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Arsenal played poorly at Manchester United on Wednesday but escaped with a 1-0 defeat that leaves them still in with a chance of reaching the Champions League final.When you consider that they haven’t conceded a goal at home in the competition all season, the situation doesn’t look half bad. After all, they have already beaten United in north London this season and there is no reason why they can’t do it again.First though, their big performers need to turn up, because they went missing at Old Trafford. Theo Walcott barely got a kick, Emmanuel Adebayor was subdued and Cesc Fabregas was overwhelmed in midfield.It will also help if Robin van Persie is fit after missing the first leg. Without the Dutchman, and the ineligible Andrey Arshavin, they looked lightweight in attack.United were not at their best either and will be frustrated at not putting the tie to bed. However, they did not allow Arsenal an away goal and so will start clear favourites to reach Rome and a possible re-match with Chelsea.Remember, they were in far worse shape after drawing 2-2 at home with Porto in the quarter-final, first leg. And with such a plethora of attacking options, Alex Fergsuon’s side will be confident of breaching Arsenal’s Emirates fortress.PHOTO: Manchester United’s John O’Shea (C) celebrates with Darren Fletcher (L) and Rio Ferdinand (R) after scoring during their Champions League semi-final, first leg against Arsenal at Old Trafford, April 29, 2009. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis
I’m not exactly sure why, but I’m not as excited as I should be given it’s the Champions League semi-final first legs this week.
Both ties should be making my mouth water. Manchester United v Arsenal is always a decent game in the Premier League and with Alex Ferguson’s men still wearily battling for the domestic title, Arsene Wenger’s boys have the perfect opportunity to spring a surprise.
4-4 is the sort of scoreline that delights neutrals, TV companies and marketing executives but it‘s not one that Liverpool fans will remember with any fondness.
A point from Tuesday night’s draw with Arsenal at Anfield was enough to take Liverpool top of the Premier League table on goal difference from Manchester United, but seeing as Alex Ferguson’s side have two games in hand it’s hard to see the title ending up anywhere but at Old Trafford.
So, it will be an all-Blue FA Cup final this year, after Everton set up a date with Chelsea thanks to the penalty shoot-out heroics of goalkeeper Tim Howard in the semi-final against Manchester United.
Howard, a former United keeper, you may remember, saved the first two penalties from Dimitar Berbatov and Rio Ferdinand and Everton didn’t look back.
Thierry Henry did not enjoy the happiest of starts to his new life in Barcelona but it’s clicked for the Frenchman this term.
He plays more as a winger than a striker under Pep Guardiola yet he’s still managed 15 league goals this season and the Premier League certainly seems a poorer place without him.
So, here we go again. For the fifth successive season, Liverpool will face Chelsea in the Champions League.
Villarreal v Arsenal
Manchester United v Porto
Liverpool v Chelsea
Barcelona v Bayern Munich
Manchester United or Porto v Villarreal or Arsenal
Barcelona or Bayern Munich v Liverpool or Chelsea
Liverpool will perhaps be marginal favourites in the all-English quarter-final after knocking Chelsea out at the semi-final stage in 2005 and 2007 but their fans will need no reminding that last season, when Chelsea got to play the second leg at home, it was the Londoners who came through.
The sight of Serie A sides flopping in the Champions League has become a familiar one and although the three teams eliminated this week were a little unlucky, a mental block against English opposition is developing.
Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho, who won the trophy with Porto in 2004, was hired in June largely to boost their hopes of challenging Europe’s elite after years of failure.
Speaking as someone who once sat in a brick-built outhouse at the bottom of the garden for five years writing a book about the FA Cup, I have rather a soft spot for the old pot.And so, it seems, after all these years, do Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and many other managers, some of whom have not always treated the competition with the respect I still think it deserves.It seems almost every year at about this time, the same stories are run about how the FA Cup has lost its magic and the competition is now a mere end-of pier show compared to the Champions League and Premier League.The doomsayers point to dwindling attendances at grounds and dipping TV viewing figures to prove the FA Cup is not what it was.Last season the jump-on-a-bandwagon team proclaimed the cup “was back” because of all the upsets along the way that meant that just one Premier League team — Portsmouth — reached the semi-finals. Portsmouth v Cardiff was an “old-fashioned” final, a throwback to the 1920s and 1930s.This season the same voices are proclaiming the cup is dead again because Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton are all in the last four with Arsenal set to join them, although Hull City are still involved, and can still of course win it for the first time in their history.But the critics can’t have it both ways. Some years there are upsets, some years there aren’t — and irrespective of the outcome, an FA Cup match does have a different atmosphere, a different tempo and a different level of excitement to a league match, even if both teams are in the same division and regularly play each other.I was at Fulham v Manchester United on Saturday and saw a magical performance from Michael Carrick, Carlos Tevez and their team mates as United crushed the home side 4-0.Despite modern improvements there is still a timeless feel about watching matches at Craven Cottage next to the River Thames, just as there is still a timeless feel about the FA Cup.Sometimes it ebbs, sometimes it flows. I still believe that for most fans, nurtured on just a little history who still appreciate the romance of the game, you can’t miss it for a moment.PHOTO: Everton’s Marouane Fellaini (R) challenges Middlesbrough’s Justin Hoyte during their FA Cup quarter-final at Goodison Park, March 8, 2009. REUTERS/Phil Noble
As Dimitar Berbatov sluggishly rolled in Manchester United’s winner at Newcastle United on Wednesday it suddenly occurred to me that the Premier League season that threatened a different story is heading for a very familiar ending.
At the top, the midweek matches saw United record their 11th consecutive league win and strengthen their grasp on the title, while Chelsea and Liverpool consolidated Champions League spots and Arsenal made up ground on an Aston Villa side which might just be running out of steam.
After a foray into the mix zone after the English League Cup final, the injured Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe replied to one journalist who asked him why he had cut all his hair off.
“I had to, I only ever seem to get injured when I have longer hair,” he said.