KARACHI: Monday was a chance for Arsenal to set a horrible recent record right. It was a chance for them to make up for past errors. It was a chance that they took. And fittingly, it was former Manchester United academy product Danny Welbeck who scored the winner to send the Gunners through.
But, it was also a night that will be remembered for the latest ignominy in Angel di Maria’s short career at Manchester United so far — bringing the Red Devils a man down to effectively end all hopes of a comeback. It should not have happened, not then, not when your team is a goal down and staring elimination in the face.
It was an FA Cup quarter-final blockbuster between two heavyweight clubs; the only realistic remaining chance of silverware for either side. Arsene Wenger’s men had to fight to keep their title defence alive; Louis van Gaal’s side had to give their manager another reason to boast about their upward trajectory under his reign.
In hindsight, a replay was never in question. The fight was too intense and the body blows traded too powerful for the match to have ended in a draw. So, as such fights go, one team came out on top — Arsenal ended the 95 minutes with a 2-1 win. It was their first FA Cup victory against United since 2003, disregarding the 2005 win in the final on penalties.
And it had to be United reject Welbeck who came back to the place he had always called home to score his first ever FA Cup goal at Old Trafford, but he did so in opposition colours — the goal that knocked out United.
United started off well, moving the ball quickly in Arsenal’s half, stretching their defence by using the wingers. The Gunners were still warming up but plugged the gaps quickly to ensure they did not fall behind early.
England midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who started on the right for Arsenal, marked his return from injury by creating the opening goal in the 26th minute. Mesut Ozil, playing in the centre, pinged the ball across to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who made his way inside, dancing past Daley Blind, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia to put the ball in the path of Nacho Monreal, who slammed a near-post finish past David de Gea to record his second goal with the club.
The Old Trafford supporters, however, were to soon see their team reply. Just three minutes later, the stadium erupted. It was not going to be easy for the visitors and those jubilant screams made that much certain. Found by Di Maria’s superb cross from the right, Wayne Rooney — forever Arsenal’s bane — headed home to take his tally to 14 goals against the Gunners after finding a bit too much room between the two centre-backs. The United skipper has now scored in his last three FA Cup games against the Gunners and has eight goals in nine cup matches.
With this boost in confidence, the Red Devils made a strong first-half finish, with Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny saving from Rooney, Di Maria and Marouane Fellaini.
But van Gaal brought on Phil Jones and Michael Carrick to replace Shaw and Ander Herrera and all of United’s momentum seeped away.
It was almost the same case with Arsenal after Aaron Ramsey came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, subbed due to a hamstring injury.
But the boiling point in the second half, the perfect act of revenge, came from Welbeck. United’s defence was to be blamed once more. It was a terrible short back pass from Valencia to De Gea that gave Welbeck the opportunity to capitalise as he took his time to poke the ball across his former teammate before finishing into the empty net.
United continued to attack after going a man down but remained vulnerable on the counter. The Red Devils had their keeper to thank late on as he made two incredible saves from Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez to ensure that the scoreline did not get any more embarrassing for them.
United had 59% of the possession but were clearly more focused on disturbing Arsenal when they did give the ball away — conceding an incredible 20 fouls to the North Londoner’s 11, with Fellaini alone conceding eight.
Arsenal will now either face Bradford or Reading in the semi-finals at Wembley and Liverpool represent the only real side that can prevent Wenger’s side from making it two FA Cups in a row. United, however, now only have the Premier League to focus on.
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