United aim for second successive final

LONDON: Sir Alex Ferguson believes titleholders Manchester United are perfectly placed to take advantage of the pressure on Arsenal in Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg as the holders aim to return to the final of Europe’s elite club competition.

Ferguson’s side travel to the Emirates Stadium in the ascendancy after John O’Shea’s goal secured a 1-0 win in the first leg last week. A draw would be enough for United to reach final for the second successive season. The Premier League leaders could even lose and still go through on away goals if they score and are defeated by just a one-goal margin.

Arsenal’s young, injury-hit team were struck by stage-fright in the first leg and the tie could have been beyond rescue but for a series of superb saves from Manuel Almunia. With the final at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico tantalisingly close, Ferguson expects United to prey on Arsenal’s nerves again.

The United manager is convinced United are in pole position because Arsenal’s failure to score at Old Trafford means they now have to play a more open game, leaving the way open for Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and company to wreak havoc on the counter-attack.

Key to United’s success in the first leg was the dominance of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Anderson in central midfield. The trio hounded Arsenal with playmaker Cesc Fabregas denied the time to find his rhythm as United had complete control for much of the match. Ferguson rested all three midfielders for Saturday’s 2-0 win at Middlesbrough and Fletcher admitted United’s gameplan will again focus on knocking Arsenal out of their stride.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists his players won’t be so timid in attack this time and he takes heart from the obdurate form of their defence at the Emirates. The Gunners haven’t conceded a home league goal since Robbie Keane scored for Liverpool on December 21.

“We have a good defensive record here, and in the Premier League Manchester United have suffered in away games,” Wenger said. “We can have an attacking style at home without conceding goals and that is what we want on Tuesday. I believe in the strength of character in this team and their desire to go through. We were unable to penetrate and create clear-cut chances in the first leg but the positive is that Manchester United had chances to win by more than one.”