Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United
What a match! One of those old gems in the pantheon of European matches which you eagerly look forward to, and where all the hype and buzz surrounding two massive clubs actually lives up to its prematch expectations. Manchester United put on a devastating display of football against Arsenal at The Emirates, and emerged comprehensive 3-1 winners thanks to goals from Ji-Sung Park and Cristiano Ronaldo.
First half: Before the kickoff, the mood inside The Emirates was one to behold. The massive crowd was singing, chanting, and waving the Gunners’ flag. The atmosphere was electric, and what an encouraging scene for the players to walk into. Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s manager, had adamantly proclaimed his young team had the mettle to turn around a one-goal deficit from the previous leg to knock United out of the competition. And his prediction seemed valid for the first seven minutes of the game. Arsenal took the game by the scruff of its neck, playing at a fever pitch in the early minutes of the game, and completely dominating Manchester United. But an unfortunate slip by Kieran Gibbs, as he tried to check his run inside Arsenal’s box, dropped the ball at Park’s feet and the South Korean coolly finished it past Almunia into the back of the net. Arsenal were shell-shocked, conceding the goal against run of play. But United were well and truly away at this point.
If the first goal dropped decibels level in the stadium, then Ronaldo’s screamer of a freekick from 41-yards struck the crowd dumb! Ronaldo unleashed a thunderbolt from the right side of the pitch, leaving Almunia beaten at his near post. The Arsenal faithfuls couldn’t believe what had just happened. Credit to Ronaldo for the strike, but a goalie of Almunia’s class should’ve done better. Arsenal were disappointingly out of sorts at home and lacked the spark in their passing gameplay; despite Robin van Persie’s return to the team, they never posed a threat to Van der Sar’s goal.
Second half: If Arsenal thought the break would upset United’s rhythm they couldn’t have been more wrong. The Mancunians continued to dominate and create enough problems in Arsenal’s half to pose a goal threat. It didn’t take long for them to net in their third on the night, in what was clearly a brilliant display of counter attacking football. Vidic headed clear Arsenal’s corner and Ronaldo darted back from the half-line to retrieve it, deep into United’s half, and flicked it to Ji-Sung Park, who threaded a clinical pass over to Rooney who was breaking away on the left wing. Rooney unselfishly passed the ball back into Arsenal’s box and found Ronaldo who toed the ball into the net. Arsenal had the wind knocked out of their sails, and had to settle for a consolation by van Persie, when Fletcher was wrongly sent off by the Italian referee for bringing down Fabregas in the United box.
Although I’m delighted for United who booked a consecutive final’s spot, I feel for the lad, though; Fletcher who’s been an inspiration this season, backing up his commendable work ethic with form on the pitch. He will be missed in the final at Rome. Let’s hope the rest of the guys win it for him!
Originally published: May 7, 2009