Date:Wednesday April 29 2009
Well, at least it's clear who knows more about football, Fergie or me. He said he would be delighted with a 1-0 win; I said it was unlikely. Result? 1-0 to Manchester United.
Before the game I would have gladly accepted this result. Now, however, I feel ever so slightly disappointed. Not because of our performance - which was brilliant - but because we could not add a deserved second which would have all but sealed our progress.
Fergie deployed a fluid 4-3-3, with Carlos Tevez, surprisingly, in the middle, supported by Rooney and Ronaldo. Carrick, Fletcher and Anderson were entrusted with shoring up the midfield while the back four was largely predictable. O'Shea was preferred for Rafael.
And we looked superb in the first half. Indeed, in the first 25 minutes Arsenal barely got a touch and had extreme difficulties with crossing the halfway line. Tevez was brilliant at holding up the ball and linking with the midfielders while Rooney and Ronaldo ran at the defenders at every opportunity.
Earliest chance was Rooney's, his looping header was somehow, in the very last minute, tipped round the post by Almunia. Then a few half-chances were followed by a genuine, gilt-edged opportunity: Tevez brilliantly released O'Shea on the right, the right-back looked up and delivered a perfect low pass to Tevez who timed his run into the box wonderfully but his close-range effort was somehow palmed away by Almunia.
Old Trafford was still in disbelief when Anderson whipped in the corner which found Carrick at the far post. He took a touch then crossed from the byline: the ball got a slight deflection off Silvestre and landed in front of O'Shea who lashed the ball home without hesitation.
It was a richly deserved goal for United but it was clear that the manager's words about a 1-0 win found its way into the players' heads. We started to play much more cautiously, allowing Arsenal more time on the ball but apart from a Fabregas shot which was comfortably saved by Van der Sar, they offered nothing at all in attack.
United also had less opportunities but could have added to their lead but for poor delivery into the box or below-par shooting. And on one occasion, right at the end of the first half, the linesman denied us: Fletcher released Anderson with a sweet cross but the Brazilian was, incorrectly, flagged for offside. He would have been clean through on goal...
There were no changes at the interval and things were largely the same on the pitch in the second half: Arsenal tried neat little triangles and intricate passing but could never get behind the red wall while United's counter-attacks were dangerous but the passing was not accurate enough up front so many promising attacks were wasted.
Still, the greatest chances of the half were ours: first, Ronaldo picked up the ball in 'Porto position' and unleashed a ferocious shot which rebounded off the crossbar. And with little more than ten minutes to go, controversy arrived again: substitute Giggs (he replaced the tiring Anderson while Berbatov was introduced for Tevez who was less effective in the second half) was released on the left by a brilliant ball from Rooney, he rounded Almunia and slotted into the empty net - but at last the linesman lifted his flag...
I have watched replays since then: it looks like he was onside, or at least level with the last defender. It should have been a goal but it wasn't to be.
In the end, we almost got undone when an unwarranted free-kick (Eduardo simply collapsed under pressure from Ferdinand) found Bendtner's head with Edwin van der Sar in no man's land (clattering Rio there...) but the ball flew high and wide.
It would have been a most undeserved equaliser for Arsenal who offered nothing in attack. Evra kept Walcott quiet with ease, Adebayor couldn't even breathe between Ferdinand and Vidic while Nasri drifted infield frequently but to no avail: they merely managed to narrow the pitch which was the last thing they wanted, presumably.
We deserved to win and should have won by more on the balance of play and with the chances we had. Fergie can be pleased as he got his wish and United take a lead to Emirates while Arsenal do not have an away goal. But Wenger can be pleased as well: they avoided conceding a second goal which would have made their job almost impossible. But if we score at Emirates, we'll go through, I'm quite convinced of that.
Date:Wednesday April 29 2009
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