Posted April 14, 2008on:
Owen Hargreaves left Manchester United daring to dream of retaining their Barclays Premier League title as they saw off Arsenal 2-1 at Old Trafford to leave the Gunners’ own championship hopes in tatters.
The England midfielder struck a glorious free-kick winner in the 72nd minute after Cristiano Ronaldo had brought the Red Devils back into the game from the penalty spot.
But this was the stuff of nightmares for Arsenal who had taken the lead through Emmanuel Adebayor.
They are now nine points behind United with only four games to go and it will need a miracle for them to overcome the deficit.
However, despite being knocked out of the Champions League by Liverpool in midweek, they showed little signs of a hangover in the first half.
Arsenal enjoyed a lot of possession, stretched United and will feel they could have made the breakthrough.
Adebayor rattled in a shot that Rio Ferdinand did well to deflect to safety before Park Ji-Sung glanced a header wide of the post following a cross from Hargreaves.
It was end-to-end stuff at this stage of the game and Adebayor sent his shot into Edwin van der Sar’s arms following a one-two with Cesc Fabregas.
Then Wayne Rooney went close in a swift counter-attack in what was developing into an open game.
Rooney almost made the breakthrough in the 23rd minute only to see his effort scrambled away at the near post after Ronaldo had created the opening.
Alexander Hleb then released Adebayor 13 minutes later. He had a clear sight of goal but only succeeded in sending his effort into Van der Sar’s arms.
United hit back and Rooney got away from Kolo Toure a minute later and fired in a shot. However, Jens Lehmann stuck out his leg and steered the ball away for a corner to Arsenal’s relief.
Fabregas then got away down the left for Arsenal and tried to pick out Adebayor at the back post but Van der Sar was alert and made the interception.
Arsenal made the breakthrough in the 48th minute thanks to good work from Robin van Persie.
He got clear down the left and delivered a quick cross into the area.
While Ferdinand and Michael Carrick hesitated, Adebayor got beyond them to direct the ball into the net, though there was a suspicion that he used his hand rather than his head.
Either way, it was his 26th goal of the season and just the boost Arsenal were looking for.
They almost added a second a minute later when Van der Sar was forced to make a smart save and prevent an own goal from Ferdinand after he got his bearings wrong following a cross from Adebayor.
United drew level, however, thanks to Ronaldo’s 38th goal of a remarkable season from the penalty spot in the 54th minute.
William Gallas was adjudged to have handled Carrick’s shot and referee Howard Webb had no hesitation in the pointing to the spot.
Ronaldo lashed his penalty into the top corner only for Webb to order him to retake it after spotting an infringement.
Such is Ronaldo’s confidence, however, he again made no mistake to bring United level at 1-1.
Carlos Tevez then went close to giving United the lead after stepping off the bench, his 30-yard shot go narrowly wide in the 65th minute.
Arsenal swept forward again though in the 68th minute and Wes Brown’s attempted clearance from Gael Clichy’s cross came back off the post.
Hargreaves then gave United the lead with a superb free-kick.
With the Arsenal defence perhaps expecting a Ronaldo thunderbolt, the former Bayern Munich man curled his effort up and over the wall and beyond Lehmann.
It was only Hargreaves’ second goal since his £17million move from the Bundesliga in the summer and it was one to savour.
Arsenal were stung after seeing United suddenly regain the ascendancy, knowing their title hopes were fading fast.
They kept driving forward in the hope of securing a point at least but it was all to no avail.