One Foot in the Final
Cristiano Ronaldo is one step closer to the Champions League Final after United's 1-0 home win against Arsenal. An away goal at the Emirates would surely secure victory in the two-legged tie. Rome is calling!
Arsenal were penned in for long periods as United played at the high tempo that suits them best, and it was only a mixture of the excellence of goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and good fortune that kept the deficit within manageable proportions. It is advantage United - who suffered a scare late on when Rio Ferdinand went off after suffering a blow to the ribs - but the narrow lead still leaves the semi-final in the balance ahead of next week's return game.
Ferguson's selection of Tevez ahead of Dimitar Berbatov suggested he wanted an energetic, high-tempo approach against an Arsenal defence undermined by injuries to influential pair William Gallas and Gael Clichy. And that was exactly what he got in thrilling opening exchanges completely controlled by United and played out in a vibrant Old Trafford atmosphere.
Arsenal goalkeeper Almunia was in action inside the first 90 seconds, retreating desperately towards his goal to claw out Rooney's looping header.
Wenger's players never looked like surviving this fierce early barrage, and so it proved as United took a deserved lead in the 18th minute. Arsenal failed to clear a corner, and when Michael Carrick's cross was deflected into his path by Mikael Silvestre, O'Shea lashed a finish high past Almunia.
It could have been more - Almunia saved superbly from Wayne Rooney, denied Carlos Tevez with a double block and turned away Cristiano Ronaldo's header from six yards as United turned on the style in a dazzling first 45 minutes.
Arsenal managed to steady the ship after the interval, but they never seriously threatened United apart from a tame Cesc Fabregas shot and a volley from Emmanuel Adebayor after the break. United never allowed Arsenal to get into their trademark passing rhythm, playing with more drive and energy than the Gunners, who were overrun in midfield at times and struggled to cope with the pace and variety of Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo in attack.
Ronaldo struck the bar from 30 yards with 20 minutes remaining as United continued to press for what could have proved a decisive second goal, but Arsenal survived and will still feel there is life in the tie yet, despite delivering a disappointing performance.
United's fans certainly celebrated at the final whistle in a manner that suggested they feel they have taken a significant stride towards retaining the trophy they won so dramatically on penalties against Chelsea in Moscow last May.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Ferdinand (Evans 87), Vidic, Evra, Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson (Giggs 66), Ronaldo, Tevez (Berbatov 66), Rooney.
Subs Not Used: Foster, Park, Scholes, Rafael Da Silva.
Goals: O'Shea 18.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Silvestre, Gibbs, Song, Diaby, Walcott (Bendtner 70), Fabregas, Nasri, Adebayor (Eduardo 82).
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Denilson, Ramsey, Djourou, Eboue.
Ref: Claus Bo Larsen (Denmark).