29/04/2009 21:30, Report by Ben Hibbs
United 1 Arsenal 0
Fitter. Harder. Faster. Stronger. United outfought and outclassed Arsenal on a European night to remember at Old Trafford. Yet the Reds take only a one-goal advantage to the Emirates Stadium next Tuesday, and the road to Rome is not as straightforward as it perhaps could have been.
Sir Alex said before the game that he would happily take a 1-0 victory in this Champions League semi-final, first leg. And United can take heart from an outstanding display of vigour and verve. But after the mauling Arsenal received, the Reds boss can surely only conclude that the winning margin should have been greater.
Right from the off United’s players, backed by an absolutely incredible support, were revved up and right in the faces of the beleaguered Gunners. Carlos Tevez was rewarded for his match-changing second-half display against Tottenham at the weekend with a place in the starting line-up – and he played like he had a statement to make.
Sir Alex’s team selection suggested speed and energy were of the essence. And, spurred on by a fired-up Old Trafford crowd, the Reds made a blistering start, with Wayne Rooney forcing an excellent save from Manuel Almunia after just two minutes. Then Cristiano Ronaldo flashed a cross-shot across the face of goal. It was upbeat and high-tempo stuff, as expected. But Arsenal were nowhere to be seen early on against the hungry-looking Reds.
Tevez was snap-at-your-ankles enthusiastic, Ronaldo and Rooney both looked lively and Darren Fletcher maintained his excellent recent form in the heart of midfield. For Arsenal, away from home and with Emmanuel Adebayor up front on his own, theirs was always bound to be a more patient approach. But even when their first spell of possession eventually arrived, they were booed and barracked into submission.
United pressed on and after 16 minutes Almunia again came to Arsenal’s rescue. A