By Stephen Wood
LONDON (Reuters) - David Moyes's claim that the Premier League title race will go the distance was lent credibility by his own players in Manchester United's victory over Arsenal - the most significant moment yet of the Scotsman's Old Trafford tenure.
Robin van Persie's winner on Sunday, in a game the Dutch striker described as a "six-pointer", helped repair United's waning reputation as a team for the big occasion.
It was the first time, as United manager, that Moyes had triumphed over a major rival in the league following defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City and a negative goalless draw with Chelsea this season.
And it closed the gap on leaders Arsenal to five points, leaving the top eight teams - from Arsenal to eighth-placed Manchester City - separated by six points.
"We are going to get a few bloody noses along the way but this Premier League has shown it is not just Manchester United who are going to get a few of them, there are other teams as well," Moyes told reporters.
The former Everton manager reiterated his belief that United's rivals would continue to take points off each other, presenting English soccer with a thrilling and unpredictable campaign.
"I don't think anyone's going to run away with it," he said. "I think there (will be) a lot of ups and downs. It's a close-run league this year.
"It's another step in the right direction (for United), but we have a lot of big steps. It is going to take a while for me to get it the way I'd like."
Arsenal's only other league defeat this season was their opening-day reverse to Aston Villa.
"When we started to play (against United) we dominated the game completely and were unlucky not to score in the second half," Arsene Wenger told the club's website (www.arsenal.com).
"I hope that everybody's full of rage, basically against ourselves, because it's unbelievable to lose a game like that.
"The international break (this week) is not welcome because when you lose a game like that you want to play straight away again. We have some players who go to play massive games, under massive pressure and will not come back after the break refreshed ... "
Moyes and United were cheered by other results on Sunday - notably City's 1-0 loss at Sunderland and Tottenham Hotspur's 1-0 home defeat by Newcastle United.
Combined with Chelsea's 2-2 draw against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday - when Jose Mourinho's side needed a late, controversial penalty to salvage a point - and Southampton's 4-1 victory over Hull City, and the Premier League table looks unfamiliar.
Southampton, in particular, are proving the story of the season so far under Mauricio Pochettino, the Argentine who has guided the south-coast club to third place, one point behind second-placed Liverpool and three behind Arsenal.
Pochettino faces his biggest test to date when the domestic season resumes after the international break - back-to-back trips to the Emirates and Stamford Bridge.
"We need to keep working with the same work ethic and humility because we will probably be getting a lot of compliments due to how we played," Pochettino said.
"We need to make sure we manage those compliments in a good way and turn them into positive energy to keep up our performances. We can't let it get to our heads."
United are now fifth after three league wins in a row - and unbeaten in nine in all competitions - a modest upturn in form that has eased early pressure on Moyes.
Yet Moyes's team is still flawed. Van Persie and Wayne Rooney shone on Sunday, not for the first time lifting their more ponderous team mates.
Marouane Fellaini, Moyes's 27.5 million pounds acquisition from Everton, was on the bench against Arsenal, and Moyes showed his cautious nature by leaving Adnan Januzaj as an unused substitute.
So far this term only three of United's 18 league goals have been scored by midfielders - Januzaj has two and Antonio Valencia one. Van Persie (seven), Rooney (five), Danny Welbeck (two) and Javier Hernandez are again carrying the United threat.
"Great players score great goals in big games and (Van Persie) is a great player," Moyes said. "I have got to say, his sidekick today played great as well. Wayne, the two of them were fantastic.
"Manchester United were champions last year and there's a lot of people (who have) written them off very quickly - which is fine - but hopefully come the end of the season we will not be too far away from it.
"I want to be top. Why would you want to be five points off it? We are where we are because we have had a few games where we didn't do as well as we should. We have to try and claw back the points as the season goes on."
(Writing by Stephen Wood, editing by Justin Palmer)