Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ronaldo guns down sorry Arsenal as ref spoils party...

When all of the pre-match talking stopped and it came down to the action it soon became clear that Arsenal were not - as their manager had confidently predicted - going to the Champions League final in Rome later this month, as the Red Devils went on to crush the Gunners in the opening eleven minutes of what turned out to be a scintillating performance by Manchester United who strode to a comfortable 3-1 win on the night thanks to Park's early opening goal and a stunning brace from Ronaldo.

The only sour note on an otherwise great night for Ferguson was the red card wrongly issued to Darren Fletcher which led to a late consolation Arsenal penalty. United are hoping once the referee sees footage of the incident, he will ask UEFA to overturn the resulting ban.

In the wake of the first-leg defeat at Old Trafford last week the Arsenal manager put on a public show of faith in his players, that was despite the fact that he'd just witnessed his team narrowly avoid a first-half beating. Somewhat uncharacteristically in the following days leading up to second-leg, Wenger continued to talk-up the Gunners prospects of turning the tie around. However, all the pre-match talk of unity, togetherness and confidence from the Frenchman evaporated in an emotionally charged Emirates atmosphere in the opening minutes as United went for Arsenal's jugular.

The man who was most responsible for Arsenal's destruction was Cristiano Ronaldo, who showed exactly why he was voted the world's number one. United supporters love affair with Ronaldo has been on the wane following his courtship with Real Madrid, but to his credit he remains United's top goal-scorer, and that is despite the fact many believe he has been playing with the proverbial handbrake on throughout much of the season.

Against Arsenal last night we saw the real Ronaldo, he was at his menacing best and the Gunners had no answer to his blistering pace and power. Ronaldo created Park's opening goal, albeit one that was aided by an unfortunate slip by Gibbs - you do wonder if the Gunners groundstaff had been busily watering the pitch beforehand, because United's South Korean winger also slipped has he flicked the ball over the advancing Almunia in the Arsenal goal.

Ronaldo doubled United's advantage on the night following the award of a debatable free-kick on eleven minutes when firing beyond Almunia from fully forty-one yards, the second goal effectively killed the tie stone-dead as a serious contest. United continued to create chances, while at the other end Edwin van der Sar barely had a shot to save.

United were the dominant force throughout this semi-final, but it wasn't until the second-half that they went on to score the goal that they deserved and one which was worthy of winning any competition. Ronaldo, Park and Rooney linked-up as the champions launched a stunning counter-attack which ended with the Portuguese world player of the year nearly ripping out the rigging in Almunia's goal.

In his post-match interview, Arsene Wenger complained about the free-kick which led to the second goal when saying that the referee had a bad game. The Arsenal manager went to suggest that Italian officials are whistle happy, which is somewhat ironic given the Frenchman has often called for more protection for his own players - but in fairness, the Arsenal manager also stated that Darren Fletcher was very unlucky to be red carded. Wenger also congratulated United on the win when paying Fergie and his team his biggest compliment to date, when wishing them well in the final and conceding that they'd punished every mistake his team had made on what he described as a disappointing night.

Despite the manner of the defeat Wenger refused to criticise his young players and here again he deserves great credit because his belief in his squad is absolute. Against the odds the Arsenal manager had done his level best to try to convince everyone and importantly his own players that they were good enough to beat a more experienced United team, but despite deploying virtually every trick in the book - which included the Gunners giving away flags to every supporter - it wasn't to be.

For their part United fans will rightly believe that this result had been coming, because on too many occasions the champions have been on the wrong end of bad fortune and poor refereeing decisions when playing at the Emirates and Highbury over the last few seasons.

Fergie also deserves to be congratulated because many United fans will not have agreed with the manager's decision to leave out Carlos Tevez when selecting Park in preference, but once again the manager proved his doubters wrong with a near faultless performance from his players.

So United will now meet either Chelsea or Barcelona; my head says it will be Chelsea, but United vs Barca could be a great final.

Man of the match: Ronaldo.

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