Portuguese ace Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice to help Manchester United romp to the final of the Uefa Champions League for a second straight year with a 3-1 win at Arsenal.
|Cristiano Ronaldo, centre, scores his second goal as Manchester United book their tickets to Rome [GALLO/GETTY]
South Korea’s Park Ji-sung put the defending champions ahead following a slip by defender Kieran Gibbs before Ronaldo hit a swerving free kick from 35 metres to make it 2-0 after only 11 minutes.
For all the talk it was effectively game over.
Ronaldo then completed the rout when he got his second in 61st-minute, clinically finishing a sweeping counterattack that he started in his own half and, although Robin van Persie got a late goal back for Arsenal, United completed a 4-1 aggregate win in the two-legged semifinal.
The comprehensive victory means United could now become the first team since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990 to earn the title of European champion for two straight years, although it will face Chelsea or Barcelona in the May 27 final in Rome.
Chelsea, which lost last year's final on a penalty shootout, hosts the Spanish league leader in the second semifinal Wednesday. The teams are tied 0-0 from the first leg.
The only bad news for United was that midfielder Darren Fletcher, who was an unused substitute last year, will be suspended for the final after he was sent off for conceding the late penalty that led to Arsenal's only goal.
Fletcher brought down Cesc Fabregas in the area and Robin van Persie converted the resulting kick in the 76th, however replays showed conclusively that his first contact was with the ball.
Until then, Arsenal had laboured without success against a defence that earlier this season went a English Premier League-record 14 games without conceding a goal.
Arsenal needed to overturn a 1-0 deficit from last week's first leg at Old Trafford but United's early burst of two goals in three minutes soon left the Gunners needing to score four goals to progress, something it never looked capable of doing.
Gibbs should have cut out Ronaldo's cross into the area but slipped on the grass to give Park the chance to run around him and lift the ball over goalkeeper Manuel Almunia.
Van Persie immediately put an arm around the 19-year-old Gibbs, who looked distraught over the mistake and was substituted at halftime.
Arsenal had not conceded a Champions League goal at Emirates Stadium since last year's quarterfinal exit to Liverpool, but Ronaldo then hit another with a fierce free kick that beat Almunia at his near post.
The success prompted Ronaldo to send almost every free kick United was awarded toward goal, regardless of the distance or angle. With defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic troubling Arsenal's shaky defence at corners with their aerial ability, the Portugal winger's persistence may have cost United even more scoring opportunities.
The Red Devils were simply a cut above.
Arsene Wenger's trophyless run at Arsenal will now continue for another season, and while he has often deflected criticism by pointing to a healthy future many of the Gunners fans would easily swap that for success in the present.
Any thought of a Gunners comeback evaporated in the 61st when Ronaldo, who scored in the 1-1 draw with Chelsea that preceded last year's final shootout, started and finished the move that made it 3-0.
Ronaldo back heeled the ball to Park inside his own half and the South Korea midfielder released Wayne Rooney on the left. Rooney sprinted to the Arsenal box before crossing to Ronaldo, who arrived on the edge of the area with a first-time shot high into net.
The goal made United so comfortable that manager Alex Ferguson was able to replace Rooney and Patrice Evra for the last 25 minutes, ensuring that neither picked up a yellow card that would have ruled them out of the final.