Wenger relishing Sir Alex showdown

LONDON - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had a glint in his eye when asked about his side's Champions League semi-final against Manchester United in a fortnight.

After his side demolished Villarreal 3-0 on Wednesday to seal a 4-1 aggregate win, the focus switched to the impending first European duel between old adversaries Wenger and United boss Alex Ferguson since the Frenchman arrived in England.

Unbeaten in 18 Premier League games and with Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea also to look forward to, Wenger has the satisfied persona of a man who never doubted that his buccaneering young side would come good.

"I feel that confidence transfers from one competition to another," Wenger said of his side who are now unrecognisable to the one that struggled so much domestically before Christmas.

After Chelsea's astonishing quarter-final victory over Liverpool, another rip-roaring showdown between two big English clubs looks on the cards. There is almost certain to be more of the verbal fencing only Wenger and Ferguson can provide.

Whatever their personal feelings for each other, there is no doubting the respect for each other's football philosophy.

"I believe that they are always exciting games between us, both sides like to go forward so it will be a promising semi-final, we are up for the challenge," Wenger told a news conference on Wednesday.

"It is not difficult psychologically (to play an English club). I believe that if you want to go far in the Champions League you have to play an English team at some stage.

"The history between us always has a little part to play. But we are in a 180-minute Cup game and it will be the form of the days that will have the big impact."


Arsenal face the away leg first at Old Trafford before returning to the Emirates which has proved a fortress for Wenger's side in Europe.

They are yet to concede a goal there in the competition this season and are unbeaten at home in the Champions League since losing to Chelsea in 2004.

"It's a little advantage (to play at home in the second leg) but not significant statistically," Wenger said. "Maybe it's something like 55 percent but it's even less of an advantage between English clubs because we know each other so well."

While Arsenal eye a possible FA Cup and Champions League double, United's 1-0 win at Porto on Wednesday keeps alive their hopes of sweeping five competitions this season having already added two pieces of silverware to their cabinet.

"It's a classic semi-final and something to look forward to. Two great footballing teams who want to play the right way. They're going to be billed as a clash of the titans of England," United defender John O'Shea told the club's website.

There have been signs of strain at United in recent weeks as Liverpool and Chelsea both remain in hot pursuit for the Premier League title but Ferguson's side dispelled many of the doubts about their form in Portugal on Wednesday.

"This win gives us great confidence," Cristiano Ronaldo, scorer of the stunning winner in Porto, told MUTV.

"The last five or six games we didn't play great and I hope this changes it.