Champions League semi-final first leg – kick-off 19-45 (BST)
Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United’s UEFA Champions League encounter with Arsenal has all the ingredients for the “perfect semi-final”.
Somewhat surprisingly, given the dominance of English clubs in the Champions League in recent years, this is the first time the two sides have met in the competition.
“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 scored four goals at Liverpool 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. However, Wenger, noting his side’s 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 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 go looking for a positive result.
“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.”
Ferguson agreed with that assessment. “That may be the key to it,” he said. “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, who are already missing the injured William Gallas and Gael Clichy, may also be forced cope without Mikael Silvestre and Kieran Gibbs with back and ankle injuries respectively. But Ferguson was more concerned with the threat posed by Arsenal winger Theo Walcott – “probably the quickest forward in England” – and the “wonderful” Cesc Fàbregas who may be utilised in the second-striker role in the absence of van Persie.
The two managers have been fierce rivals over the last 13 years but Wenger spoke of their mutual admiration.
“We have better relations now than before,” he said. “We are survivors. There is respect there.”
The clubs have met twice at the semi-final stage in domestic competitions with United winning on both occasions.
“Ourselves and Arsenal over a long period have certainly been the dominant forces in English football,” said Ferguson.