By Chris Harris

With so much at stake and three hours of football to play, you could excuse this week's Champions League Semi-Finalists for erring on the side of caution.

First legs are traditionally cagey affairs but Arsenal and Manchester United's tie could be an exception to the rule. Both clubs have shown defensive frailties in recent weeks and both teams are at their best when bombing forward.

With Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez at his disposal, Sir Alex Ferguson has no shortage of attacking options, while his opposite number, Arsène Wenger, expects his team to be "audacious" in their pursuit of away goals. It could all stack up to a classic at Old Trafford.

We asked Stuart Mathieson of the Manchester Evening News for a opposition view ahead of the first leg. Read on for his take on Ryan Giggs' PFA award, Tevez's popularity, problems in defence and the importance of the Champions League.


"I know there has been a little bit of criticism about Ryan Giggs winning the PFA award because he hasn’t started that much this season. He has made a great impact and he has appeared more than 40 times this season. But nevertheless, even if it is a sentimental vote I think he thoroughly deserves it and I don’t see any reason why sentiment shouldn’t come into football. I think if you’re looking for a role model, and a consistently great player then I think Giggs deserves everything he gets. He’ll probably get my vote for the Football Writers' Player of the Year award as well and I sincerely hope he gets it."


"The fans love Carlos Tevez because of his energy, he’s a Duracell bunny who keeps going and going and going. With Dimitar Berbatov, up North we like to see people wear their heart on their sleeve a little bit, Berbatov is not one of those types of player. If you get your head around the fact he doesn’t look like he’ll sweat blood for you, he’s a great player and he brings another option to the team. With Rooney and Tevez you’ve got enough willing workers and runners so Berbatov just brings something different. A lot of fans are in favour of Tevez but some say they’ll have to pay another £26million to make the move permanent – is that value for money?"


"The defence has looked vulnerable at times recently. Even in the period when they were breaking records for clean sheets it was a different back-five – even Rio Ferdinand wasn’t in there for a time and Nemanja Vidic missed a couple. They kept going through that brilliantly with Jonny Evans replacing Ferdinand. But it suddenly went, almost with the click of a finger it went and I’m sure Sir Alex Ferguson is as puzzled as everyone else. People are saying it’s because Rio was out but if you look at how much he played in the record-breaking run, the argument doesn’t quite stand up. I think they’ve got it together now though which is bad news for Arsenal but good news for United. I think there’s a focus there again and they’ve got through that difficult patch – that first half against Tottenham aside. But I think that was probably another wake-up call for them and they looked a lot better second half. I think they’re probably through it now."


"The manager keeps saying the Champions League means more but in the Premier League they would draw level with Liverpool on 18 titles, which is very much a consideration at United. Ferguson says it isn’t but nevertheless when you come into a club like he did in 1986 with Liverpool as the benchmark – they were the ones he wanted to topple. And to be able to draw level with them, he must be privately elated about that. Then again Liverpool have won more European Cups and it’s one of Fergie’s hobby-horses that United haven’t won enough European Cups for the stature of the club. He’s won two of them, another one will put thim level with Bob Paisley which is another carrot to go for. I think, as he always says, if you end up with one trophy that’s good enough but I do think the Champions League has become a big thing for them."


"I must admit if it was down to me I would go with as many forwards as possible and just pile in. We saw on Saturday against Tottenham that when Carlos Tevez came on he energised the team, Berbatov was great in the second half, Rooney was magnificent as was Ronaldo. How can you tell one of those four that they won’t be playing against Arsenal on Wednesday? Ferguson has done it in the past of course but I just wonder if they way they played against Spurs in the second half shows that it’s the way to go against Arsenal - just go for it and build up as good a first-leg lead as you can.

"That would be my hope and the rest of the team more or less picks itself. It will be the European Cup-winning defence with Rafael or John O’Shea in at right back. The midfield will be Carrick and Scholes in the middle, Ronaldo and Rooney on the wings with Berbatov and Tevez up front. Maybe Ryan Giggs will have to make his 800th appearance as a substitute!

"United and Arsenal are both attacking sides and I don’t think its in either's make-up to be too cagey. United have managed to look a better European side these days in terms of discipline and the ability to be cagey. They have got used to doing it now. But I think in this one United will have to go for it, it will suit them, and it will suit them that Arsenal will want to play too. I won’t be putting anything on a 0-0, let’s put it that way. I think there will be goals and I think Arsenal will get a goal but I’m going to go 3-1 to United."

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28 Apr 2009