Thursday, April 30, 2009

Manchester United v Arsenal, Champions League, 29 April

Manchester United failed to turn their massive superiority over the first thirty minutes (and sustained superiority over the next sixty) into a bagful of goals and will travel to Ashburton Grove with a single goal advantage. It is an advantage but ‘what could have been’ may just come and haunt United when the proceedings are completed next Tuesday.

A Rooney lob could have earned United the opener as early as the second minute but a Gordon-esque save by Almunia kept it at nil-nil. Before the half hour was up, Almunia had made yet more superb saves to prevent Tevez (twice) and Ronaldo.

In between though, he could not prevent a John O Shea poke from going into goal though the blame for that would lie with all the defenders who left O Shea alone in space and not the goalkeeper. Thus, in a matter of thirty minutes, United could have on a different day been up by five, but had to be contended with one.

For those thirty minutes, Arsenal were overwhelmed by United’s ability to keep possession at all areas of the field and their spectacular movement and passing. O Shea, Fletcher and Carrick were especially impressive, even as the attacking trio of Tevez, Ronaldo and Rooney threatened to make something of every opportunity. Five up after thirty would have been maybe too flattering for United, but definitely a 3-0 score line would not have seemed unjustified, such was their command.

It was after the save off Ronaldo that Arsenal finally got into the game. Song and Nasri finally started finding the ball and keeping it, while Fabregas connected well with the pair (and Diaby) to eventually start getting the ball into difficult areas for Man U. The fifteen minute spell after the Ronaldo save till half-time, consisted of pleasant, attacking football from both the sides with some very fluent passing and movement.
The second half had moments of equal intensity but they were interspersed with passages of play where both teams struggled for ideas. The excitement was provided by a superb Ronaldo kick from outside the box which rattled the bar and was reminiscent of that great goal against Porto and the other was a goal from substitute Ryan Giggs which was correctly disallowed for offside (it was Giggs’ 800th game for United and a goal would have been one mushy story).

There was not too much new to learn from the performances except acknowledging that Arsenal’s young left back Kieron Gibbs has a future at this level. There was also the opportunity to see Nasri has a deep lying midfielder and while he gave a decent account of himself, I think he adds too much value to that attacking line to be withdrawn from it, especially when Arshavin is missing.

So as this goes into Tie-2, there is little room for the claiming of moral victories or making of bold predictions. All outcomes are possible and I suspect, it is going to be a lot of fun.

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