arsenal's penalty area in the 38th minute, yet after demonstrating his impressive speed, he scorned such modern notions as recovery. The 24-year-old had begun the move, picking up Park Ji Sung's clearance to find Nani haring away down the right, and he set off in hot pursuit, parting five Arsenal defenders as Moses did the Red Sea before arriving in a striker's version of the promised land, the opposition penalty area.
On receiving the ball back from Nani he showed the calmness of an assassin, shooting past Manuel Almunia with his first touch for his 22nd goal of the season. Even Alex Ferguson, whose "excited grandad" celebratory jig was more animated than normal, could hardly believe his eyes.
"Rooney was unbelievable," the United manager said. "He was the key point for us because they just couldn't handle him. We've always known he wants to stay as the boy's very happy at the club. He's a down-to-earth boy. He'll not change, that's the way he is."
Ferguson refused to elaborate on the specifics of Rooney's contractual situation, but David Gill, the chief executive, revealed afterwards that the club will open negotiations with his advisers in the summer. Despite their eye-popping debt, United will offer Rooney a new five-year deal worth £150,000 a week to keep him out of the clutches of Real Madrid and Barcelona, destinations he is keen to visit, but only in the Champions League.
"We would hope Wayne would stay with us until he has finished playing," Gill said. "He has a contract to 2012 and that will be addressed during the close season because we would want to put him on a new long-term contract."