Manchester United 1 (Rooney 30) – Arsenal 2 (Monreal 25, Welbeck 61)
Man of the Match – Francis Coquelin (Arsenal)
Ever since I started supporting the Arsenal, I have always had a distaste for anything Manchester United. The club, the manager, the players, the merchandise, and their fans, of course. And, it’s understandable too, for when I started supporting Arsenal, it was the heady days of the epic Premier League rivalry between Wenger and Ferguson. And then, it all died down suddenly. Arsenal’s stadium building activity cost them not only their best players, but also trophies, as a 9 year trophy drought saw Manchester United win 5 league titles, a Champions League and 3 League Cups.
Add to that, the barren run against Manchester United themselves. Arsenal haven’t beaten their Northern rivals since a sunny day in May 2011, when Aaron Ramsey scored the winner in a 1-0 win at the Emirates. Arsenal haven’t won at Old Trafford in a long time either, with the last win being a 1-0 win in 2006, Emmanuel Adebayor scoring a late winner past Tomasz Kuszcak. In the FA Cup, the teams have met 15 times, Manchester United winning 8, Arsenal 6, including the Final twice, in 1979; when Alan Sunderland scored a late winner, and in 2006, when Patrick Vieira scored the winning penalty after a 0-0 draw. And, more recently, Arsenal were drawn United at Old Trafford in 2008, where they were pummeled 4-0 and in 2011, where they lost 2-0 to a side that had 7 defenders in the starting line up.
Arsenal beat runners up Hull City 2-0 in a replay of last year’s final, Brighton away 3-2 and Middlesbrough 2-0 at home, while Manchester United beat Yeovil Town 2-0 away, Cambridge United in a home replay 3-0, and Preston 3-1 away. Recent form suggests both sides are in a mixed vein, with Arsenal winning league games against Aston Villa, Leicester, Crystal Palace, Everton and QPR, but also suffering the blips against Tottenham and Monaco, while Manchester United beat Burnley, Sunderland and Newcastle in recent games, but lost to Swansea.
Olivier Giroud was named on the bench in a surprising decision by the manager, and former Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck startup up front against his old side. Tomas Rosicky was taken ill, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started in his place. Nacho Monreal started in place of Kieran Gibbs, while Wojciech Szczesny kept his place in the Cup games, instead of David Ospina. Manchester United started with Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia at right-back, with Chris Smalling and Argentine Marcos Rojo in defence, while Shaw faced his old pal Chamberlain on the flank. The trio of summer signings Ander Herrera, Angel di Maria and Daley Blind all started alongside Marouanne Fellaini, Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney.
The opening exchanges between the two sides were cagey, as both teams looked to get a foothold of the game. Alexis was the first to have a shot on target, when he forced David de Gea into a save. Hector Bellerin picked up a yellow card for a foul on Ashley Young, but everyone’s guess is the bald diver conned the referee again with his theatrics. He then had a shot on target after being set up by Marrouane Fellaini, who was then involved in a clash of heads with French defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin, who seemed to have inflicted further damage to his nose.
Arsenal were looking composed on the ball, but rarely threatened against a Manchester United side that was putting together some disjointed attacks, but nothing too dangerous either. Arsenal then showed some spark, when Bellerin was released on the right, and his cross was cleared for a corner, but shockingly not given; before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who was making Luke Shaw work hard, flew a shot over the bar.
He immediately made up for it, minutes later, when he received the ball from Mesut Ozil, after the German combined with Nacho Monreal on the left flank. Chamberlain skipped past a couple of static Manchester United defenders neatly, and picked out Nacho Monreal, of all players, who was in a free position, unchallenged in the box. The Spanish left-back took one touch before calmly slotting the ball past David de Gea. 1-0 Arsenal on 25 minutes.
Arsenal’s joy lasted, just about 3 minutes, when Manchester United struck. Angel di Maria, primarily playing on the right flank, cut in to deliver a perfect cross to Wayne Rooney with his favored left-foot. The England striker was in a free space between Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny and headed past a stranded Szczesny. 1-1 on 30 minutes.
Arsenal looked to hit back through Danny Welbeck, who looked keen to impress upon his return to his beloved Old Trafford. He was tugged by Marcos Rojo, near the edge of the box, but a penalty wasn’t given, and then he forced David de Gea into a fine save from a header, as the half came to a close.
Louis van Gaal rung in the changes at half-time, bringing on Phil Jones and Michael Carrick in place of the ineffective duo of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera. It was a strange decision bringing on Phil Jones at left-back. And, Arsenal were forced to make a substitution 3 minutes into the half, when the impressive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain complained of a hamstring problem, and Arsene Wenger threw on Aaron Ramsey, instead of Theo Walcott, most probably to bolster the midfield.
The game started getting scruffy, as both teams made silly fouls. Marrouane Fellaini was lucky away to get away with most, but then picked up a booking for a foul on Ramsey. Ashley Young then fouled Welbeck and took a yellow card for his troubles. Danny Welbeck, who had put in a hard-working shift all evening, then struck a fatal blow to his former side.
Antonio Valencia inexplicably back-passed the ball to David de Gea, when under little pressure. However, the ball had little conviction. Welbeck, was alert, and raced on to the ball, rounded de Gea and slotted the ball into the net from 12 yards out. He wasn’t shy in celebrating his strike in front of the Old Trafford faithful either! 2-1 Arsenal.
Manchester United got even more grumpy after this, and started to cynically foul Arsenal players. Marcos Rojo received a yellow for a foul on Cazorla. Hector Bellerin escaped a second yellow, mostly by slyly walking away from the scene after a tackle on Ashley Young. He was immediately replaced by Callum Chambers. Chris Smalling then contrived to miss from a yard out when the ball had fallen to his feet. A Fellaini header was then saved after an assist from Young, before Alexis saw his shot from the edge of the box being saved. de Gea was called into action again when he had to make a brilliant save from a Cazorla close range volley.
Louis van Gaal used up his final substitution bringing on Belgian-Albanian-Turk-Kosovan-English midfielder Adnan Januzaj for Rojo while Welbeck left with a decent applause from the Manchester United crowd, as he was replaced by Olivier Giroud. The game then turned over its head when di Maria made full meal of a Ramsey challenge diving on to the floor like a piece of cardboard. Upon receiving yellow, he reacted angrily tugging at the referee’s shirt, and rightly received his second yellow and marching orders. This, at the most important stage of the game, with United searching for an equalizer.
Arsenal on the other hand were looking for a third, but weren’t able to put together a final pass in United’s third, while Manchester United, despite the numerical disadvantage were pushing for an equalizing goal. Most were directed towards Fellaini in search for a header, but Mertesacker and Koscielny were having a brilliant game. The multi-ethnic Adnan Januzaj tried the same cheap tricks again, which were employed by Ashley Young and Angel di Maria, and was booked for his dive in the box, when he tried to con the referee into thinking he was nudged by Nacho Monreal, when infact there was little or no contact.
The board showed 5 extra minutes, and Alexis had the chance to score a third, only for de Gea to pull off another stunning save. Arsenal held on for a deserved win, and knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup, which was realistically their only chance to win a trophy this season. There were several players who stood out on the night. Nacho Monreal manned his flank against Angel di Maria impressively, while Francis Coquelin won 10 of his 12 duels against Fellaini, albeit with a broken nose.
It may not have been the most fluent performance, but the win certainly felt good. The fact that it was despicable Manchester United, and one of their own driving the final nail, made it even more enjoyable. On to Wembley now for a semi-final against Reading!
Jai Arsenal :)
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