Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “It was a difficult game for us and when you look at the number of clear-cut chances that Manchester United created then, of course, they were on top. The positive for us is that it’s only 1-0 and next week, playing at home, I am confident you will see a different Arsenal. We still have a good chance to reverse the result. We have the quality to do it and we believe we do it. The tie is still very open. They [United] will have regrets because they didn’t get a second goal and it’s down to us to make sure they regret it. It’s a good opportunity to show our character and mental strength. There’s a final at stake and, don’t worry, when we are playing at home and can reach a final we will be up for it. I’m confident because I know we will be on top on Tuesday.” – Arsene Wenger.
Runner-up: “The most positive aspect is that before the game we spoke about trying to win without losing a goal and we’ve done that… He’ll [Arsene Wenger] be thinking it’s a good day for him because he could have been out of the tie and he’s not. We tend to do things the hard way at our club and once again it’s a night when our supporters have been frustrated because we could have been in the final. We had enough chances to score four but their goalkeeper [Manuel Almunia] was really fantastic… [against Portsmouth, Arsenal] can play Pat Rice at right-back and Arsene Wenger can play centre-forward; it doesn’t matter to them. We have to put out a team to win at Middlesbrough in a lunchtime kick-off. I don’t think it [the early start] is right but we have to get on with it.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
Today’s overview: While a sizable collection of hacks seem to suggest pure luck helped Arsenal avoid a whipping at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, some attempt to be a little more creative in their analysis.
For Kevin McCarra, “Manchester United overwhelmed ÂArsenal, yet neglected to leave the full evidence in the result.” Almost begrudgingly, Daniel Taylor makes the case for the Gunners. “Ferguson’s men were so superior, so utterly rampant at times, it is not an easy thing to criticise them but you would have to think this was a missed opportunity.” While for Steven Howard, the hack reticently argues that Arsenal rode their luck. “The Frenchman has surely never enjoyed the sort of good fortune he and his side experienced at Old Trafford last night… That they actually survive to fight another day still in one piece will be one of the great mysteries of all time â€” one for the minds of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and every CSI programme from London to Las Vegas.”
United’s missed opportunities are also the central theme for Ian Herbert. “A failure to convert chances has been a recurring theme of this season. Ferguson has remonstrated with his players about it and there is no serial offender quite like Cristiano Ronaldo, who has the unenviable position at the top of the Champions League “shots off target” chart.”
Oliver Kay offers a slightly more balanced summary of the semi-final writing, “a single goal seemed a disappointing return for a vibrant display that was epitomised by the tenacity of Darren Fletcher, Anderson, Wayne Rooney and the recalled Carlos Tevez, but Arsenal could claim that they had the gameâ€™s outstanding performer in Manuel Almunia.”
Paul Hayward opts to needle away slightly at Arsenal, pointing out “to go 38 games undefeated is astounding. But it does not require you to come through unscathed against Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus or the two Milans.” Matt Dickinson is also unafraid to question the Gunners penning “last night we looked to see if this would be the year when Wenger would finally be rewarded â€” and the evidence was not promising.”
Yet The Professor is given a free pass by Henry Winter who argues that it is for the Arsenal players, and not their manager, to now prove their worth. “Wenger has done all he can. The onus is on the players now. Can they match Unitedâ€™s passion? Can they cope with the counter-attacking breaks that United will rely on at the Emirates? Can they overcome the odds?”
Looking at individual performances, Richard Williams is full of praise for Carlos Tevez. “If he lacks Berbatov’s enigmatic air and languid command of angles, Tevez brings qualities to which English football fans can easily respond.” Tevez’s shift was juxtaposed to Berbatov’s impact by Matt Hughes. “Berbatov was given the opportunity to alter a few opinions when he replaced TÃ©vez in the 67th minute but he failed to take it, his main contribution being to linger hopefully on the shoulder of Silvestre, who was relieved at the respite.”
Alternatively, David Pleat saluted United’s number 10. “The indefatigable Rooney was putting in a shift and a half on the left touchline, threatening every pass that may have come Walcott’s way but also being a constant danger with the ball when United broke.” While, for the Gunners, Mark Fleming focused on Cesc Fabregas. “Whenever Fabregas went back into a deeper role, Arsenal immediately gained far greater composure â€“ but their ability to cause problems of their own decreased by the same degree.”
Turning the clock back to Barcelona-Chelsea, Owen Slot crediting the keeper for his return to form. “The key to Cech’s form is that he has killed the pain… there has been no psychological trauma.”Guus] Hiddink’s tactical acumen that sets him apart… The Dutchman devised and executed a plan to keep Steven Gerrard quiet in the previous round against Liverpool and his strategy was equally successful against Barcelona, with the threat of Lionel Messi neutralised by double marking after a dangerous opening.” Also coming in for praise is Petr Cech,
Rory Smith is far from convinced however that Chelsea’s goalless draw will prove sufficient. “Hiddink’s ultra-defensive ploy achieved his initial aim of stopping Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. But his caution may have shot his team in the foot.”
While Matt Gatward feels robbed by the spectacle on show at the Nou Camp. “We were promised an extravaganza, a galaxy of stars lighting up the Nou Camp with thrills, spills and dribbles. What we saw instead was petulance, play-acting and paddies during Barcelona’s 0-0 draw with Chelsea that would have been awkward to witness at a four-year-old’s birthday bash. More Play School than skill school; a sulk-off between Didier Drogba and Daniel Alves.”
In other news, Owen Gibson reports on how “the government is close to finalising a high-level task force to discuss pressing issues around sport and gambling, in the wake of a string of allegations of cheating and corruption.”
The distinct lack of a standout candidate to take over the Bayern Munich job is highlighted by Richard Bright, who writes that, apart from Frank Rijkaard, “former Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, Italy’s Roberto Mancini, German Bernd Schuster and Martin Jol, Hamburg’s ex-Tottenham coach, have also all been touted in the German media as candidates.”
And lastly we have the transfer gossip.
Bill Bradshaw boasts that “Michael Owen is set for an emotional return to Merseyside in the summer, with Everton primed to make him an offer to end his career at Goodison Park.” The Sun report that AZ Alkmaar’s “Mounir El Hamdaoui is being tracked by both Liverpool and Arsenal.” Adam Simmonds claims “Manchester City are in talks with Miguel Velosoâ€™s agent over a Â£15million summer move from Sporting Lisbon.”
And there is more, the Mirror reporting “Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is lining up a shock move for Marseille skipper Lorik Cana â€“ in case Xabi Alonso is sold in the summer.” The Mirror conclude with the rumour that “Portsmouth want Â£16million for England right-back Glen Johnson – with Tottenham, Liverpool and Aston Villa all interested.”