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English Premiership

Fergie cranks up the pressure

LONDON, May 4 – Sir Alex Ferguson believes titleholders Manchester United are perfectly placed to take advantage of the pressure on Arsenal in Tuesday's Champions League semi-final second leg as the holders aim to return to the final of Europe's elite club competition.FERGUSONFerguson’s side travel to the Emirates Stadium in the ascendancy after John O’Shea’s goal secured a 1-0 win in the first leg last week.

A draw would be enough for United to reach the final for the second successive season. The Premier League leaders could even lose and still go through on away goals if they score and are defeated by just a one-goal margin.

Arsenal’s young, injury-hit team were struck by stage-fright in the first leg and the tie could have been beyond rescue but for a series of superb saves from Manuel Almunia.

With the final at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico tantalisingly close, Ferguson expects United to prey on Arsenal’s nerves again in north London.

The United manager is convinced United are in pole position because Arsenal’s failure to score at Old Trafford means they now have to play a more open game, leaving the way open for Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and company to wreak havoc on the counter-attack.

"They must be worried about us scoring. Any team who goes to play the second leg at home when they haven’t scored in the first must worry about losing that goal. That’s a fact of life," Ferguson said.

Key to United’s success in the first leg was the dominance of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Anderson in central midfield.

The tigerish trio hounded Arsenal from the off and, with Spanish playmaker Cesc Fabregas denied the time to find his rhythm, United had complete control for much of the match.

Ferguson rested all three midfielders for Saturday’s 2-0 win at Middlesbrough and Fletcher admitted United’s gameplan will again focus on knocking Arsenal out of their stride.

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"Our game plan in the first leg was to get about them and press them and do it at a high tempo and then try and break with the quality attacking players that we’ve got," Fletcher said.

"It seemed to work. Arsenal are a great passing side and if you stand off them, they will pass anyone to death.

"So it was important that we got at them and got in their faces. We need more of the same in the second leg."

"The pressure is on Arsenal now, they are at home and will have to come out and win the match."

Ferguson’s only concern is the fitness of England defender Rio Ferdinand, who missed the Middlesbrough match with a rib injury suffered in the first leg.

United will give Ferdinand as long as possible to prove he is ready to start, while France left-back Patrice Evra is expected to shake off a leg injury suffered on Saturday.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists his players won’t be so timid in attack this time and he takes heart from the obdurate form of their defence at the Emirates.

The Gunners, who won 3-0 at Portsmouth despite resting eight players on Saturday, haven’t conceded a home league goal since Robbie Keane scored for Liverpool on December 21.

They have already beaten United at the Emirates this season, although a repeat of that 2-1 win wouldn’t be enough to reach the final.

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"We have a good defensive record at the Emirates, and in the Premier League Manchester United have suffered in away games," Wenger said.

"We can have an attacking style at home without conceding goals and that is what we want on Tuesday.

"I believe in the strength of character in this team and there desire to go through – that will certainly be a huge motivation.

"We were unable to penetrate and create clear-cut chances in the first leg but the positive is that Manchester United had chances to win by more than one.

"We feel we will perform better on Tuesday and are still completely in it."

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