Arsenal forced to play semi-final at Villa Park

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The Independent Online

Manchester United have won the battle over the venue for their FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal.

Manchester United have won the battle over the venue for their FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal.

The Football Association has agreed the fixture will be played at Villa Park on Saturday 3 April, with a 12.0 or 12.15pm kick-off. The move has been hailed as a victory for the fans after supporters from both United and Arsenal demanded to be consulted over the timing of the game, which had been the subject of intense confusion.

Arsenal officials, led by their manager Arsène Wenger, wanted the match switched to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff because of its greater capacity and easier access from London.

But having correctly assumed the game would come forward a day from its Sunday berth and have a lunchtime kick-off, United dug their heels in, demanding the match be played at the original venue where United won their famous 1999 semi-final replay against the Gunners. They argued that their fans would be greatly inconvenienced at having to head to South Wales at such a time and pointed out their opposition to playing a semi-final at the same venue as the final.

Supporters from both clubs claimed they were being treated as "turnstile fodder" by the game's governing body.

Finally, after a meeting involving all relevant parties, the FA has switched the fixture back to Villa Park where the Premiership clubs were originally told the match would be played if they were drawn together.

"Given all the realistic options, this is welcome news," said Mark Longden, a spokesman for the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association. "It is the fans who have to pay for their tickets, and they deserve to be consulted on matters of this kind."

With both sides hoping to be involved in Champions' League action the week after the semi-final, a switch to Saturday was always likely - and the news means Villa's scheduled Premiership encounter with Manchester City will now be postponed.

Earlier, Wenger confirmed his wish to play at the Millennium Stadium. "We've made it known that we would prefer Cardiff, because there will be a massive demand for tickets," he said.

Wenger has confirmed he will be without Gilberto Silva for the match because he will be required for Brazil's World Cup qualifier against Paraguay, a situation which is likely to apply to United's midfielder Kleberson.

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