After Tuesday nightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bore draw between Barcelona and Chelsea, it was the turn of Manchester United and Arsenal to try to establish a first leg advantage in the Champions League semi-finals.
On the positive side, there was every chance that both teams might actually try to win the game and therefore there was very real hope that we might see a more decent game at Old Trafford than we had done at the Camp Nou.
Manchester United were without the injured Gary Neville and Sir Alex Ferguson chose John O’Shea to play at right back. He went with a midfield of Carrick, Anderson and Fletcher and chose Carlos Tevez up front rather than Dimitar Berbatov.
Arsenal were without the injured Gael Clichy and Robin van Persie as well as the ineligible Andrey Arshavin. Mikael Silvestre and Kieran Gibbs both played despite being doubts earlier in the day. Adabayor took his place in the Arsenal frontline.
Sir Alex was expecting a tough battle and knew that it was crucial not to concede an away goal,
“There will be more vigilance in terms of an awareness from both teams in not losing a goal, particularly at your own ground. That will be the key. We need to win without conceding a goal. I’d be delighted to win 1-0 and take that to the Emirates. We have got enough freshness in the team now. I think that period when we were playing quite a few of games in a short space of time has changed a little bit for us. Having four days’ rest before games is certainly helping us. You saw the energy levels in the second half against Tottenham so there is nothing wrong with the energy. That augurs well for the game but Arsenal are fresh as well so it will be a real tussle.”
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was also looking forward to a great clash and was also full of confidence,
“The modern rules in Europe encourage the home team to be cautious and the away team to be audacious. That’s why I believe to score an away goal will be very important for us. Let’s not focus on any weakness of Manchester United but let’s focus on our strengths and the way we want to play. What I want is my team to play with belief and certainty as well as a desire to score goals. We are on a good run and we as a team believe that we go from strength-to-strength and that is very important during this period of the season. That is why we have enough belief that we can deliver something special.”
So, did we get a better game than the night before, and which of the managerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s was right to be confident?
Well, we definitely had a better game, but once again, neither team will be too disappointed with the result.
The first couple of minutes saw Rooney have a header brilliantly saved by Almunia and a cross shot from Ronaldo fly across the face of the Arsenal goal.
United were totally dominant and it came as no surprise at all when they took the lead on seventeen minutes. Arsenal failed to clear a corner and good work from Carrick saw the ball fall at the feet of O’Shea who rifled the ball home.
It continued to be one-way traffic and Almunia was making a strong claim for man of the match with a string of fine saves, most notably from Ronaldo and Tevez.
Slowly but surely Arsenal gradually established a foothold in the game and for the last fifteen minutes of the half they had the lion’s share of possession without creating a worthwhile chance.
Half-time came with everyone wondering if United would rue not making the most of their early dominance.
The second half pretty much followed the pattern of the first, with United creating the odd chance and Edwin van der Saar wondering whether he should have paid for his ticket like all the other spectators.
Cristiano Ronaldo rattled the Arsenal bar with a strike that may have been even better than the one he scored in Porto and substitute Ryan Giggs, making his 800th appearance, put the ball in the Arsenal net from an offside position.
Bendtner headed high and wide with Arsenal’s best/only chance, and only a superb defensive header from Silvestre stopped Berbatov doubling United’s lead from a Giggs cross.
At the final whistle both camps will have been reasonably pleased. United kept a clean sheet and take a goal lead to the Emirates but Arsenal will know they were fortunate to only lose 1-0. They will also know that they can’t play this badly again in the second leg.
Halfway through the semi-finals we are no closer to knowing who will be going to Rome. Maybe the betting might just be on a repeat of last year’s final with Chelsea and Manchester United holding a very slight advantage.