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Manchester United crushed expectant Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium to progress to their second successive Champions League final.
Sir Alex Ferguson took a couple of risks with his selection – with John O’Shea and Ji-Sung Park providing a seemingly lightweight right hand side and Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney guarding their left hand side both carrying bookings – but he needn’t have worried about the possible negative effects perhaps denying his side the opportunity of a 4th European Cup Final.
United’s superior ability and confidence shone through in the early stages – Arsenal did defy their first leg approach by coming out and searching for a goal but were made to pay in the 7th minute when Park capitalised on a very unfortunate slip by Gunners defender Gibbs to convert a Cristiano Ronaldo cross.
Just 4 minutes later, Ronaldo was fouled by van Persie over 40 yards out. No danger, normally, but the World Player of the Year followed up his quarter final stunner with a fabulous set piece to silence the home crowd and many pundits – the goal had provided the holders with a seemingly unassailable advantage to the dismay of even the commentator for broadcasters ITV, Jim Beglin, who stated he was disappointed about United’s advantage without giving them credit for a truly ruthless first half performance.
Arsenal pushed for the remainder of the opening period but were caught out many times by the incisive passing of their visitors – almost conceding from a Rooney 25 yard effort and another Ronaldo free kick.
Hopes of a second half fightback were dispelled as United continued to expose their hosts on the counter, and those hopes were finally completely distinguished on the hour mark as Ronaldo scored his second in a move he started with an exquisite backheel to Park – United’s first scorer fed Rooney, who brilliantly found his number 7 to put the seal on the tie.
Arsenal, somewhat predictably, turned a little nasty after the third goal went in, culminating in a penalty award for a completely fair Darren Fletcher tackle on Fabregas (just before a terrible challenge from Adebayor on Carrick). Fabregas typically did not own up to the referee’s discrepancy and Fletcher was dismissed, ruling him out of the final. With so little at stake for the Spanish prodigy it was a disgraceful display of sportsmanship.
Robin van Persie scored the spot kick to make it 1-3, but the visitors pushed to score even more after.
Sir Alex Ferguson will eagerly view the game between Chelsea and Barcelona to assess his sides final opponents, but will be desperately unhappy regarding Fletcher’s dismissal.