O'Shea edges United ahead
John O'Shea was the unlikely hero for Manchester United on Wednesday as they beat Arsenal 1-0 at Old Trafford.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 29/04/09 10:32pm
John O'Shea was the unlikely hero for Manchester United on Wednesday as they beat Arsenal 1-0 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final.
United were quickest out of the traps during the eagerly-anticipated clash at Old Trafford and looked like a team determined to defend their European crown.
They dominated from the off and Wayne Rooney could have had them ahead inside the opening minutes as he saw a looping header brilliantly kept out by Manuel Almunia.
The Red Devils were able to keep their opponents on the back foot for much of the first half, with Cristiano Ronaldo also forcing Almunia into a couple of smart stops.
It was, though, the unlikely source of O'Shea from which the breakthrough came on 17 minutes.
The Gunners failed to deal with a corner floated to the back post and when Michael Carrick drilled across the face of goal the Irishman was on hand to poke into the roof of the net.
Arsene Wenger's men did come into the game slightly more after the break, but their usually reliable passing game let them down all too often.
Emmanuel Adebayor was having an off night as a lone frontman, while Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott were well shackled by the United back four.
Much to the delight of the Red Devils faithful Ryan Giggs was handed the opportunity to make his 800th United appearance, and he kept things ticking over in midfield upon his arrival.
It was, though, Ronaldo who went agonisingly close to stealing the headlines as he cracked the crossbar with a 30-yard thunderbolt which left Almunia rooted to the spot.
Giggs did have the ball in the net with just over 10 minutes remaining, but he was adjudged to have strayed offside and his night was denied a fairytale ending.
The first half-hour was as one-sided as a game at this level is possible to be.
With screening midfielders Alexandre Song and Abou Diaby failing completely to quell the tide of onrushing home players, Wenger's team were almost submerged before they had managed so much as a shot.
United would have been in front with only a minute on the clock had Almunia not managed to claw away a looping Rooney header that seemed destined to drop in.
It proved to be the sign of things to come for Arsenal, who were pulled apart at regular intervals, with Almunia resembling King Canute trying to hold back the tide.
The Spaniard pulled off two splendid stops in the space of a minute to deny Ronaldo.
His first was the pick, parrying a firm header from point-blank range after Carlos Tevez had crossed.
A curling shot from the boot of the Ballon D'Or winner followed shortly afterwards which Almunia was also equal to.
It would be too simplistic to say Tevez was the catalyst for such relentless attacking.
However, it is undeniable the Argentinian triggered Saturday's amazing comeback against Tottenham and, surprisingly selected ahead of record signing Dimitar Berbatov, Tevez kept going exactly the same way.
It was a close-range effort from Tevez, saved by Almunia, that proved to be the prelude to United's opener.
Anderson's corner fell kindly for Carrick at the far post, with the England star electing for a firmly driven cross into the six-yard box.
Against his former club, Mikael Silvestre was eager to make a positive impression. That did not include deflecting the ball to O'Shea.
Leaning back, the Irishman crashed his shot into the roof of Almunia's net.
O'Shea has form for that kind of thing. A couple of years ago, he scored a last-minute winner at Anfield against Liverpool and then smacked one in at Everton in what turned out to be a title-winning victory.
If Arsenal thought the second half at least gave them an opportunity to enjoy a more even share of possession and chances, they were mistaken.
A rocket shot from Ronaldo cannoned away for a corner off Silvestre, the same player also sliding in to clear a low Patrice Evra cross bound for Tevez.
Anderson blazed over from the edge of the area, which was perhaps no surprise given he has not scored for United in almost two years since arriving from FC Porto.
Under the circumstances, it was probably just as well an offside flag had earlier been incorrectly raised against the Brazilian as he threatened to charge clear after collecting an O'Shea pass.
Having given so much, Tevez was not amused to be replaced by Berbatov midway through the second half.
Not that a capacity crowd had much time to consider his reaction after a loud rendition of 'Argentina' that followed 'sign him up', a cry seemingly destined to go unheeded.
Attention was diverted by the thunderous 30-yard effort from Ronaldo that smacked into the crossbar as United strained every sinew in their search for a second.
In response, Cesc Fabregas was off target with a couple of half-chances, Adebayor's volley flew over and substitute Nicolas Bendtner might well have equalised with a header from the free-kick that caused the collision which forced Rio Ferdinand off with what seemed like a rib injury.
The sight of Ferdinand trying to get back on even though Jonny Evans had already replaced him, emphasised how much this means to United.
Arsenal will need to exceed that determination if they are to overhaul the deficit next week.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Arsenal|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|7||Shots on Target||1|
|6||Shots off Target||3|