Sir Alex Ferguson’s three-man midfield never allowed Arsenal the space to find their rhythm as John O’Shea’s goal gives United the first leg advantage.
Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal
If Arsenal are not a one man team then it is fair to say that they are probably a three man team. A shame then that the other two of Robin Van Persie, who led the side through a rut from January and Andrey Arshavin were unavailable. Which left the skipper and Arsenal’s most influential player with the one-man task of inspiring an Arsenal side to a result, to which even he couldn’t do.
No other player ran more and no other player attempted more passes, as Cesc Fabregas was constantly on the search for some way to manufacture his side back into the game. The moments after the goal and in the second half in which Arsenal did get their foot on the ball, saw a very laboured build up play and an altogether lack of thrust. It was a far cry from last season’s Arsenal who’s slick and incisive passing totally outplayed United at Old Trafford in the league but who also ended up losing. Such was the lack of quality around him, twice Cesc Fabregas presented Cristiano Ronaldo with long range efforts deep in his own half, the first of which rattled the crossbar and which hasn’t since stopped rattling.
Manchester United should have been long gone by the half-hour mark as Manuel Almunia produced a string of match saving stops. First Rooney’s looping header was tipped over, then he saved a point blank Tevez effort and when Ronaldo looked destined to score with one of his trademark late headers, the Spaniard was there again to deny the winger.
Such has been Arsenal’s style this season, possession was not to be the key as the Gunners have been more counter attacking but Wayne Rooney pinned back Arsenal’s most potent outlet, Theo Walcott, while the central midfield squeezed the space for him to run. Arsenal were better without the ball bar the first thirty minutes as the back four largely had a good game although they would have been aggrieved that they allowed O’Shea to shoot home unmarked. Gibbs had Ronaldo largely in his pocket and with a bit more composure, the left back shown enough signs that his bursts forward can be a particularly dangerous weapon.
Ferguson’s tactics were spot on as he swamped the central midfield with the energy of Anderson and Fletcher, which was the platform for United’s attacks and also the defence. In contrast, Wenger has become shrouded in a mist of cautiousness in his selection recently as he was mainly to slow to react to the game. Alex Song, although didn’t have a bad game, should have been sacrificed such was deepness in which Arsenal defended or at least with the interchangeable players in the line-up, screamed out for a re-shuffle. Adebayor improved after the break but he thrives on good passing and movement and a couple of Arsenal players’ technical ability retarded the process.
Although the defensive shield has helped bring stability to the defence, it should not be a means to drop off and allow United to come at Arsenal. In fact recent tactics in the Champions League have shown the best form of defence is to pressure higher up the pitch. In the end 1-0 isn’t a bad score considering what could have been early on but it means if United do score one, Arsenal must score three.
Man of the Match: Darren Fletcher– Ran his socks off and covered much ground. Not particularly spectacular but his importance to United’s play is much understated.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Arsenal|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|7||Shots on Target||1|
|6||Shots off Target||3|