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Apr 29, 2009

Sir Alex hails O'Shea as Wenger remains confident

Sir Alex Ferguson hailed the efforts of his Mr Versatile John O'Shea after the Irishman put Manchester United in touching distance of another Champions League final.

O'Shea's smartly-taken 17th-minute goal ensured United head to the Emirates Stadium for a tense second leg against Arsenal holding a narrow lead, but one achieved without conceding an away goal.

The Waterford-born star makes a habit of popping up with vital contributions and Ferguson felt his effort was worthy of special praise.

"John O'Shea took the goal really well,'' said Ferguson. "He is a great professional. The boy never complains. He is happy to play anywhere.

"He has not always been a number one choice but he produces 30 performances a season and it is a contribution we are grateful for. He has played in both full-back positions, central defence and in midfield. He is so versatile and offers such great value for us.

"He has played in most games this season. At the present moment in time, he would be in the team if we got to the final.''

That it is still an if and not a when for United was mostly due to the efforts of Manuel Almunia, who made four first-class saves in a one-sided encounter.

In addition, Cristiano Ronaldo rattled the crossbar, while Ryan Giggs had a second-half effort ruled out for offside on his 800th United appearance.

"Arsene will be thinking it has been a good day for him,'' reflected Ferguson. "He could have been out of the tie but he is not.

"But before the game I said I didn't want us to concede a goal and we achieved that. The tie is not dead but we have given ourselves a good chance.''

The one negative for United was the probable absence of Rio Ferdinand from the second leg.

Ferdinand suffered rib damage near the end after a collision with Nicklas Bendtner and was sent to hospitals for X-rays which Ferguson is expecting will bring bad news.

"We will wait for them, although it does not look good,'' he said.

The one advantage Ferguson feels Arsenal do have is the ability to effectively name a reserve side against Portsmouth on Saturday given the Gunners are virtually certain to finish fourth no matter what the outcome.

Ferguson cannot say the same as the Red Devils bid to cling onto the three-point lead they currently boast at the Premier League summit by beating Middlesbrough at the Riverside.

"Arsenal's big advantage is that they can play Pat Rice at right-back and Arsene himself at centre-forward on Saturday,'' said Ferguson. "We have to play a team to win the game.

"We have a lunchtime kick-off at Middlesbrough and I do not think it is right. Obviously I will bring some freshness into the team. The defence will be the same, apart from Rio but the midfield and forwards could change completely.''

Wenger claimed he would be fielding his strongest side at Portsmouth in Saturday's Premier League game as they are aiming to catch Chelsea to gain automatic qualification for next season's Champions League.

However, he may reconsider when he looks at the situation, knowing how badly outplayed his team had been.

"It was a difficult game, played at a high pace,'' said the Frenchman. "Manchester United started stronger than us but the positive is that we only lost 1-0.''

Wenger knows he has Almunia to thank for the fact Arsenal can still go through, with the Gunners chief as effusive of the Spaniard as Ferguson had been about O'Shea.

"Manuel Almunia was excellent,'' he said. "It was a top class performance from him. His reading of the game was fantastic and his sharpness was superb.''

On the evidence of this evening, Arsenal will struggle to achieve the two-goal victory required next Tuesday.

However, in front of their own fans, Wenger remains optimistic that the Londoners will produce a much better performance.

"There is a final at stake and I am confident you will see a different Arsenal team next week,'' he said. "Things like that happen in football. At home I believe we can do it.''

Wenger also hit back at Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge after the German launched a stinging criticism of his policy of signing players from overseas at a very young age.

Wenger said: "It is an old speech. Look at Santa Cruz at Blackburn. Ask him what age he came to Bayern Munich. Then you have an answer for Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.''

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