Starting XI: Szczesny, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck
Subs: Martinez, Gibbs, Chambers, Ramsey, Giroud, Walcott, Akpom
Danny Welbeck scored the winner for Arsenal on his return to Old Trafford as Arsenal secured a first win at Old Trafford since 2006 to secure safe passage to the FA Cup semi-final. Nacho Monreal had given the Gunners the lead midway through the first half before Wayne Rooney’s headed response. Welbeck put the Gunners ahead just past the hour mark, pouncing on a mistake by Valencia before Angel di Maria saw red for a push on referee Michael Oliver in response to a yellow card for diving.
Olivier Giroud’s absence was one of five changes from the side that beat QPR; the in-form Frenchman replaced by Danny Welbeck who started at Old Trafford against his old club for the first time. In midfield Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for the ill Tomas Rosicky, while at the back Nacho Monreal took over from Kieran Gibbs. Wojciech Szczesny continued his run as the Gunners’ cup keeper with Emiliano Martinez providing backup. For the seventh game in a row Theo Walcott started on the bench.
The opening stages were a tense, scrappy affair with both sides creating half chances. Alexis forced De Gea into a save inside two minutes, Bellerin picked up a booking for a foul on Ashley Young, Coquelin took a whack to his broken nose from Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young shot over having been teed up by the Belgian. The Gunners were neat and tidy in possession, but rarely showed any signs of breaking the deadlock.
On the couple of occasions when we did get round the back we couldn’t capitalise. Bellerin had a cross deflected out for a corner, it wasn’t given, then a lofted ball by Chamberlain flew straight over the bar. The young midfielder would soon make up for his profligacy.
On 25 minutes we sliced through United with superb precision. Monreal and Ozil combined on the left to find Chamberlain in the middle. With dancing feet the England international drove towards the box skipping past three men and when Monreal raced into the box the Spaniard was picked out with a fine ball to bear down on goal. The left back took one touch to compose himself before curling past countryman De Gea. (1-0)
The lead lasted all of three minutes. A fine Di Maria cross was whipped in with pace and Wayne Rooney found far too much space between Koscielny and Mertesacker to head past a stranded Szczesny. At half time Ian Wright described the England international’s hex over the Gunners as Drogba-esque. Given it was his 14th goal against Arsenal, he had a point. (1-1)
Arsenal looked to make a quick response and when Welbeck was tugged back by Rojo on the edge of the box it looked as though we should have had a penalty. Contact was definite, but whether it was in the box or not is up for debate. The ex-United man picked himself up and moments later forced a decent save from De Gea with a header.
Louis Van Gaal wasted no time making changes, hauling off both Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera at the break and introducing Phil Jones at left-back and Michael Carrick in midfield. Within three minutes the Gunners were forced into a change of their own. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pulled up with a hamstring problem and it was Aaron Ramsey, seemingly to the frustration of Theo Walcott, who was thrown into the fray.
The game was played at a frantic pace with tackles flying in all over the pitch. Fellaini, after a million fouls, finally picked up a caution from referee Oliver for a ridiculously cynical kick on Ramsey. Young then took out Welbeck and joined him in the book.
It was Arsenal who were to strike the next blow. Having toiled up front all game, Welbeck finally got his reward. Pouncing on a poor back pass by Valencia the striker flicked the ball around De Gea and calmly slotted home from 12-yards. The Manchester-born lad had no problem celebrating the strike. (2-1)
The dirty stuff didn’t abate. Rojo cleaned out Cazorla to earn a booking. Chambers then replaced Bellerin who’d come close to a second yellow for another foul on Young. In between Smalling squandered a fine chance from a yard out after a ball into the box fell at his feet. At the other end De Gea kept United in the tie saving a Sanchez free-kick and then miraculously keeping out a Cazorla volley.
The game took a further twist with 14 minutes remaining. Di Maria went down under pressure from Ramsey and dived to the turf. Michael Oliver made his mind up quickly and flashed a yellow at the United winger. He reacted absolutely furiously, pushed the referee in the back and was then shown a red. It was a remarkable act of petulance at a vital stage of the game.
Arsenal toyed with trying to steal a third, but looked a little laboured in the final third. United on the other hand pushed forward in desperation. With four minutes remaining Adnan Januzaj tried a Di Maria with another dive trying to win a penalty. Again the referee didn’t buy it.
The game dripped into five minutes of stoppage time and Alexis really should have killed the game with 90 second left only to be denied by another unbelievable save by De Gea.
It didn’t matter in the end! Wembley here we come…again!