When does a victory feel like a let down? When you should have scored five! And so despite comfortably beating Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday, the night felt like something of an anti-climax. United were so dominant – and Arsenal so poor – that a 1-0 victory from John O’Shea’s suprisingly well-taken goal didn’t feel like a fair return on the night’s efforts. While a similar performance next Tuesday will surely see United through to the final in Rome on May 27, it could have been so much more. In fact through the veil of Arsene Wenger’s bullishness after the game there was the clear sign of massive relief. Arsenal should have been out of the tie after the first half – now they’re still in with a shout.
United go into tomorrow’s away match at Middlesborough having to rotate the squad with Giggs, Scholes, Park, Nani and Macheda all likely to start the match. Wes Brown will be on the bench as a minimum involvement. It’ll be United’s 60th game of a marathon camapaign, while Arsenal will be able to rest key players ahead of next Tuesday’s return leg at the Emirates. It’s an advantage for the London club but one that is to be expected with United chasing five major trophies up to this month’s FA cup semi-final defeat.
Still, despite the narrow win, there were plenty of positives for United against Arsenal. The back four were outstanding, Anderson put in his best performance of the season and the front three were energetic and dangerous. It was all too much for Arsenal’s midfield in particular, who were made to look as youthful and inexperienced as they really are.
There’s also goog news on the injury front, with Rio Ferdinand almost certain to be fit. While Arsenal will have Robin van Persie back for Tuesday’s game, the gulf between the two sides should be too much for the Gooners to bridge. You would have to back United to get an away goal, leaving Arsenal needing three to progress.
Whatsmore, United have some of the zip back that went missing for a month. It augers very well for the run-in. Victory tomorrow and the Reds will end Saturday six points ahead of Liverpool with four games to go. That will leave Fergie’s side needing just two wins and a draw from games against Wigan, Hull, Manchester City and Arsenal. Fergie would have taken that at the start of the season.