Football: Battle of giants ends in deadlock

Arsenal 0 Manchester United 0 After extra time Attendance: 39,217
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The Independent Online
VILLA PARK has been a moribund place in recent weeks as the home club have slid down the Premiership table but, yesterday, it shook to the collision of giants. Manchester United and Arsenal, the modern game's behemoths, battled each other to a standstill during two hours of sound and fury.

Though long on drama it was short on goals and the pair must meet again, at the same venue on Wednesday night, for the right to play Newcastle at Wembley in the FA Cup final on 22 May. The draw made it a good afternoon for Chelsea, who could go top while their rivals are duelling on Wednesday night if they repeat yesterday's victory at Wimbledon at Middlesbrough.

It was a less enjoyable afternoon for Nelson Vivas, Arsenal's Argentinian defender, and the officials. David Elleray, the referee, had a generally impressive afternoon with his dismissal of Vivas, for elbowing Nicky Butt early in extra-time, thoroughly justified. But, shortly before the interval, he allowed his assistant to persuade him to chalk off a valid United goal which might well have settled the match.

With Ryan Giggs on the left wing, and apparently about to cross, Dwight Yorke strayed into an offside position in the box. The assistant put his flag up only to take it down when Giggs, instead, slipped the ball past Lee Dixon and headed for the byline. By the time he crossed Yorke was onside but the flag went back up as the Tobagan flicked on the cross for Roy Keane to drill into the roof of the net.

Elleray disallowed the goal and stuck by his decision after consulting the linesman. This was an error, though Yorke had briefly strayed into an offside position he was in no way interfering with play as Giggs was still in possession.

"It was ridiculous, quite amazing," said Alex Ferguson, the United manager.

This, unsurprisingly, was not the view of Arsene Wenger, Arsenal's manager, who said: "It was offside, it was indicated by the linesman early on. I don't know how anyone could complain."

Wenger, as usual, did not see the dismissal of Vivas, the 22nd Arsenal player to be sent off under his command and the 10th this season. He did concede, however: "If he has elbowed the guy he deserved to be sent off and it is stupid."

Wenger thought, with some justification, that Vivas's first booking, for fouling Beckham after five minutes, was harsh but added: "An elbow is normally a red card in itself.

"I'm not proud of our record but one or two United players could have got a red card. It was a physical battle but not an unfair game."

Ferguson indicated that, with next week's trip to Turin to play Juventus in mind, he would make changes for the replay. He also thought United had created enough chances to win the match regardless of the disallowed goal.

Indeed, United, unbeaten in seven previous Villa Park semi-finals, ought to have repeated their 1983 triumph over Arsenal at the Birmingham ground.

Ferguson added, in a reference to Denis Irwin, who was injured late in normal time: "The result was predictable, it'll be the same on Wednesday. It could go to penalties and our best penalty-taker will be missing."

Had either side made more of some decent approach play a replay would not have been required. It was, however, a day when the best performances came from defenders with Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Jaap Stam and Gary Neville outstanding.

Two players, Vivas and Neville, were booked in the first five minutes but then the game settled. Arsenal, in their 20th FA Cup semi-final, began brightly with Peter Schmeichel tipping an Adams header over and saving well from Dennis Bergkamp. United, playing their 22nd semi, had gone close when Ryan Giggs shot over after nine minutes. After Keane's disallowed goal they went close again with Butt passing up one chance and Yorke fluffing another.

It was another poor game from Yorke, back on his old ground, but Cole was no better failing to reach a Giggs cross soon after the break then shooting weakly when the Welshman put him through on the hour.

With a full house creating a vibrant atmosphere the game remained end- to-end and Keane, David Beckham and Nicolas Anelka all wasted opportunites to settle the tie before extra-time. United had been marginally the better team, especially in midfield. Wenger had played Parlour on the right in an attempt to utilise his attacking prowess but, in the absence of the suspended Emmanuel Petit, who will be back on Wednesday, Butt and Keane over-powered the holders in the centre.

United increased their dominance after Vivas was dismissed but Arsenal, paradoxically, created the better chances with Bergkamp denied first by Schmeichel then by Gary Neville's tackle. The best opportunity fell to Frederick Ljungberg but, released by Bergkamp with three minutes left, he could not beat Schmeichel.

"We showed our usual resilience and organisation," added Wenger. "Even in extra-time I thought we could win it. We defended brilliantly, showed quality, experience and tactical knowledge."

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Vivas, Overmars (Ljungberg, 90); Bergkamp, Anelka (Kanu, 98). Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Grimandi, Bould.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Stam, Johnsen, Irwin (P Neville, 85); Beckham, Keane, Butt, Giggs (Solskjaer, 98); Cole (Scholes, 113), Yorke. Substitutes not used: Van der Gouw (gk), Blomqvist.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow). Bookings: Arsenal: Vivas, Parlour. Manchester United: G Neville, Irwin. Sending off: Arsenal: Vivas.

Man of the match: Adams.

Attendance: 39,217.