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Monday, April 14, 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.

Carrick hails resolute Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo showed why he is probably the best player in the world with his twice-taken penalty against Arsenal, according to Michael Carrick.

After beating Jens Lehmann emphatically the first time, Ronaldo was ordered to retake his spot-kick and showed superb poise to put his second effort in the same place – low to Lehmann's right.

That brought United level after Emmanuel Adebayor’s opener early in the second half, and gave the Reds the platform to claim a vital victory through Owen Hargreaves’ free-kick.

Carrick told MUTV: “Ronny dealt with the pressure very well. It was a terrific penalty and that’s what top players do under pressure. They raise their game and produce the goods.

“Then Owen stepped up and hit a tremendous free-kick. We’ve seen him do it many times in training and I was pretty confident that he was going to take that and score.”

Carrick recognises the significance of the win, both in extending United’s lead over Chelsea at the top to six points and all but ending Arsenal’s title hopes. But he knows another tough game awaits the Reds at Blackburn next week.

“You could see by the celebrations how much it meant to us,” the midfielder added. “It was a tough game – one of the hardest ones we’ve had all season.

“We’re in control of the situation now and next week’s another huge game for us, so we’ll rest and get ready for that this week.”

Grant wants to apply pressure

Chelsea manager Avram Grant is confident that his side can pile the pressure on United by chalking off the Reds' six point lead by Thursday evening.

The second-placed Blues host Wigan on Monday evening before travelling to Everton on Thursday. Two victories would take the Londoners level with United, who are next in action on Saturday at Blackburn, and Grant is clinging to the hope that the champions will get twitchy before the end of the season.

"I believe that nobody is a computer," he said. "Pressure can affect anybody. It can take you forward in a positive way but also you can see that even big players under pressure cannot play like they used to. It can be any team, any player.

"If we win every game I think we will win the title. But it's not easy to win all the games. I said a week ago I didn't believe Man United and Arsenal would do it, it's not easy."

Grant would not be drawn to say that his side is superior to United, but feels that the Premier League title would be fitting reward for a season of upheaval at Stamford Bridge.

"I can't say we are the best in England but I don't think there is a team stronger than us," he said. "It has been a very difficult year and I don't know if other clubs could have done what we have with all the problems we have had. The players know it's a big opportunity and if I may say so, we deserve it after what we had this year."

Boss ready to spend

United may be embroiled in a fascinating climax to the current campaign, but Sir Alex Ferguson is already planning to strengthen his squad for next season.

The United manager has assembled a squad of sufficient strength in depth to challenge for the Premier League and Champions League this term, but he has earmarked areas which need further reinforcements.

"I don't need to spend, but I will," Sir Alex is quoted as saying in the News of the World. "I think there is an area where we are short and we can stock up on that a bit.

"It is not easy getting the best players here. But we have to because when you have a lot of quality in your squad you have to be absolutely correct on who you bring in.

"A player has a chance to come to a club like United and he would say 'that's my challenge to be in the team.' That's what good players do."

Sir Alex brought in Owen Hargreaves, Carlos Tevez, Anderson and Nani last summer and, after the quartet's unquestionable success this season, the Scot admits he will have one eye on the future when he re-enters the transfer market.

"I don't think I will bring in as many as last season and if we buy players it will probably be young ones," he said. "This year Tevez, Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson have been really fantastic for us. Those four players have made a big contribution to our season."