By Randy Osae
Intentions of resurgence were undone within the initial 11 minutes of this second-leg courtesy of Park’s fluke and Ronaldo’s stunners. It was none more than a bitter reward to the rosy paid customers at the Emirates Stadium.
It will not be spring time in Rome for Arsenal who had looked destined for a return trip on their last visit.
Life must certainly go on, but the wait for silverware will also go on.
There was just something extraordinary about tonight from start to finish. Never had Arsenal been as self-assured in a build-up before. The Emirates Stadium was emulating the Anfields and San Siros.
Every attendant found a flag on his/her seat and as they waved them, famous chants were recited. It had the makings of a night at one of European football’s shrines.
The men on the pitch had even more adrenaline flowing through their bodies and Arsenal’s football was in fluid manner as well.
It resembled how United made use of comfort territory almost a week ago, but – for something Wenger’s men lacked that night – the mancunians rather had a sucker-punch in them.
On their first sniff at goal, Ronaldo provided an obliged cut-back into Arsenal’s area, and instead of dealing coolly, makeshift left-back Kierran Gibbs’ nerves got the better of him. He slipped, Park latched in and Almunia was haplessly beaten.
The Emirates was shell-shocked. Their once electrified voices were switched off and before Arsenal attempted to pick up the pieces, they were torn apart.
Van Persie fouled Ronaldo and from over 35 yards out, the Portuguese managed to let fly and bend his free-kick home.
All over 60,000 present – whether red devil or gooner – had been quietened by the unlikely outcomes of open play and of course, brilliance.
With only 15 minutes gone, Arsenal needed four goals to go through. But there were still badges hanging around reading; “Keep the faith”, and Rooney nearly made it mission impossible – if it had not already been – when he curled a shot on target for the low bottom corner only for Almunia’s finger tips to deny.
At this point, the majority including Wenger himself had been bemused. Their pondering faces spoke in volumes, but to be fair, the players might have hidden their distraught professionally.
Arsenal did not change their tempo with Robin van Persie seeming most desperate. Wenger went back to the drawing board at half-time and realized the occasion was too tense for the sake of young Gibbs and so Eboue stepped in.
The home side kept giving their all and as a result, were left bare at the back. Ronaldo warned once by testing Almunia down low and when he attempted again, Arsenal were humiliated again.
United counter-attacked Arsenal with Rooney the architect before Ronaldo finished off the art piece with a well-taken slot past Almunia.
Van Persie tried his best to keep Van der Sar busy, and Bendtner who had immediately replaced Walcott, hit the sidenetting also.
Arsenal were only chasing their dignity now and when Fabregas was thwarted by Fletcher in a goal-scoring opportunity, the Scot was sent off and Van Persie installed some respect on the score board – stabbing home the spot-kick.
Wenger sought more consolation as Vela replaced Arsenal’s only goal-scorer. With more numbers on the pitch but vastly decreasing in the stands, Arsenal dominated the late minutes but failed to replicate United’s early ruthlessness.
The dream was dead and gone for long, and so is the season.