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Arsenal vs Manchester United. UEFA Champions League Semi-Final.

Emirates StadiumAttendance59,867.

United cruise into final

11th minute: Ronaldo celebrates after scoring direct from a free-kick.
Image: Ronaldo celebrates his first goal

Manchester United booked their place in the UEFA Champions League final with a 3-1 victory over Arsenal at Emirates Stadium.

Fletcher dismissal mars comfortable night for defending champions

Manchester United booked their place in the UEFA Champions League final with a 3-1 victory over Arsenal at Emirates Stadium. Much of the damage was done inside the opening 11 minutes as United, leading 1-0 from the first leg, scored early goals through Park Ji-sung and Cristiano Ronaldo. United knew that scoring one goal would leave Arsenal needing three and it took just eight minutes for them to break the deadlock, Park capitalising on a slip from Kieran Gibbs to fire home Ronaldo's cut-back. Ronaldo then silenced the home crowd and effectively killed off the contest three minutes later with a ferocious free-kick from distance that beat a despairing Manuel Almunia. The defending European champions remained in complete control and Ronaldo made it 3-0 on the night in the 61st minute following a lightning-quick counter-attack involving Park and Wayne Rooney. There was some disappointment for United when Darren Fletcher was shown a straight red card on 75 minutes despite appearing to have won the ball from Cesc Fabregas with a fair tackle. A penalty was awarded and Robin van Persie converted his chance emphatically, but there was never any chance of a fightback and United held on to claim a 4-1 aggregate success.

Early strike

It had been an eagerly-awaited clash but United never looked back after a moment to forget from Gibbs early on. Gibbs lost his footing as Ronaldo pulled the ball back and hit the ground with a thump. Like lightning, Park seized on the loose ball, delicately lifting it over Almunia, whose arrival came just too late. The United contingent went delirious. Fans, coaches, manager, players, David Beckham alike all knew what it meant. They knew the prospect of Arsenal getting three to go through was so remote to be beyond comprehension. But if United's opener came courtesy of good fortune, their next was the result of audacity, mixed with high ability. To even think of going for goal from the spot when Van Persie had clattered into Ronaldo would be dismissed by most professionals as foolhardy. Yet, in Porto three weeks ago, the World Player of the Year drove home a shot measured at exactly 39.1 yards. As Ronaldo stepped back and waited from even further out, ready to unleash his missile, Almunia knew what to expect. Indeed, it could be argued that from such distances, no goalkeeper should be beaten. But as Ronaldo let fly, with venom, and watched his shot dip and flicker, Almunia was powerless to prevent it ripping into the net.
If three was unlikely, four was an impossibility, turning the remaining 79 minutes into an extended wake, leaving Arsene Wenger on the bench wondering what had hit him, knowing his Champions League obsession will not end in Roman triumph. In fairness, Arsenal tried to rally. It was just that by pushing forward, they left wide open gaps that United are too experienced to ignore. Almunia's fingertips denied Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo's header from the corner whistled wide, then two more free-kicks from the latter were saved. When the Portuguese player cut inside Emmanuel Eboue, on as a half-time replacement to put Gibbs out of his misery, the shot would have found the bottom corner had Almunia not denied him. There was nothing the Spaniard could do when United attacked again, Ronaldo supplying the finish to Rooney's cross. As his players cavorted in glee, Ferguson ordered them to tone down their celebrations out of respect to the hosts. It was the only mercy the Red Devils showed all night, although for Fletcher there was a nasty sting in the tail. The Scot got studs on the ball before sending Fabregas flying in the penalty area, earning him a red card which will rule him out of the final. Van Persie impressively converted the spot-kick - but it was little consolation for Arsenal.
Arsenal Team Statistics Manchester United
1 Goals 3
0 1st Half Goals 2
5 Shots on Target 9
4 Shots off Target 3
4 Blocked Shots 0
7 Corners 6
20 Fouls 11
3 Offsides 4
3 Yellow Cards 0
0 Red Cards 1
80.2 Passing Success 75
19 Tackles 25
78.9 Tackles Success 68
58 Possession 42
61.1 Territorial Advantage 38.9

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