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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Mar 13, 2011

Rooney thrilled to have Valencia back

It has been a difficult 12 months for Wayne Rooney, but the sight of Antonio Valencia returning to action at Old Trafford on Saturday has put a big smile on the Manchester United striker's face.

• Man United shoot down Gunners
• Jolly: Defence the best form of attack

Amid the hand-wringing over Rooney's extended loss of form, the absence of Valencia has largely been overlooked.

Rooney's ankle problem has been blamed, as were personal problems off the field and a much-publicised contract wrangle that some rumours insist has only delayed a departure until the summer.

However, the horrific ankle injury Valencia suffered against Rangers in September was equally significant with the Ecuador winger a major source of goals for Rooney last term.

Without the South American, Rooney had managed just eight before Saturday's FA Cup win over Arsenal.

Although Valencia was only a bit-part player, the pair were on the field together for less than five minutes before the 25-year-old added a ninth.

"I can't tell you how good it is to see him back out there,'' Rooney said. "It was Antonio's first game back after six months out and he looked like he'd never been away.

"It's fantastic for him and fantastic for us to have him back and playing the way he did.''

Given the gashed leg Nani suffered at Liverpool will keep him out of Tuesday's Champions League encounter with Marseille, if not the Premier League duel against fellow semi-finalists Bolton next weekend, more is likely to be required of Valencia at Old Trafford this week.

And the same is also true of Edwin van der Sar, who is enjoying a sensational end to his career.

The 40-year-old Dutchman made half a dozen superb saves against Arsenal, ensuring what could easily have been a defeat actually turned into a comfortable win against United's greatest title challengers, who left to lick their wounds after a thoroughly miserable fortnight.

Little wonder the Stretford End was urging Sir Alex Ferguson to persuade Van der Sar to extend his career by one more season, a demand Rooney did his bit to try and satisfy after the final whistle, even if it met with a negative response.

"The players are trying to persuade Edwin to stay on too,'' Rooney added. "I was speaking to him in the shower afterwards but it is his decision and we have to respect it.

"He is such a great goalkeeper. Despite his age he is still the best keeper in the world.''

Van der Sar has adopted a phlegmatic approach to the possibility of a first FA Cup winners' medal, but Rooney does not share the sentiment.

One of his first memories of supporting Everton was heading to Wembley to watch the Toffees overcome United in 1995.

He has had two opportunities to replicate that success as a player, tasting defeat to Arsenal in 2005 and Chelsea two years later in the first final at the new Wembley.

A semi-final defeat to Everton two years after that twisted the knife a little further, so when Rooney heads south in mid-April, he is determined not to end up a loser.

"I am desperate to win the FA Cup,'' he said. "It's got great history and I remember watching it as a young kid.

"To lose two finals was devastating so it's a great chance now for us to go on and win it this season.''

Deployed first in central midfield to allow Brazilian twins Rafael and fellow goalscorer Fabio to show off their attacking talents, then on the left wing to protect United's flank positions as Ferguson looked to secure victory, Rooney looked to be enjoying himself, which has not always been the case this season.

The same could not be said of Arsenal, who have seen hopes of a quadruple dwindle away to leave just the Premier League to aim for.

Rooney recognises that with just one match a week from now until the end of the season, the Gunners will be a fresher team.

But he is not sure whether the mental scars will be easy to heal.

"You don't know how they'll respond,'' he said. "It's obviously been a tough 10 days to go out of three competitions.

"We know they will be fresh for the Premier League games now and won't have to focus on other competitions. In some ways it's good for them, but if they want to win trophies it's not so good.''

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