Man Utd v Arsenal

Man Utd well-equipped to retain crown - Van der Sar

April 29, 2009

Edwin van der Sar is convinced Manchester United are better prepared than Ajax were to successfully defend their Champions League crown.

United are bidding to become the first club to achieve such a feat since the competition adopted its new format in 1992 and tackle Arsenal in an all-English semi-final at Old Trafford on Wednesday night as odds-on favourites to reach Rome on May 27.

Four years after the relaunch, Van der Sar was part of an Ajax side that became one of three on the trot to fall at the final hurdle, beaten on penalties by Juventus 12 months after AC Milan had been overcome.

But the veteran keeper does not feel the comparison between his young Dutch team-mates and Sir Alex Ferguson's present-day Red Devils is valid.

''This side is much better equipped to retain the trophy than Ajax were,'' he said.

''Then we had loads of injuries and a lot of young guys had to fill gaps left by older and more experienced players.

''It is hard to say whether we have a bigger chance to win the trophy but we are certainly better equipped to.''

The strength in depth available to Ferguson means John O'Shea should start at right-back with Wes Brown not considered fit enough to replace Gary Neville and Rafael probably not experienced enough.

And it would be no massive surprise, either, should Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez find themselves on the bench despite Saturday's heroics against Tottenham Hotspur, especially if Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs are required to defend the flanks, as they were in Porto in the last round.

In times gone by, a meeting between Ferguson and Gunners boss Arsene Wenger would have provided ample opportunity for a petty squabble.

Not any more, it seems, with Ferguson happy to declare his admiration for the Frenchman and his team and criticise those who lambasted Wenger earlier this season.

''You had me out of the door three years ago,'' smiled Ferguson, as he assessed the criticism Wenger has had to endure.

''You had me in a bath chair down on Torquay beach. That is the cynical world we are in.

''But Arsene has always kept his principles the same. I like the way Arsenal play and also his use of young players. His consistency hasn't changed and Arsenal have reaped the rewards.''

There are many common threads; a commitment to passing football, a willingness to embrace youth and a refusal to abandon tradition. Above everything else, they share a hunger and fierce determination to win.

''The history and tradition of both clubs has been the highest for years now,'' said Ferguson.

''We always looked over our shoulders at Arsenal and they looked over their shoulders at us.

''Our league is very tough. The top four are probably the best teams in Europe. That is shown in the fact we have three teams in the semi-final again.

''But ourselves and Arsenal have certainly been the dominant forces. Those epic times are back with us and I am looking forward to a great match.''