Sir Alex Ferguson feels Manchester United FC's UEFA Champions League showdown with domestic rivals Arsenal FC has all the ingredients to be the "perfect semi-final" as the titleholders seek a second successive triumph.
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Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United FC's UEFA Champions League showdown with Arsenal FC has all the ingredients for the "perfect semi-final".
Spectacle to savour
The two most successful clubs in English football over the past two decades will square off for the first time on the European stage in Wednesday's first leg and the United manager envisaged a spectacle to savour. "Looking at the tie itself and the players on view you almost think this a perfect semi-final," said Sir Alex. "It is full of terrific footballers, both teams play good football and it could be that way. I hope we play fantastic football and that we win. I respect Arsenal's ability to play good football too. They won't change. They will do exactly what they normally do and have a go."
Arsenal struck four goals at Liverpool FC in a thrilling 4-4 draw last Wednesday and their manager Arsène Wenger said his team "have enough belief to think we can deliver something special" at Old Trafford. While United are closing in on a third successive domestic title, the UEFA Champions League represents Arsenal's only hope of a first trophy since 2005 but Wenger, noting his charges' 20-match unbeaten Premier League run, added: "We believe that we're going from strength to strength and that is important at this period of the season."
After seeing United fall two goals behind at home to Tottenham Hotspur FC before fighting back to win 5-2 on Saturday, Wenger reflected that the Premier League leaders "can concede goals". Despite the absence of the cup-tied Andrei Arshavin and injured Robin van Persie, he intends to send out his players to get them. "The modern rules encourage the team at home to be cautious and the away team to be audacious. That is why I believe to score an away goal will be very important for us." Sir Alex did not disagree. Stressing the need to for defensive vigilance, he said: "That may be the key to it. We need to win without losing a goal and I would be delighted to win the game 1-0. But it won't be decided tomorrow, I feel sure of that."
Arsenal's defensive prospects are not helped by doubts over defenders Mikaël Silvestre (back) and Kieran Gibbs (ankle) – the former's fitness worries meaning a possible start for Johan Djourou. But Sir Alex's thoughts were on the threat the Gunners posed via wide attacker Theo Walcott – "probably the quickest forward in England" – and the "wonderful" Cesc Fàbregas who may reprise the second-striker role in which he hit two goals against Middlesbrough FC on Sunday.
The two managers have been fierce rivals over the last 13 years but ahead of this first continental showdown, the Frenchman spoke of their mutual admiration. "We have better relations now than before. We are survivors. There is respect there." Wenger has one more victory in their head-to-head meetings while Sir Alex has won their two previous semi-final duels. "Ourselves and Arsenal over a long period have certainly been the dominant forces in English football," said Sir Alex. Now European supremacy is at stake.