Unlikely hero O’Shea gives United slim but vital advantage
Manchester United grabbed the advantage in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Arsenal at Old Trafford last night, as they took a slim but vital one-goal lead courtesy of a John O’Shea strike.
United will now travel to the Emirates for next Tuesday’s encounter safe in the knowledge that Arsene Wenger’s men will have to score at least twice in order to progress, but ruing the fact that the failed to convert their superiority into a greater lead.
Nevertheless Ferguson and United should be grateful that O’Shea was as opportunely placed to fire home as he was in the 17th minute, even if the versatile United man was left unmarked at the back post by some questionable Arsenal defending.
In honesty, Michael Carrick’s neat cut back could have found the unmarked feet of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez inside Arsenal’s penalty area, but for a slight deflection.
Not that it mattered though, as O’Shea rifled the ball past Almunia, into the roof of the Arsenal goal, with one fleet swing of his right boot.
Arsenal could have few complaints really, as they had up that point been steamrolled by a Manchester United attack brimming with confidence and creativity..
Only moments prior to the goal had Carlos Tevez been denied by a quite unbelievable reaction stop by Almunia, following excellent approach play by a combination of Ronaldo, Fletcher and O’Shea down the United right.
Perhaps Tevez should have scored such was his proximity to the goal. However to criticize Tevez, rather than commend Almunia, would be wholly unjust and undeserving of the brilliance Manuel Almunia produced.
Indeed, Almunia was only just recovering from having fashioned a finger-tip save to deny a looping Wayne Rooney header, which would certainly have ended up in the corner of the Arsenal goal, but for his quick feet and sharp reactions.
He even managed to get a hand to O’Shea’s powerful drive; however he was ultimately beaten by the speed and ferociousness of the strike, much to the delight and welcome surprise of O’Shea and his Manchester United team-mates.
To be fair to Arsenal, they bucked up their ideas considerably after the goal, and even more so after the half-time interval, but it just wasn’t to materialise for a team who seemed to be lacking in leadership and direction.
Cesc Fabregas was particularly noticeable by his absence as he failed to influence play to any degree, whilst Emmanuel Adebayor looked like a shell of the player he has developed into for Arsenal under the mind of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
To the same tee, for all the attacking talent on display for United, it was the Fletcher’s, Evra’s and O’Shea’s who shone and deserve the most credit for the manner in which they contributed to the containment of players such as Fabregas and Adebayor.
The potential and promise for brilliance in this game was perhaps best epitomized in Cristiano Ronaldo’s wonderful second half effort which rocketed off the frame of the goal: falling just short despite the best efforts of the players.
Ultimately then, both sides were forced for a result which will neither delight nor disappoint either.
Arsenal can go back to London and re-build with the knowledge they are still very much in a tie they could easily have been out of, but for the exploits of Manuel Almunia. Whilst Manchester United will have to consider the best course of action following a result which gives them a certain advantage but which dictates they surely must score at the Emirates in a week’s time.