Date:Wednesday May 6 2009
Imperious, majestic, delightful. And that's only Ji-sung Park I'm talking about. But honestly: United DESTROYED Arsenal in their own backyard, humiliated the confident Gooners and will head to Rome on May 27 to play in our second successive Champions League final.
In a sense it was a reversal of the first leg. This time Arsenal fans made the noise, they waved the flags and their team started strongly. United did not pin them back in their own half from the beginning - but this time we took the chances we missed at Old Trafford.
And it was somewhat ironic that the two men who were the best Arsenal players at Old Trafford - Gibbs and Almunia - were directly responsible for United's two goals which totally deflated the Gooners and gave us an insurmountable lead.
First, the young left-back slipped when attempting to deal with Ronaldo's pass into the area, thus leaving new-found goal machine Ji-sung Park with an easy chance which he did not miss.
Three minutes later Van Persie fouled Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese stood up and smashed the ball into the net from a ridiculous 40 yards. Majestic strike - but Almunia should have covered it.
The best thing about this early blitz is that Park's selection was a major surprise as almost everyone, myself included, had believed it was going to be a choice between Tevez and Berbatov. Yet both were on the bench only, with Ronaldo playing through the middle as a lone striker, a role which now seems to suit him.
And with their goals we effectively clinched our place in the final within 11 minutes. Arsenal collapsed, absolutely: they were abject. United passed the ball around with ease, kept out Arsenal comfortably and should have added to the goals tally - Almunia showed some of his Old Trafford form by denying Rooney - who was outstanding once again - with a brilliant, one-handed save while Ronaldo, totally unmarked, headed wide from a corner.
Arsenal tried to start the second half strongly but there was no way past Fletcher, Carrick and Anderson as all three were imperious again, particularly the Scotsman. Evra and O'Shea were helped immensely by Rooney and Park so we minimised the threat of Walcott and Nasri. Adebayor and Van Persie, deprived of service, looked lost between Rio and Vidic.
United were comfortable as they were but completed Arsenal's humiliation on 61 minutes with a wonderful, sweeping counter-attack: Ronaldo backheeled the ball to Park who released Rooney on the left. He drew two defenders out of position and played in Ronaldo who sprinted the length of the pitch to finish the move in clinical fashion.
The gulf in class was so obvious, so embarassing that even after going three up, only one team looked like scoring - and not the one which needed goals. United's football became almost nonchalant, such was our superiority. And that is, precisely, why it is terrible that Darren Fletcher picked up a needless red card which rules him out of the final.
Van Persie rammed home the subsequent penalty but even that could not trigger an Arsenal revival to at least make the scoreline look respectable - indeed, they couldn't even fashion a decent chance in the remaining fifteen or so minutes.
A wonderful, wonderful night - our first ever win at the Emirates was absolutely thrilling and worthy of the occasion: a European Cup semi-final.
Date:Wednesday May 6 2009
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