Before this Champions League semifinal clash between Man United and Arsenal, I think it's fair to say that we were all expecting a real epic fight between two of the greatest English rivals of late. Arsenal have beaten us once this season already, and there is no denying the mutual hatred of the two camps. Add that to the fact that they are facing each other in a match of such immense scale, we expected no less than a cracker at Old Trafford.
Except there was a problem. The visiting team was nowhere to be seen from kickoff.
For the record, I'm not here to ridicule Arsenal. To be fair, they have had their major injury concerns, and their defence was as makeshift as ours had been for the past few weeks. Maybe they can count themselves unfortunate that their star man of the moment Arshavin is cup tied, and that Robin Van Persie is out with an injury.
But still, is it any excuse for a team boasting the talent of Fabregas and Nasri, the threat of Adebayor, and the genius of Walcott to be completely played off the park? There was really only one player that showed up for Arsenal and that's their man between the sticks, without whom the scoreline might have resembled Roma 2007. Without the one goal against us, at least, because Arsenal really were toothless in attack, and had about what, one shot on target in 90 minutes?
United was brilliant all round, I have to say. We played them off the park and Almunia's excellent goalkeeping notwithstanding should have left with a 4-0 score line at the very least. I don't recall seeing another match where we completely dominated the first 30 minutes of possession and the Gunners never got a sniff at the ball after giving it away from kickoff. We seemed to pick up where we left off against Spurs.
First mention has to go to Darren Fletcher, who was outstanding as he always is against Arsenal, hassling the Arsenal midfield each time they got the ball and nearly always won or helped to win it back. Fletcher has turned into such a big game player. Many United fans used to truly dislike the sight of him on the pitch a few years back, but how he has grown. There were times I had to remind myself that Samir Nasri was even playing.
Anderson and Carrick both had one of their best games of the season, completely dictating play in the midfield, and Ando was unlucky to have been flagged offside despite clearly being on (decisions at OT always go in favour of United indeed) because he was in such a prime position to score then. Still, the United fans chanted his chant, and oh how he obliged!
John O'Shea. Well, he's usually on the end of more criticism than praise, but no one can deny him the plaudits today. He was responsible for a brilliant finish that was United's only goal of the match (although one Mikael Silvestre decided to show up momentarily on our side to aid him in that) and actually looked solid in defence. Of course, that goal made so much more satisfying to watch over and over again because it was symmetrical to what happened at Anfield a couple of seasons ago.
Usual suspects Ronaldo and Rooney ran the Arsenal defence ragged as we had expected them to, Rooney even helping out back defensively, nullifying whatever threat Walcott could pose against Evra. Both arguably should have had their names on the score sheet too, especially when one of Ronny's rockets was unlucky enough to hit the bar. They didn't quite crank it up to Tottenham gear during the second half, but still posed threats down either wing and in front of goal.
Tevez, I thought, deserved a goal. Given the nod ahead of Berbatov, it was probably the first match he has proved to have justified that choice. Ran rings round the Arsenal defence (that, save for Almunia, really wasn't there) all night and for once I was surprised to see him subbed by Berbatov.
Where was Emmanuel Adebayor? Rio and Vidic were a brick wall that he ran himself into, and Van Der Sar had absolutely nothing to do, except for one save from Fabregas. Our concern for the second leg is probably Rio's injury though. He was subbed off after an excellent display with fears of a cracked rib. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping he will be fit to play. Not that I doubt Evans's ability for one minute, that is!
For the sake of football, I hope we don't have to witness another Great Gooner Disappearing Act at the Emirates next week. Sure it's brilliant that we've completely swept one of our biggest rivals aside, but it's no fun when you know there was pretty much nothing to sweep in the first place. Let them turn up, but let us beat them anyway. That's going to be a million times more satisfying.
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