ASSESSING his team’s Champions League chances in the aftermath of a 3-0 home win over Villarreal as cosy as burrowing on the sofa with your slippers on, ArsÃ¨ne Wenger’s eyes twinkled as he declared Arsenal are the “super-outsiders” of the box-office semi-finalists.
The days when psychological scratch marks were an integral part of any Arsenal versus Manchester United rendezvous seemed to have disappeared with the emergence of a top four to replace what was the Premier League’s big two.
But Wenger could not resist the call of history with such an evocative tie over the horizon. Arsenal and United lock horns at Old Trafford on April 29, with the return at the Emirates Stadium six days later.
“History always has a little part to play,” he mused. “I believe both teams, Manchester United and Arsenal, always produce very exciting games. Both like to go forward. It will be a promising semi-final. We’re relishing the challenge.
“It’s maybe 55% in favour of the side at home in the second game in terms of going through. What’s interesting is both teams have the same programme – a game in hand to play, an FA Cup semi-final, so how much we can manage to be physically well on the day will have a big impact.”And what chance a reprise of the goalfest served up by Chelsea and Liverpool? “Sometimes a minus and a minus makes a plus. Sometimes two attacking teams can cancel each other out,” he said.
Arsenal’s withdrawn display in the 2005 FA Cup final against United is proof enough that there is no guarantee of verve when so much is at stake.
But that is not his plan this time with a young team on the rise. The wider world of the Champions League is about to get to know a different kind of English tango than the well-known Liverpool-Chelsea dynamic.
The history between Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Wenger’s Arsenal is loaded. It stretches back over a dozen years.
Highlights include Marc Overmars tilting the title at Old Trafford, Ryan Giggs tearing off his shirt at Villa Park, Sylvain Wiltord winning the league in Manchester, Ferguson marching provocatively on to the pitch at Highbury, Martin Keown making his point to Ruud van Nistelrooy, and an urchin from the away dressing room lobbing pizza at Fergie. This one has bells on.
Although Arsenal go in the form team – with their only defeat in 20 matches coming in Rome when they ended up celebrating a penalty shoot-out triumph – Wenger is not foolish enough to take too much encouragement from United’s recent dip.
“I would not like to speculate on any weakness of Manchester United,” he cautioned. “They will be strong, but it should encourage us to be at our best.” – The Guardian.