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Apr 30, 2009

Almunia: Tie not over

Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia insists the Gunners are still very much in their Champions League semi-final against Manchester United after his heroics helped the visitors escape from Old Trafford with just a 1-0 defeat.

The Spanish keeper made a string of saves to leave the defending champions with only John O'Shea's close-range strike in the 17th minute to show for all their dominance in the first leg of the European clash.

Almunia set the tone for the night with a fine reaction save to deny Wayne Rooney in the opening moments, before also denying Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo before O'Shea's struck.

When the keeper was eventually beaten again, by Ronaldo's blistering 25-yard strike midway through the second half, the ball struck the crossbar.

Arsenal only managed to muster a single shot on target in reply to United's onslaught but with the second leg to come at the Emirates Stadium next Tuesday night Almunia believes his team still have every chance to reach the final.

After the match at Old Trafford Almunia said: "1-0 in this stadium is not that bad a result because there are not that many teams who play here and go away with a clean sheet.

"We expected them to start with a high tempo, but in the second half we showed that if Arsenal can keep the ball, then we can beat them. We have to be more or less happy and look forward to the second leg at the Emirates.

"It is our last chance to do something this year, so we will try to put all of the pressure on Manchester United and the fans will help as well."

Wenger knows he has Almunia to thank for the fact Arsenal remain alive in the competition.

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

Wenger remains optimistic his men will produce a much better performance for the second leg.

"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."

Centre-back Kolo Toure also heaped praise on Almunia for keeping Arsenal in the match and also admitted that United had been the dominant side.

"We met a brilliant Manchester United team," said Toure. "They were on top of us, it was not easy to come here and win, we tried our best but they were also good and very dangerous.

"Almunia had a good game and kept us in the tie so next Tuesday you will see a better Arsenal."

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