By Nik Brumsack at Old Trafford
Danny Welbeck marked his return to Old Trafford by scoring the winning goal as Arsenal advanced to the semi-finals of the FA Cup with a memorable win at Manchester United on Monday night.
On an evening where Arsene Wenger’s side showed no shortage of determination and quality, Nacho Monreal gave the visitors the lead after 26 minutes when finishing a terrific team move, but Wayne Rooney quickly equalised.
During a lively second half, Welbeck scored what would be the decisive goal just after the hour, capitalising on Antonio Valencia’s error to round the impressive David de Gea and poke into the empty net.
Angel Di Maria was sent off for shoving the referee in the closing stages as the home team tried in vain to get back into what was a captivating cup tie - and one that Arsenal did deserve to win.
This fixture has produced some special fixtures over the years and this was no exception. Finally, after nine years and 11 attempts, Arsenal have won at Old Trafford again. Arsene Wenger’s grin at full-time said it all. The Gunners have now reached more FA Cup semi-finals than any other team, while this was the boss’ 10th win of 11 quarter-finals in the competition.
It all means that Wenger’s side will return to Wembley to meet Bradford or Reading in the last four on the weekend of April 18.
For so long, critics have questioned this team’s ability to win big games away from home. But on their last two visits to Manchester, Arsenal have responded with a most emphatic answer.
SETTING THE SCENE
Wenger had said in his pre-match press conference that Wojciech Szczesny would start providing he recovered from the illness that had kept the Pole out of the win at QPR last Wednesday. Szczesny was passed fit and duly lined up between the posts.
In front of him, Monreal and Laurent Koscielny replaced Kieran Gibbs and the injured Gabriel respectively, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for Tomas Rosicky.
Elsewhere, Danny Welbeck made a first return to the stadium that he called home until last summer’s deadline day.
While Arsenal’s route to the quarter-final was relatively serene, the hosts had required replays to see off both Yeovil Town and Cambridge United. This was the undisputed tie of the round and was set up tantalisingly. Arsenal have found consistency since the turn of the year, and Wednesday’s win at Queens Park Rangers was their 10th win from the last 12 matches in all competitions. But Louis van Gaal’s side had found form too and came into the match with just two defeats in 22 games.
The game started at a quick and energetic tempo. Alexis cut in from the left but saw his low shot blocked by Chris Smalling at one end, Hector Bellerin was booked for scything down Ashley Young at the other.
With both teams pressing high up the pitch, chances were at a premium during an entertaining and even first 20 minutes. The hosts looked most dangerous when aiming aerial balls in the direction of Marouane Fellaini and, after the Belgian had chested down a back-post cross, Ashley Young slipped at the vital moment when eight yards out.
Arsenal had moved the ball intelligently during the opening stages but were let down too often by an inaccurate final ball. That changed after 26 minutes when the visitors took the lead with a goal of the very highest quality.
Monreal, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Alexis and Mesut Ozil were all initially involved, manoeuvring the ball with intent and invention before Ozil found space through the middle. He found Oxlade-Chamberlain who, after jinking his way inside from the right flank, slipped the ball through for the onrushing Monreal to calmly side-foot beyond David de Gea.
It was a superb move but the advantage would last just three minutes.
Di Maria received the ball from Valencia on the right and worked the ball onto his left foot before whipping in a cross that the unmarked Rooney nodded emphatically beyond Szczesny.
Wenger’s side responded positively and, seconds after having a penalty appeal waved away, Welbeck tested De Gea with a close-range header.
The lively Di Maria then saw a right-footed effort kicked away by Szczesny before Cazorla forced compatriot De Gea into a decent save with the last chance of a breathless first half.
Arsenal were dealt a blow five minutes after the restart when Oxlade-Chamberlain pulled up clutching his hamstring after a challenge with Marcos Rojo.
Aaron Ramsey replaced the winger and Arsenal forced the first chance of the second period when Cazorla robbed Chris Smalling and found Alexis, whose shot was blocked by the retreating Valencia.
Fellaini and Young were booked as the game found its bite again, before Di Maria latched onto the Belgian’s pass but shot a yard wide.
At the other end, Welbeck had produced a hardworking and powerful display up front, providing Arsenal’s attack with a quick and physical focal point. Just after the hour, he capped his performance off with a second goal that in truth, was gifted to him.
Valencia dallied on the ball midway his own half before underhitting a backpass to De Gea. Welbeck capitalised and beat the goalkeeper to the ball before knocking it beyond him and slotting home in front of Arsenal’s jubilant 9,000 traveling contingent.
Arsenal were in command and would have extended the lead yet further were it not for De Gea, who sprang superbly to his left to keep out Cazorla’s well-hit 12-yard volley.
Seconds later, Arsenal found themselves with a goal and a man advantage. Di Maria was the man sent off, appearing to shove Michael Oliver after the referee had booked the Argentine for simulation.
With time running out, Van Gaal’s side threw more men forward. Substitute Adnan Januzaj had an appeal for a penalty turned down but the hosts’ open approach suited Arsenal, who continued to create chances on the break. Alexis could have sealed it late on but was denied by more De Gea heroics.
In the end it didn’t matter. Arsenal are going back at Wembley.
Referee: Michael Oliver
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