Arsenal 0 Manchester United 1

Saturday 2nd April 2004
Villa Park, Birmingham

Manchester United proved that they are still the best team in England with an impressive hard-fought victory over the "Mighty" Arsenal. Though United are still 12 points behind the Gunners in the League, this victory gives plenty of food for thought over the past two weeks, Arsenal have failed to beat United twice! This will surely also be a massive psychological boost for next season too.

United won on Saturday because, quite simply, they had a greater hunger and desire. They knew that the FA Cup provided their only real hope of winning a trophy this season, and so the players played with real conviction, passion and determination.

United were without Ruud van Nistelrooy (who has injured his knee), Tim Howard (Who is still being rested with Mental strains after a year of playing football in the US and English leagues), and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt (Who were both played for too long in the England game last week, against Sir Alex's orders).

After a shaky start, with the ball rebounding off the United crossbar and Wes Brown clearing an Arsenal shot off the line within the first three minutes of the game, United began to pick up the pace, and to give as good as they got. In a game dominated by the midfielders of either side, United kept control of the ball for long spells, and looked the more threatening of the two teams for much of the opening period. With Fletcher and Keane commanding the centre of the park, Ronaldo and Giggs providing speed and skill, and Scholes being the creative link-man, United had a strong and well-balanced team. They also had the extra man in midfield, which gave them a slight tactical advantage.

The battle was frenetic and played at a very fast pace. United arguably created the better chances as the game drew on, but both teams were guilty of giving the ball away shabbily. The crowd were treated to a magnificent display by Ronaldo, who majestically teased the Arsenal back-line when he had the ball at his feet.

After wave upon wave of attack, United finally broke the deadlock. The inexperienced Arsenal defender Gael Clichy was pulled out of position by Ronaldo, allowing Giggs an incredible amount of time and space in the middle when he got onto the end of a Gary Neville though ball. With all the time in the world, Giggs charged towards goal before sliding the ball coolly across the box to where Paul Scholes could run onto it. Scholes needed only one thundering touch to send the ball rocketing into the back of the net past the bumbling Arsenal goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann.

Just before half-time, a wrongly awarded Arsenal free-kick was lofted into the United box, but Vieira could only hit the post, and the Arsenal team left the pitch frustrated at the end of the forty-five minutes.

The Arsenal team seemed just as frustrated when they re-entered the pitch after the break, and began to show their infamous "Dirty side". Whilst Pires used his elbows to lash out at Gary Neville, Lehmann preferred to use both hands to push Ronaldo over in anoff the ball incident, and Vieira tried everything from diving (badly), haranguing the referee, and attempting to get other players booked in despicable fashion (He tried to hit a free-kick against Solskjaer when the United player was less than 10 yards away. If it had hit him, Ole would have been booked. Fortunately, Ole got out of the way just in time, and Vieira was left looking stupid and petty as his blasted free-kick bounced gently into the arms of United's Roy Carroll). Quite how Arsenal managed to keep eleven men on the pitch is a mystery.

Arsenal began to get desperate as they looked for a goal. They bought on Henry, but "The best striker in the world" made little impression against the magnificent Silvestre and Brown. Reyes and Kanu were equally unimpressive when they came on. Meanwhile, Sir Alex took off his only recognised striker, Solskjaer, and brought on Phil Neville to add yet more swash and buckle to the team.

As the final whistle blew, United were through to the FA Cup final, and Arsenal were left looking like a sorry bunch of second-best whingers. No change there then.

Arsenal: Lehmann, Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Clichy, Ljungberg, Vieira, Edu (Kanu 76), Pires (Henry 57), Bergkamp, Aliadiere (Reyes 57).

Subs Not Used: Keown, Stack. Booked: Pires, Lehmann, Toure, Lauren.

Man Utd: Carroll, Gary Neville, Brown, Silvestre, O'Shea, Ronaldo (Bellion 84), Fletcher, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Solskjaer (Phil Neville 75).

Subs Not Used: Butt, Howard, Djemba-Djemba. Booked: Scholes.

Referee: G Barber (Hertfordshire). Attendance: 39,939.