John O'Shea's first-half goal gave Sir Alex Ferguson the result he had asked for as Manchester United FC beat Arsenal FC 1-0 in the opening leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final.
Sir Alex said on the eve of the game that he would be "delighted" to win 1-0 and that is exactly what he got through defender O'Shea's close-range effort after 17 minutes. It was a deserved victory for the defending champions and leaves Arsenal requiring a big improvement in the second leg next Tuesday when they must try to defeat United by two clear goals for the first time in 20 matches.
Both these teams are renowned for their fine attacking football but it was United who took the honours here. The defending champions flew out of the blocks and inside the second minute Wayne Rooney's looping header put Manuel Almunia at full stretch to make the save. Semi-finals can be cautious affairs but United veered from the script, their early high tempo typified by Carlos Tévez, racing around like a man with a point to prove on his first European start since December.
The hosts' urgent start earned its reward just after the quarter-hour. Moments earlier Almunia had denied Tévez at close range with a superb one-handed save when the Argentinian appeared certain to convert O'Shea's low centre. But the goalkeeper's good work went to waste from Anderson's ensuing corner. Although overhit, Michael Carrick drove the ball back in and it deflected off United old boy Mikaël Silvestre to O'Shea who crashed a first-time effort past Almunia. Evidence that things were not going Arsenal's way came soon after when Cesc Fàbregas sliced a shot out for a throw-in.
It was the Spaniard who had the visitors' best attempt of the half after 27 minutes when Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Adebayor combined to set up a shooting chance on the edge of the box, but Fàbregas fired straight at Edwin van der Sar. Urged on by the noisy home crowd, United could have had a second before the half-hour after they launched another attack down the right, Tévez running at Arsenal's 19-year-old left-back Kieran Gibbs before crossing to the far post where Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to direct his header past Almunia. Anderson – lively in an attacking midfield role – then slipped a ball forward for Tévez but Almunia saved bravely at his feet.
Although Adebayor flashed a volley over the crossbar, United continued to look the likelier scorers in the second half. Rooney teed up Anderson on the edge of the box but the Brazilian miscued. Ronaldo revived memories of his long-range winner at FC Porto by leaving Almunia's crossbar trembling with a drive from 25 metres before Carrick sent a daisycutter just wide. Red shirts kept coming forward and it took a fine Silvestre header to stop Dimitar Berbatov turning in fellow replacement Ryan Giggs's cross. Giggs – making his 800th United appearance – then rounded Almunia and had the ball in the net but was ruled offside. At the other end Arsenal's own substitute Nicklas Bendtner beat Van der Sar to a high free-kick but the ball bounced wide. Arsenal will need better next week.