Just like Fergie predicted, Manchester United take a slender one goal advantage over Arsenal to the Emirates Stadium for the deciding second leg of this Champions League semifinal. Despite the fact we won last night, this match left a bad taste in my mouth. More than exhilaration and relief, frustration and disappointment dominate my sense of feeling right now. Maybe I need to sleep over this result to gauge the importance of things such as clean sheets and thoroughly outplaying your opponents.
But no, what I feel right now is an overwhelming sense of underachievement on a night that promised so much more. Right from kickoff, the tone was set: United were dictating play from the opening exchanges, and Arsenal were chasing the game. Well, they tried their best, but United were having none of that. Rooney’s looping header, Tevez’s stab at goal, and Ronaldo’s header from point blank range were some of the goal-scoring opportunities gone begging. The trio were wreaking havoc all over the pitch, shooting at Almunia’s goal and testing the goalie’s resilience, who was the only reason why we didn’t score more than one goal. From the amount of possession we had and the number of shots at goal, we should’ve been three goals up at half-time. United’s goal was a lucky one: Arsenal were caught ball watching and suffered from a momentary defensive shutdown–enough for O’Shea to sneak in and score. The crowd really got behind the players, making a lot of noise and whistling loudly everytime an Arsenal player got the ball (which was extremely rare in the first half).
Second half was much subdued than the first in terms of intensity and match tempo. Even though United dominated the possession chart, and created a multitude of chances, they were kept out by the Gunners’ goalie. The likes of Adebayor, Walcott, and Fabregas never got into their rhythm. Ferdinand and Vidic were brilliant in defence, and the Arsenal offence had only rare glimpses of Van der Sar’s goal. Ronaldo’s shot from 30 yards had Almunia completely beaten but the crossbar came to Arsenal’s rescue on a night that should’ve settled the tie overwhelmingly in United’s favour.
Originally published: April 30, 2009