Well, we haven’t done this for a while, so I thought it would make a change to do it this evening. It’s the second leg of the semi-final of the European Cup and it’s Manchester United with a one goal lead from the first leg. The teams are as follows:
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Djourou, Gibbs, Walcott, Fabregas, Song Billong, Nasri, Van Persie, Adebayor. Subs: Fabianski, Eboue, Silvestre, Diaby, Denilson, Vela, Bendtner.
Manchester United: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson, Park, Ronaldo, Rooney. Subs: Kuszczak, Rafael Da Silva, Evans, Giggs, Scholes, Berbatov, Tevez.
So, no place for Carlos Tevez and no place for Dimitar Berbatov for United, while Arsenal have some young chap called Gibbs playing at full back. Never heard of him. If anyone would care to enlighten me, I would be most grateful. Manchester United’s 1-0 lead from the first leg means that Arsenal have to win this evening, and the lack of an away goal might prove to be decisive tonight.
There are, at the time of writing, five minutes to kick off and the crowd seems strangely sparse from the pictures. Maybe the queues at the toilets are massive, though I thought there was one toilet per person at The Emirates. Or is that Wembley? You see one super-stadium, and you’ve seen them all. Anyway, check back for regular updates, and feel free to leave your comments. Rumbling time, I am reliably informed, is imminent.
19.45: Well, they’re off. Arsenal in that terrible kit that makes them look a little bit like Charlton Athletic, and Manchester United in all blue. Still plenty a few seats, by the way.
19.50: Note to Wembley groundstaff: go to The Emirates stadium, cosh the groundsman over the head, stick im in a sack and take him back to the national stadium. The pitch looks absolutely fantastic. Arsenal have come out, ahem, “all guns blazing”, by the way.
19.53: GOAL – Arsenal 0-1 Manchester United: Well, we all know who this Kieran Gibbs is now. Ronaldo’s cross is not a great one, but Gibbs slips on an invisible banana skin and Park scores. Arsenal need three to go through now. Is it all over already?
19.56: GOAL – Arsenal 0-2 Manchester United: I think this might be a record quick time for the obligatory television shots of upset looking football supporters as ITV pans across the crowd. Ronaldo fires in a free kick from thirty yards and Almunia makes a bit of a hash of it. If a faint noise that has been troubling you for a couple of weeks has suddenly stopped, that will be people calling for Almunia to play for England falling suddenly silent.
20.00: I’m not sure how Arsenal are going to find a way back into this. All United have to do now is throw eight or nine men behind the ball and, given Arsenal’s continuing tendency to try and walk the ball into the net, they’ll eventually run into somebody. Rooney’s shot from outside the penalty area is excellently saved by Almunia (Almunia for England!) and, from the resulting corner, Ronaldo heads wide. Admit it: it would be quite funny if they won eight or nine nil tonight, wouldn’t it?
20.10: United are controlling this like a training match at the moment, keeping hold of possession with comparative ease. We’re halfway through the first half, and Arsenal look beaten already. Jim Beglin has just reminded the watching TV audience that “they scored four at Anfield the other week”, which kind of overlooks the fact that they conceded four in the same match. If I was betting on whether Arsenal would score four or concede four tonight, I know where my money would go.
20.15: Nasri, who looks lively on the rare occasions that he gets anywhere near the ball, crosses from the left but Adebayor’s header is comfortable for Van Der Saar. The two had just clashed when a cross saw the goalkeeper fumble the cross only for the referee to give a free kick. Meanwhile, Ronaldo shoots but this time Almunia saves comfortably.
20.20: At the risk of descending into cliche too early, it has to be said that if Arsenal don’t get a goal back before half-time, they’ve really got no chance. Manchester United just look so much more composed on the ball – comfortable in their own skin, if you like – that you just can’t see where it’s going to come from. After all, they’ve managed almost forty minutes without having any serious goalscoring chances so far.
20.25: I’m now idly wondering how much the television audience has dropped over the last twenty-five minutes or so. I mean, there might be colossal amounts of drama to come (and, in spite of what you might think, i very much hope that there is), but I can’t see it, really.
20.30: Half-Time: Arsenal 0-2 Manchester United: Like a bottle of cola that was opened and left with the lid off, this match started with a fizz but has gone rather flat. Manchester United are comfortable at the moment and Arsenal look completely blunt up front without the rapier-like Arshavin. Imagine a boot with a Manchester United badge and a Chelsea badge on the sole stamping on a human face forever. Back in fifteen minutes.
20.45: Eboue on for Gibbs at half-time, and that is the only change, perhaps surprisingly.
20.50: Part of The Emirates is empty, with stewards looking around, possibly for a suspicious package of some description. Without wishing to be too flippant, a bomb scare is the only way that Arsenal are going to get out of this. Almunia saves well again, this time from Ronaldo.
21.00: Goal – Arsenal 0-3 Manchester United: Arsenal leave too many players forward and United break. Rooney squares the ball to Ronaldo and he has a very easy job to beat Almunia. Game, set and match to Manchester United. Giggs on for Anderson, and Bendtner for Walcott, who has been very disappointing.
21.05: Van Persie has a shot beaten away by Van Der Saar, but it’s all academic now, really. Berbatov comes on for Rooney who, he says in a hushed voice, is on one yellow card and, shall we say, isn’t above picking up a needless yellow card in the last twenty-five minutes.
21.10: Yellow card for Samir Nasri, who (cough) will miss the final now should Arsenal get through. Meanwhile, this match has slowed to walking pace and, notably, there seems to be a very large number of empty seats already.
21.15: Bendtner shoots into the side netting for Arsenal, and then at the other end Park shoots from a narrow angle but Almunia (who has played pretty well since his mistake earlier) blocks with his legs. At this rate, the players and TV crews will be the only people left in the ground by full time.
21.16: Goal: Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United – Harsh, harsh, harsh. Cesc Fabregas is running in on goal and Darren Fletcher brings him down, earning himself a red card into the bargain. The replay shows that he did make contact with the ball first, but Fletcher will now miss the final. He can’t even appeal against it. Van Persie scores from the penalty spot.
21.20: Vela on for Van Persie. Arsene Wenger, who looked close to tears after the second Manchester United goal, has probably got his eye on this weekend’s match against Chelsea now.
21.25: Ronaldo has another go from a free kick, and it flashes just over. I would feel a little bit sorry for Arsenal if they weren’t, well, Arsenal. Fingers crossed for a Barcelona win (or, I guess, a scoring draw) tomorrow night so that we have something approaching a real European Cup final later this month.
21.30: As the clock ticks over ninety minutes, Emmanuel Adebayor has half a chance but his feeble shot is comfortable for Van Der Saar.
Full Time: Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United (United win 4-1 on aggregate) – And there we are. In all honesty, this was a masterclass from Manchester United. No matter whether you like them or not (and I don’t), you can’t argue with such a complete, controlled performance. The result never looked in any doubt whatsoever. 4-1 feels like a fair aggregate score, with United doing the damage that they strangely failed to cause last week. Quite where Arsenal go from here is anybody’s guess. You can’t be a team in transition forever, and Arsenal will not be winning any silverware this year.