United knock the wind out of Arsenal’s sails

By Jerome Butcher    

Arsenal 1 Manchester United 3 (Agg: 1-4)

Tuesday night saw the two Premier League heavyweights clash in the semi final of the Champions League.

This was widely seen as the most important game to ever take place at the Emirates stadium. On a night which Arsenal fans were all desperate to remember as the night that kept them in contention for some silverware things went dramatically wrong for the north Londoners.

Arsene Wenger decided to go for a more attacking 4-4-2 formation, with Van Persie returning to the starting line up and playing alongside Adebayor, knowing that if Manchester United scored even one goal his young Gunners would have a mountain to climb having to score at least three times.

The maturity of the two teams was stark and brutally exposed. United were in control and 1-0 up after eight minutes when Anderson threaded a perfectly weighted through ball onto a sprinting Ronaldo who crossed it back across goal. Kieran Gibbs, who impressed everyone in the first leg and looks like he may have a future with England, slipped and the ball fell to Ji-Sung Park who guided the ball past Almunia.

Three minutes later and the game appeared to be already over. Cristiano Ronaldo produced an incredible 40-yard free kick which crept through the wall and into the bottom right hand corner of Almunia’s goal. Arsenal were on the back foot from the off and were never able to recover. As Sir Alex said the first two goals ‘knocked the wind out of their sails.’

United’s third put the game beyond any doubt when a superb move and some excellent passing between Park, Rooney ending with Ronaldo firing into the back of the net. Arsenal were just building up momentum after a corner when Vidic headed it clear. United then hit Arsenal on the break with some quick passes and devastating speed.

As mentioned before the maturity and experience in this competition may have made the difference. Darren Fletcher has produced some outstanding performances this season, proving many critics wrong. He is being moulded somewhat to Keane and similarly to the ex-United captain he is now ineligible to play in a European Cup final. Fletcher will hopefully recover from this devastating blow, something which, arguably, Keane could not. Credit to Fletcher for not arguing with the referee.

This was the only thing that ruined an almost perfect night for United and it came 16 minutes before the final whistle. Fletcher made a tackle on Fabregas which was deemed to be a professional foul by Italian referee Roberto Rosetti. Replays clearly show that he made contact with the ball but nonetheless the finger was pointed to the spot and the red card shown to the young Scot. Van Persie made no mistakes in salvaging some pride for Arsenal by scoring the penalty.

This game was proof that United have found their form again after a blip a few weeks ago and slipping up against Liverpool they look almost unstoppable. Barcelona are also playing some excellent football, disposing of their arch rivals Real Madrid 6-2 away from home, which makes for an intriguing final in Rome on 27 May.

Wenger’s dream of winning a European trophy and Arsenal’s trophy drought continues meanwhile Ferguson could be the first manager to win back-to-back Champions League titles and a fourth (one behind Liverpool). He will be very confident his team can beat the Catalan giants as they did in the semi-finals last year.

Either way both finalists are on for treble winning seasons but only one will be able to achieve this; what a superb finale to round off an exciting 08/09 season.

Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Djourou, Gibbs (Eboue 45), Walcott (Bendtner 63), Fabregas, Song Billong, Nasri, Van Persie (Vela 79), Adebayor.
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Silvestre, Diaby, Denilson.
Booked:Nasri, Adebayor, Eboue.
Goals: Van Persie 76 pen.

Man Utd: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (Rafael Da Silva 65), Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson (Giggs 63), Park, Ronaldo, Rooney (Berbatov 66).
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Evans, Scholes, Tevez.
Sent Off: Fletcher (75).
Goals: Park 8, Ronaldo 11, 61.

Att: 59,867
Ref: Roberto Rosetti (Italy).

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