Gunners need a form reversal to upset United

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The Independent Football

Arsenal winger Theo Walcott knows his team were lucky to only lose 1-0 to Manchester United last week and says the Gunners need to recapture their best form Tuesday to reach the Champions League final.

Avoiding a rout in the first leg of the semifinals against the defending champions at Old Trafford last Wednesday felt almost like a victory for Arsenal, which had only one shot on target in contrast to United's persistent threat after John O'Shea's 18th-minute goal.

The Gunners will have to improve their attack at Emirates Stadium to reach their second Champions League final in four years.

"It was difficult to get into the game. A lot of our attacking players could say that," Walcott said. "We didn't create any chances and it will need our best performance of the season on Tuesday to go through to the final.

"Everyone was down after the first leg because we lost the game and didn't get the away goal we wanted, but, considering the number of chances they had, I think we got away with it."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger doesn't just want to win, he wants his team to put on a display worthy of a European semifinal.

"Football is enjoyment first, no matter what is at stake," said the Frenchman, who is looking to end a four-year trophy drought. "You can only play well if you enjoy what you do and enjoy the level of the game, to enjoy the game we love."

Arsenal, which confirmed qualification for next year's competition by beating Portsmouth 3-0 on Saturday, is without cup-tied forward Andrei Arshavin while striker Robin van Persie is in doubt with injury.

Man United veteran Ryan Giggs is aware the three-time European champions have left themselves in a precarious position against Arsenal, which lost the 2006 final to Barcelona.

"Arsenal are a top team and they are capable of scoring goals, so we are under no illusions about how difficult this is going to be," Giggs said. "They have so many match-winners. (Cesc) Fabregas, (Emmanuel) Adebayor, Walcott, Van Persie, if he is fit.

"The threat is obvious, so you have to try and nullify it. But we have to try and stamp our own authority on the game because we have outstanding players ourselves."

United lost 2-1 at Arsenal in the Premier League in November, but a repeat of that result Tuesday would send the team through on away goals to the May 27 final in Rome against Barcelona or Chelsea.

"If we play to the ability we did in the first half last week, we will have no problems," Giggs said. "We went out to get the crowd going and play at a quick tempo. That is what we do when we are at our best."

United's main injury concern is center back Rio Ferdinand, who is still recovering after bruising his ribs in the first leg. He missed Saturday's 2-0 victory at Middlesbrough that kept United three points clear at the top of the league.

United beat Boro despite leaving out goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and midfielders Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher. While Cristiano Ronaldo and Anderson were left on the bench and Carlos Tevez and Nani only came on as substitutes.

"They have had a good rest and will be fresh for Tuesday," manager Alex Ferguson said. "If I decide to play them all."

Wayne Rooney, United's most in-form player, played the full match — just as he did against Arsenal. Unsurprisingly, Rooney and Tevez are complaining of fatigue as United closes in on two more trophies this month to possibly complete a quadruple of titles.

"It's true that some of us are tired," Tevez said. "That's only natural at this stage of the season. We have played a lot of games and done a lot of traveling.

"Also, when other players line up against Manchester United, they put absolutely everything into trying to beat us."

A big concern for Ferguson will be Rooney picking up a booking that would rule him out of the final. Also in that predicament are Tevez and defender Patrice Evra.

For Arsenal, Abou Diaby, Samir Nasri, Alex Song and Van Persie will miss out if they are booked.