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Fergie eyes another first

MANCHESTER, Apr 29 – Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted he would love to cement his place in history by becoming the first coach to mastermind back-to-back Champions League triumphs.FERGUSONNo team has successfully defended the European Cup since the current format was introduced in the 1992-93 season.

But Ferguson, whose side face Arsenal here Wednesday in the first leg of an intriguing semi-final, believes his squad can follow up last year’s final win over Chelsea in Moscow with another night of glory in Rome next month.

"When we won in Moscow it was raised after the game that no one had ever defended the trophy," Ferguson said Tuesday. "I didn’t know about that at the time but it would be great if we became the first side to do it."

Ferguson added: "Some might say I am tempting fate, but at Old Trafford we have always set our sights high, and I want our players to appreciate that I believe they are good enough to rise to this challenge.

"Nobody is saying it will be easy, and we will certainly need to enjoy that little rub of luck and freedom from injury that can make or break you.

"There is nothing to fear though.

"It’s not exactly a step into the unknown, with three of the four semi-finalists from the Premier League. The table tells you that we are giving as good as we get in domestic football."

United enter the semi-finals unbeaten in 23 Champions League games dating back to May 2007, when they lost to AC Milan in the last four. They are also protecting a 20-match unbeaten run in the tournament at Old Trafford.

Wednesday is the first of three meetings between United and Arsenal, managed by Arsene Wenger, in the space of 17 days.

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United are 12 points ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League yet Ferguson has warned his players that will count for nothing on the European stage.

"There is always a danger of facing teams who are not challenging for the league," he said. "Arsenal have not lost a league match for 20 games.

"It’s an untypical Champions League semi-final because it’s between two English teams. But the principles are the same, you hope you win your home game.

"But it won’t be decided on Wednesday. I feel sure of that. There will be a lot of football left at the Emirates Stadium.

"Looking at the tie and the players who are going to be on show, it’s almost the perfect semi-final. It’s full of terrific players and both teams play good football. It does have an appetising look about it."

United’s Holland goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is gunning for the third Champions League triumph of his career. He won the competition with Ajax in 1995 before playing a key part in United’s success last season.

"The stakes are high to reach the final in Rome and both teams will do everything to make sure they will be there," the Dutchman said.

Ferguson, who has no fresh injury problems, singled out Cesc Fabregas as the danger man in the Arsenal camp.

Spain midfielder Fabregas has been deployed in an advanced position in recent games and scored both of his side’s goals as Arsenal warmed up for Sunday with a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough.

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"I was at the game and Fabregas played very well," Ferguson reported. "He seems to be getting back into his rhythm again."

Arsenal won the two teams’ only meeting this season — 2-1 at the Emirates in November — and will have been encouraged by the mixed form of United’s defenders of late, particularly the torrid time endured by left-back Patrice Evra at the hands of Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon in Saturday’s Premier League meeting.

Theo Walcott will expect to pose similar problems for the French defender but Ferguson insisted that Evra has the experience required to meet the challenge.

"Patrice Evra is quick enough," the Scot said. "He has played against Theo Walcott a few times and been alright with that. Walcott is very quick, probably the quickest forward in England at the moment, so we will have to prepare in the right way."

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