His future may be up in the air, but Sir Alex Ferguson nevertheless opted to start Carlos Tevez up front in place of Dimitar Berbatov. Rio Ferdinand remains sidelined, leaving Jonny Evans at the back and Ryan Giggs as captain. Darren Fletcher also started in midfield as Manchester United lined up in something of a 4-3-3 formation.
Arsenal were without injured goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, so Lukasz Fabianski started between the sticks, while further depletion meant that midfielder Alex Song played at centre-back. Emmanuel Adebayor was also missing, but Andrey Arshavin was healthy enough to return.
Manchester United flew out of the traps quickly, but there was some hesitation from Cristiano Ronaldo as he passed up a chance to pull the trigger.
Gradually, after a couple of broken-down forays into United territory, Arsenal started to monopolise possession and looked, for all intents and purposes, like the home side.
Thus, United were keen to hit on the break, which they did to good effect through Ronaldo. He left Song trailing and picked out Rooney, but the onrushing forward scuffed his running shot.
An otherwise tentative first ten minutes out of the way, the sides then each created a good chance. First, Arshavin clipped a glorious ball over the top which Robin van Persie didn't know what to do with; he headed tamely over in the end. Still, the Russian playmaker was getting warmed up, causing trouble with his direct approach.
At the other end, Rooney peeled off Bacary Sagna and headed Michael Carrick's fine flighted ball down and past Fabianski's near post.
During the second part of the first half, chances were few and far between, and the patterns of the early stages repeated themselves. Samir Nasri's drive deflected into the arms of Edwin van der Sar on the half-hour mark; Van Persie sent a looping header into the arms of the 'keeper soon after.
Nasri then blasted goal-wards from 10 yards out, but his off-target shot hit Van Persie with too much velocity for the Dutchman to flick for goal.
United went closest through Ryan Giggs, who ballooned over after being teed up by Rooney, and Ronaldo, who hit a free-kick wide just before the break.
The opening minutes of the second period had some needle to them: Fabregas and Nasri were booked, adding to Van Persie and Arshavin's first-half cautions. Then the rain came on, and the game opened up significantly.
Nevertheless, it took until just before the hour-mark before a couple of chances occurred. For the Gunners, Kieran Gibbs rifled into the side netting after some great build-up play. Soon after, United's Fletcher centred the ball from the right and Tevez spun superbly, shrugging off Kolo Toure in the process. However, Fabianski was quick off his line and slid in to repel the Argentine, before Ronaldo hit Row Z.
On 66 minutes, Sir Alex Ferguson made a brave, and unpopular, change as his side continued to struggle. Park Ji-Sung replaced Tevez, who proceeded to wave to the crowd on would could prove to be his last ever home game for the Red Devils.
Arsene Wenger raised the stakes further, sending Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott on for Nasri and Arshavin.
One of the new boys, Park, actually did have the ball in the net shortly after his introduction. Ronaldo surged through the middle and, after teasing Fabianski, squared for the South Korean to roll home. However, they didn't get the benefit of the doubt and the Portuguese was flagged offside.
On 78 minutes, following some extended Arsenal pressure, Ronaldo went agonisingly close with a 20-yard free-kick effort which wouldn't quite curl inside the right-hand post.
The final ten minutes would be nervy for the home faithful. On 83', Song imitated a battering ram and charged through the home rearguard, before Fabregas' shot was touched wide by Van der Sar.
In injury time, Michael Carrick got his head on Van Persie's free-kick, for the second time in the game, but there was to be no late drama.
Thus it finished. It wasn't exactly pretty on the day, though Manchester United are the Premier League Champions 2008/09, completing their second top-flight hat-trick!