Manchester United v. Arsenal – UEFA Champions League Semifinal Preview

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Manchester United v. Arsenal
UEFA Champions League Semifinal Preview

First Leg: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 – Old Trafford, England
Second Leg: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 – Emirates Stadium, England

One of the greatest and most intense rivalries of the last decade will resume with a vengeance as Manchester United will do battle with Arsenal in the Semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.

Every rivalry has its share of indelible moments. For Arsenal and Manchester United, they have enough to fill several DVD’s.

There was Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger nearly coming to blows at Old Trafford. There was Denis Irwin sliding into Nigel Winterburn and triggering a brawl. There was Roy Keane clashing with Patrick Vieira in the tunnel. There was Martin Keown acting like a professional wrestler after Ruud Van Nistelrooy missed a penalty. There was Van Nistelrooy falling to his knees and nearly coming to tears after redeeming himself a year later. There was Pizzagate.

The rivalry has lost a bit of its luster in the last few years, mainly due to the rise of other dominant personalities in England, such as Mourinho and Benitez. Ferguson and Wenger, once the bitterest of foes, have mellowed considerably, and have even praised one another in public on multiple occasions since that tense day at Old Trafford when United ended Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten streak in the Premiership.

However, the main reason has been Arsenal’s descent from dominant power to also-ran. They haven’t won a trophy since the 2005 F.A. Cup and haven’t finished higher than third in the Premiership since the 2004-2005 season. Since Arsenal last won a trophy, Manchester United have won back-to-back Premiership titles, a Champions League crown, two League Cups, and the World Club Championship.

That’s not to say that their recent matches have lacked tension or meaning. Last season, Arsenal’s title aspirations were crushed at Old Trafford as Owen Hargreaves buried a free-kick that caught the entire Arsenal lineup with their collective pants down. In 2006-2007, Arsenal put a blemish on Manchester United’s first title-winning campaign in four years by completing the double over them. Earlier this season, Arsenal defeated Manchester United behind a double from Samir Nasri, a result that kick-started Manchester United’s record-breaking clean-sheet streak.

Of course, all of that will pale in comparison to the stakes in the Semifinals. Both managers desperately want to win this competition, and would love to win at the expense of the other. Arsenal have been in better form, as of late, despite the fact that they haven’t been serious Premiership contenders all year. They’re riding a 20-match unbeaten streak in the Premiership (including that thrilling 4-4 draw with Liverpool), which is their longest such streak since the Invicibles Era.

However, their defense has been in tatters as a result of injuries to William Gallas and Gael Clichy, and their strike-duo of Robin Van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor both suffered injuries during their dispiriting loss to Chelsea in the F.A. Cup Semifinals.

Worse of all, their big midseason acquisition, Andrei Arshavin, who put four goals past Pepe Reina at Anfield Stadium, is cup-tied and won’t be available. Arsene Wenger has always managed to make due with what he has, however, this season, the cupboard is almost bare.

Mikael Silvestre has been a nightmare at center-back. Alex Song, Denilson, and Abou Diaby have all tried, and have mostly failed, to establish themselves in midfield. Even stalwarts like Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy, and even Fabregas have struggled at times. It’ll take all of Wenger’s resources and ingenuity if he wants to lift the Champions League Cup in May.

Especially with the defending champions standing in their way. Much has been made of Manchester United’s recent slump. They were thrashed by Liverpool at Old Trafford. They were soundly beaten by Fulham and got two of their players sent off.

They needed late goals from 17-year-old Federico Macheda to defeat Aston Villa and Sunderland, they blew a late lead to Porto at home, and then crashed out of the F.A. Cup on penalties.

For a team that seemed to keep clean sheets at will, they’ve only kept one clean sheet in the league in their last seven matches and have hemorrhaged 13 goals in that timespan.

However, Manchester United seem to be playing better, as of late, especially on defense. Ever since Rio Ferdinand returned and Nemanja Vidic served his suspension, the two have seemingly regained the form that made them the best center-half tandem in England. In doing so, they’ve lifted the spirits of United’s beleaguered defense, even as Gary Neville and Patrice Evra continue to struggle.

They went to one of the toughest stadiums for an opposing team to win in and not only defeated Porto but kept a clean sheet. Their B-Team shut out the sixth highest-ranked team in England for 120 minutes.

And on Saturday, despite defensive mistakes conceding two goals and a 50-50 penalty decision that Ferguson described as fortunate, a stirring comeback saw United score 3 goals in 5 minutes and storm to a 5-2 victory against Tottenham. They’ll be carrying that momentum forward, and if United’s defense returns to the form that they were in when they made clean sheets a habit instead of an accomplishment, then Arsenal could be looking at yet another trophy-less season.

Who will prevail in the latest installment of one of the fiercest and greatest rivalries in football? Will Arsenal get another chance at that elusive Champions League title? Or will Manchester United move one step closer towards defending their crown?

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You can watch the Champions League semifinals and other football games live online. Here’s our guide to watching live football online, and if you’re looking for free options then here’s our guide to watching football online for free.

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