Arsenal-Manchester United: How the Tie Was Won
The first of the two semifinals is now done and dusted, and boy, the Gunners will need some time to dust themselves down and get back on their feet.
The first of the two teams fighting it out for Champions League glory has been decided, and the semifinals was a statement of intent from the finalists to be. United dictated the game, similar to the way they did against Porto in their last European tie.
United got in the second leg what they missed most in the first—a cutting edge in front of goal and some luck. Of course, with the Gunners chasing the game, there would always be holes in their defence—which, in fairness, was already leaking. Let's see where the game was won for United over the two legs.
The Midfield—No Arguments Please...
Without a shadow of a doubt, United's supremacy in midfield won them this game. For once, Arsenal's midfield seemed to run out of ideas. Even the wily Mr. Wenger was left to ponder how United's dominance of the game could be overcome.
Arsenal began the game brightly, unlike their first leg disappointment. They moved the ball along briskly, albeit without causing United too many problems. SAF showed faith in the midfield trio of Carrick, Anderson, and Fletcher, who were nothing less than outstanding in the first leg—and they came up trumps yet again.
United hit Arsenal where it hurt them the most. In this case it was not by attacking, but by preventing Arsenal from playing their game. Arsenal's passing game—the much touted "Beautiful Game," revolves around the midfield, which moves the ball along and spreads the play over the entire width of the pitch.
United cut out the supply of the ball to the flanks and cut Arsenal's wings, preventing them from taking off. Arsenal may have had 55 percent of the possession, but less than five percent of that would've been in United's box. Van Der Sar was barely tested.
Fabregas was as big a no-show as he was in the first leg. He's been struggling to find form since his return from injury. His only effective contribution to the game was the foul he drew for the penalty kick—but the game was more than over by then.
Song tried his best to play an Essien-esque role without being too effective. The fact that he was the best player for Arsenal in the first leg tells you the level of Arsenal's performance. Nasri, along with Fabregas, struggled to get a foothold on the game.
Now to United's midfield. Cutting out Arsenal's supply line didn't mean that United played dirty in midfield, far from it. United excelled in retaining the ball whenever they had possession.
In Fletcher, United had someone who could run the length of the pitch the whole day. He was at his belligerent best, stealing the ball off the attackers and not giving the playmakers enough time to plot.
Anderson has been a revelation, at least as far as the Champions League is concerned. He was instrumental in the wins at Porto, Old Trafford, and tonight at the Emirates. He has the potential to convert defence into attack and a tremendous ability to run at the opposition's defence with the ball. He was one of the key factors in keeping Fabregas quiet in both legs.
Carrick was the playmaker on the pitch. He might never be as good as a Scholes, but nevertheless does show the maturity which Scholes still lacks sometimes. Carrick added a sense of calm to the United midfield. He might not have shown his passing skills as much as he'd like to, but along with Anderson and Fletcher, gave United's goal an extra line of defense.
The heading doesn't intend to belittle the efforts of the other departments in the win, rather, it highlights the role played by the midfield. Of course, the defence and the attack played their part and it was a team effort, but here are a few individuals who stood out.
Cristiano Ronaldo—From the Winking Winger to the Pouting Princess...
Ronaldo seems to have the happy knack of scoring important goals in this season's UCL—be it against Inter, Porto, or Arsenal.
Playing as the lone man up front didn't seem to faze Ronaldo as he was a constant thorn in the side of the jittery Arsenal defence. He was involved in all three of United's goals which speaks for itself.
All the Ronaldo bashers can take a break and RIP for a few days till he dives again or fails to show up in a game—or perhaps you guys could utilize this time to plan your next move against Ronaldo.
He may be overrated, he may be a winker, he may not be the first, second, or the third best player in the world, probably not even among the three, but for once, people should stand up and admit that he has been brilliant over the latter stages of this season's Champions League.
The myth that Ronaldo doesn't show up for the big games has been busted for once. Every knock out game is a big game dammit!
Wayne Rooney—Mr. Nice Guy
Perhaps one of the most unselfish players of modern times. If there was a Nobel prize for unselfishness, he'd have probably been in the running for the gong.
Playing on the flanks, while a winger plays center forward can be humiliating to a few but not to Wayne.
He has shown time and again that there is more to his game than his temper. With age, his game seems to have matured, without losing that hunger to win. He showed this side of his game tonight, by not earning himself a booking, which in the past would have been a foregone conclusion in this case.
Not only did he cause the defense problems in both legs, he also played as a full back for long periods, tracking back to help his team out. He may never become a prolific goal scorer or a poacher in the box like van Nistlerooy, but in Rooney, United have found the perfect team man who puts the team before himself.
Patrice Evra—The Underdog...
Having been through a little blip before coming into the clash with Arsenal, Evra was expected to be rolled over by Walcott's pace. But the Ffrenchman stood his ground and refused to bow out. No prizes for guessing who came out on top from that little battle on the pitch.
In Walcott, Arsenal had an inlet to United's box but Evra restricted that to hopeful runs. It was indeed a boy against man scenario.
United's defensive duo of Vidic and Rio were on top as always. Their partnership seems to get better by the day, but they were largely untested apart from a few scares over the two legs. It was hardly a case of desperate defending.
O'Shea is another player who deserves a mention. He has been United's unsung hero, along with the likes of Fletcher, who does all the donkey's work, and never gets enough plaudits, even when he deserves them.
Arsenal are a top side no doubt, but it will still be sometime before the youngsters find their feet and some vital experience.
All in all it was a thoroughly professional display by United, dictating the pace of the game at will. For now, it is "Mission 18th Title." Bring on City!!!
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