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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Owen gets in on the act

Owen Hargreaves had no doubt he was the man to take the free-kick which gave United a decisive 2-1 victory against Arsenal.

The midfielder had earlier been denied the chance to take a free-kick by Cristiano Ronaldo, but revealed he didn’t even listen to the Reds’ top scorer before stepping up to curl home the winner in the 72nd minute.

The 27-year-old said: “We had an earlier free-kick and I said ‘I’ll take that’, but Ronny said ‘it’s too far for you’.

“The second one was a bit closer and it was a good distance for me so I didn’t ask him!

“I score goals on counter-attacks, from long distance or free-kicks and if I can get a chance to contribute, I’m very happy with that.”

Hargreaves admitted United were stretched too often by the Gunners in the first half, but was pleased with the way the Reds responded after the break.

“I thought it was an open game – too open in the first half,” he said. “The distances were too big and there was a lot of running to be done.

“We needed to tighten up a bit in the second half because Arsenal were the better team and made it difficult for us.”

Hargreaves was full of praise for Ronaldo, who showed nerves of steel to bury his penalty after referee Howard Webb had ordered him to retake it.

"He was under huge pressure but it didn't faze him and he didn't doubt himself for a second. That's why he's the best at the moment."

Rio Ferdinand had another excellent game as captain in the heart of the defence and he was delighted by United’s fighting spirit after conceding the first goal to Emmanuel Adebayor early in the second half.

Ferdinand said: “It was a massive game for us. We don’t go a goal down at home very often, but we showed true grit, determination and a great team ethic to claw our way back into the game, as we did at Middlesbrough last week.

With four games to go, United are now six points ahead of Chelsea, who play Wigan on Monday, and nine ahead of Arsenal, who are effectively out of the title race.

Rio concluded: “The three points, no matter who you play against, are important. But there are more games to be played – the title’s not handed out now. We need to win our remaining games and if we do that, we’ll be champions.”

Hargreaves and Ferdinand were talking to Sky Sports and MUTV.

Boss: Two wins for the title

Sir Alex Ferguson feels the title is almost in touching distance after his team overcame a difficult test against Arsenal at Old Trafford.

The Reds came from behind to beat Arsene Wenger's side in a game that Sir Alex considered "absolutely outstanding", even if his players were below par in the first period.

"Arsenal were the better team in the first half," admitted Sir Alex, after describing his experience of watching the match as "torture."

"I thought we were nervous, I thought our passing was poor, I thought the confidence and the way we expressed ourselves was poor. I couldn’t wait for half-time.

"I had Anderson and Tevez to come on and when Arsenal scored it forced my hand. I thought we were fantastic after that.

"Wayne (Rooney) could have had a hat-trick, we played some good football and Arsenal had some good moments themselves. It was just an incredible game.

"I watched the Liverpool-Arsenal match and thought it was fantastic. But the quality of that game today was absolutely outstanding. You’ll not get a better game this year."

Rooney was denied several times by Jens Lehmann, but the Arsenal goalkeeper could do nothing about either of United's goals, a clinically retaken penalty by Cristiano Ronaldo and a delightful free-kick from Owen Hargreaves.

Sir Alex said: "The manner in which Ronaldo hit the second penalty was unbelievable. It was six inches inside the post, low down – no keeper in the world would have saved it.

"And I thought it was going to be Owen who took the free-kick – it was his distance. He’s very good at those ones – he scored one against Fulham earlier in the season of course – and he whipped it in brilliantly."

Sir Alex revealed before this match that he'd marked Middlesbrough away last week as a potential banana skin. And he surely had this fixture circled in red for danger as well.

"We’ve got over a nervous day today. We knew Arsenal are such a good team and there's been nothing between the clubs in the games we've played over the years.

"I think Arsenal are unlucky not to get something from this game. Edwin (van der Sar) was fantastic, his confidence and experience shone through and it saved us at times really.

"Arsenal put everything into it, they gave their biggest effort, you couldn’t have asked for any more from them and yet we still managed to win it. So that was a big, big game for us today, a bit nervy at times, but we’ve come through it.

"We’ve got a week’s rest now so we can freshen up the players before Blackburn away. It’s a local derby and it’s always hard and then we’ve got Chelsea at Chelsea.

"I said (last week) if we won our next three games we’d win the league. We’ve won one of them, we’ve got two to go – if we win our next two games, we’re champions."

Sir Alex Ferguson was talking to Sky Sports and MUTV.

Manchester Untied Vs. Arsenal Result Report

United moved imperiously towards retaining the title with this tremendous victory against old rivals Arsenal on an afternoon of high drama at Old Trafford.

Owen Hargreaves scored the winner with a fabulous free-kick after Cristiano Ronaldo cancelled out Emmanuel Adebayor's opener early in the second half. But every man in a red shirt, not just those on the scoresheet, played their part in this priceless triumph.

Hargreaves and Ji-sung Park had retained their places in midfield after impressing in midweek against Roma but Carlos Tevez had to settle for a berth on the bench, with Sir Alex Ferguson selecting Wayne Rooney as a lone striker.

Arsenal’s side showed two significant changes to the defence which conceded four goals at Anfield in the Champions League quarter-final. German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann made a surprise return, with Almunia presumably injured, while Alexandre Song made a rare start at centre-back after Senderos’ poor show against Liverpool.

The Gunners made a lively start and after Emmanuel Adebayor’s run was halted by Rio Ferdinand on the edge of the area, Cesc Fabregas rifled a venomous shot just over the bar. Wes Brown will not want to see a replay after gifting the ball to Fabregas, one of three men nominated for both the PFA’s senior and young player awards.

Another double nominee is United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, and he had his first crack at goal with a free-kick in the 11th minute. Unfortunately his shot struck the wall, then a follow up setpiece missed Ferdinand’s head at the far post.

Ferdinand was called upon at the other end to block an Adebayor effort and another attempt from Gilberto when the second of two Arsenal corners in quick succession was punched less than convincingly by Edwin van der Sar. The Dutchman did better on the deck when Adebayor next threatened, diving to his right to hold a low shot.

The frenetic end-to-end pace was stretching the play and Brown fell foul of it when he caught Clichy late and was booked for a foul on the Arsenal left-back. Brown was later on the receiving end when the combative van Persie earned his yellow card.

Park missed with a header from Hargreaves’ left-wing cross and Rooney fired a shot narrowly wide of Lehmann’s right-hand post. The United striker went even closer moments later when Ronaldo beat Song on the byline and pulled the ball back – this time Lehmann had to stick out a leg to divert the shot wide.

No such intervention was required from van der Sar when Adebayor launched his next shot high into the Stretford End, nor when Gilberto sliced wide. It was open season for shooting, with Arsenal’s lack of accuracy perhaps the saving grace for some generous defending on United’s part. And even when Adebayor’s albeit tame shot was on target after being put through by Hleb, van der Sar claimed it.

Arsenal’s best chance to score was immediately followed by another near-miss from Rooney, with Lehmann again deflecting his shot for a corner.

The Gunners caused the Stretford End to hold its breath once more before the break as Fabregas curled a low ball into the box for Adebayor, only for van der Sar to pounce. The away fans were then relieved to see Lehmann make his latest save from Rooney.

The second half opened like the first had finished – with chances at both ends, only this time, they were converted by the two sides’ top scorers. Firstly Adebayor met van Persie’s left-wing cross to give Arsenal the lead from close range. Then Ronaldo returned fire, scoring his 38th goal of the season with a retaken penalty after Gallas handled in the area. Howard Webb was unhappy with Lehmann’s antics on the line and booked the German before Ronaldo blasted the ball past him for a second time.

The roar around Old Trafford was deafening, as if the reality of what was at stake in this even contest had suddenly grabbed the home fans by their vocal chords.

Sir Alex made a double substitution in the 55th minute as Tevez replaced Park and Anderson came on for Scholes. Arsene Wenger waited six more minutes to make his first change, bringing on Theo Walcott for Emmanuel Eboue.

Anderson and Tevez were quickly in the thick of the action, notably when the Brazilian was scythed down cynically by Adebayor who was booked, just before Tevez sent a tremendous effort screaming past Lehmann’s right-hand post. Fabregas then reminded the Reds of his threat when he scooped a shot just over the top.

United were also a threat to themselves at the old Scoreboard End – Brown deflected Clichy’s cross onto a post; earlier van der Sar stopped Ferdinand from scoring an own goal. But these anxious moments were all but forgotten 18 minutes from time when Hargreaves produced his glorious party-piece, curling a free-kick over the wall and inside the left-hand post with Lehmann rooted to the spot.

Ecstasty exploded around the stadium as the jubilant United players came together to celebrate a decisive moment in the title race – one can only wonder what curses were being uttered meanwhile in West London. Arsenal were doing Chelsea a favour at 0-1, even 1-1 – but now the Reds were back in control of their title quest.

The Gunners tried in vain to keep their season alive - substitute striker Nicklas Bendtner had one late header saved by van der Sar while another struck the post - but United were not to be denied three precious, priceless and hard-won points on a memorable afternoon in Manchester.

United: Van der Sar; Brown, Pique, Ferdinand, Evra; Park, Carrick, Hargreaves, Scholes, Ronaldo; Rooney. Subs: Kuszczak, O'Shea, Anderson, Giggs, Tevez.

Arsenal: Lehmann, Toure, Gallas, Song, Clichy, Eboue, Gilberto, Fabregas, Hleb; Van Persie, Adebayor.
Subs: Fabianski, Djourou, Bendtner, Hoyte, Walcott.

Manchester United Vs. Arsenal Highlights Video Clip

Manchester U. [2 - 1] Arsenal
48' [0 - 1] E.S. Adebayor
54' [1 - 1] C. Ronaldo (pen.)
72' [2 - 1] O. Hargreaves