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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Saha back as options increase

Louis Saha's latest return to fitness enabled Sir Alex Ferguson to name his best 16 of the season so far on Saturday.

The French striker was one of five internationals on the United bench, the others being Nani, John O'Shea, Tomasz Kusczak and Michael Carrick. Like Saha, Carrick was making his first appearance in the squad since the 1-0 win over Roma a month ago.

The quality of substitutes available for the Reds certainly pleased Sir Alex.

"I had the strongest bench that we've had all season, that’s encouraging for us," he said.

"The lads who have been playing all this time have been fantastic and we are very proud of them. But we can now alternate our teams a little bit better."

O'Shea, Carrick and Saha all came on in the second half against Arsenal, and the latter caught the eye when United scored what looked to be the winning goal.

“Louis Saha made a marvellous contribution when he came on," praised Sir Alex.

"He made a great pass for the goal to Evra who squared it for Ronaldo. At that point, I thought we were home and dry.”

United will hope to be home and dry in the Champions League group stage on Wednesday night when they take on Dynamo Kyiv at Old Trafford.

This time Sir Alex will have seven subs - one of them could be Gary Neville, who played his first game for seven months in the reserves on Thursday. Read more...

Arsenal Vs. Manchester United Report

William Gallas snatched a last gasp equaliser for Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium after Cristiano Ronaldo looked to have given United victory in a pulsating match in North London.

The Gunners’ captain struck two minutes into injury time to earn Arsene Wenger’s side a 2-2 draw after the Reds had twice taken the lead.

United went in front through Wayne Rooney on the stroke of half-time via a wild deflection off William Gallas. Cesc Fabregas drew the hosts level three minutes after the restart after United had been slow to react in their own box, before Ronaldo put United 2-1 up. It looked likely to give the Reds all three points until Gallas struck seconds from time.

Sir Alex Ferguson made two changes to the side that had thrashed Middlesbrough a week earlier with recalls for both Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra, who had missed the Boro win through injury.

The Reds’ boss also had significant options on the bench with Louis Saha and Michael Carrick back in the frame after returning from knee and elbow injuries respectively. Tomasz Kuszczak, Nani and John O’Shea made up the remaining sub spots.

Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, stuck with the same eleven who earned a point at Anfield last weekend. Both sides went into the game in the form of their life - the Gunners unbeaten with six league wins out of six on their own patch, while United had eight league victories from eight under their belt.

The game began at a frantic pace as both sets of players took time to settle. Arsenal’s first sight of goal arrived on 10 minutes with Gael Cliché firing in a cross for Emmanuel Adebayor but his header was off target.

A minute later, Carlos Tevez fired an effort wide of Manuel Almunia’s right-hand post after a fizzed centre from Ryan Giggs.

Shouts for an Arsenal penalty rang round the Emirates 15 minutes in when Aleksandr Hleb went down under Nemanja Vidic’s somewhat clumsy challenge. Replays showed the Serbian centre-back had a handful of Hleb’s shirt, but referee Howard Webb waved away the Gunners’ appeals.

Two minutes later Ryan Giggs, making his 37th appearance against Arsenal, poked the ball just wide after an excellent break from United and fine cross from Ronaldo in Giggs’ path at the back post.

The Reds’ skipper fired an effort just over the bar soon after, picking up Tevez’s deflected knock down before turning and hitting it first time. Almunia looked to have covered had it been on target.

United seemed content to let Arsenal have possession and play on the counter-attack with the Reds’ backline and midfield duo of Anderson and Owen Hargreaves standing firm. Kolo Toure found a glimmer of an opening after exchanging passes with Hleb just before the half hour but his shot flew over.

Arsenal’s possession percentage continued to grow at the half drew to a close and their best chance of the opening period duly arrived on 36 minutes. Fabregas whipped in a free kick to the near post where William Gallas stooped in front of Patrice Evra to head the ball goalwards. Edwin van der Sar saved well on his line with his legs as United’s travelling army breathed a sigh of relief.

Having gone so close at one end to opening the scoring, it was Gallas who got the final touch as United made the vital breakthrough in first half injury time. Wes Brown did brilliantly to withstand a challenge from Hleb, before slotting the ball into Ronaldo who in fired a low cross. Rooney took a swing at it at the near post with the last touch coming off Gallas’ hand and past Almunia.

After a somewhat cagey opening 45 the game burst into life three minutes after the restart. Having looked so solid in defence during the first half, United found themselves stretched for the first time in the match and it led to an Arsenal equaliser. Van der Sar bravely blocked Adebayor’s effort and as the ball ran loose, Bacary Sagna was quickest to react slotting the ball into Fabregas’ path. The Spaniard picked his spot and fired the ball into the unguarded net.

Fabregas found the target again three minutes before the hour mark, curling a low free kick under the United wall. Thankfully, van der Sar was alert to the situation grasping the ball right on the line.

United continued to weather the Arsenal storm and went close through Rooney on 64 minutes. The England front man picked up the ball in midfield after Fabregas had given possession away and slotted a pass through to Giggs. The Welshman chipped a superb cross back into Rooney’s path, but the striker was unable to guide his header on target.

Rooney flicked a ball into Evra soon after. The Frenchman managed to get there before the onrushing Almunia and poked the ball into the centre of the area, but Ronaldo was unable to get there in front of a cluster of Arsenal defenders.

Ronaldo was not to be denied eight minutes from time as United snatched the winner. Saha, on for Tevez, slid a superb ball into the onrushing Evra who crossed brilliantly for Ronaldo to simply slot it home.

The drama was not finished though as Arsenal went in search of another equaliser. As the game entered added time the Gunners snatched a point through Gallas who guided the ball home brilliantly from a tight angle. Van der Sar looked to have saved it, but an eagle-eyed linesman spotted that the Dutchman was behind his goal line when he punched the ball clear. It was a sickening moment for the Reds who looked to have got their own back on the Gunners with a late winner having gone down to Thierry Henry’s last gasp goal last season.

Nevertheless, many United fans would have taken a point before this match and in the long run this point could prove to be a very valuable one.


Arsenal: Almunia; Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy; Eboue (Walcott, 74), Flamini, Fabregas, Rosicky (Eduardo, 81); Hleb (Gilberto, 81), Adebayor.
Subs not used: Lehmann, Diarra

Bookings: Fabregas

United: van der Sar; Brown (O'Shea 71), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Anderson (Carrick, 76), Hargreaves, Giggs; Tevez (Saha, 76), Rooney.

Subs not used: Kuszczak, Nani

Bookings: Evra, Hargreaves

Arsenal Vs. Manchester United Match Preview

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes his young side stand ``a good chance'' of going one better in the Carling Cup this season. The Frenchman led last season's fledglings all the way to Wembley only for a Didier Drogba double to deny him the one domestic trophy still to elude him as Chelsea ran out 2-1 winners.

Ultimately, that runners-up place proved to be Wenger's side's biggest achievement last term as their domestic and European hopes all faltered in a matter of weeks after that defeat. This season the Gunners find themselves still unbeaten in all competitions, topping both their Premier League and their Champions League group and reaching the last eight of the Carling Cup with a 3-0 victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

Wenger believes success in the League Cup is again a possibility this season but insists he will not make the same mistakes again. He said: ``We still missed two or three players but when everybody is here we have a good chance again because we have a little bit more experience. ``But it also depends on the injuries. Last year I sacrificed some players at the end of this competition and we paid for it in the Champions League and the Championship so it depends on that.

``When you get to a semi-final you have two legs so you need a little bit of experience and that's what I did last year and in the end it caught up with us.'' Asked if he would stick with his young guns in the latter stages this time around, Wenger replied: ``I will try. It's very difficult to predict in football because you go from game to game and at the moment we are not too bad with injuries.

From now until January 1 we have a game every three days so sometimes in one week you can get four or five injuries.'' Two clinical strikes from Eduardo Da Silva early in each half ensured the visitors were always in control before Denilson's deflected long-range effort sealed a comfortable win. The victory extended Arsenal's unbeaten run to 24 games - the last time they were beaten was on April 7 by West Ham - with Wenger's side victorious in 15 of their 17 games this season.

Saturday sees their biggest challenge to date with second-placed Manchester United the visitors to the Emirates Stadium. Victory for the champions would enable them to leapfrog their old foes, with the two sides level on 26 points with even the same goal difference - although the Gunners have played one less game.

ButWenger believes his team's showing against the Blades will ensure confidence his high ahead of the visit of Sir Alex Ferguson's side. He added: ``I thought overall it was a good performance and everyone played very well. You could see the difference in our team, the confidence was very high and in theirs it was less at the moment.''

One of Ferguson's proteges, Bryan Robson - who skippered United during the Scot's early reign at Old Trafford - believes his old side will be given a stern test. ``I think they are a very good side,'' the Blades boss said. ``They've done well in this competition for the last few years because they're not just about passing and movement, they are a physical set of players as well.

``You have got to have that bit of balance within your team - strength and pace as well as passing and possession, and that's where Arsenal are as good as any team I have seen. ``The movement and the protection of the ball is excellent and that's why they are such a good team.'' Read more...