FA Cup: Arsenal Finally Win at Old Trafford

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Danny Welbeck celebrates his game-winning goal at Old Trafford. PHOTO CREDIT: Arsenal Twitter account @Arsenal.

It only took 9 years, but Arsenal finally defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford. The win ensured Arsenal’s spot in the FA Cup semifinals at Wembley, where they will face the winner of a Reading-Bradford City replay. The 2-1 win also shot the Gunners to the top of list for most FA Cup semifinals reached at 28. Manchester United now trails behind at 27 with Everton third at 25 appearances. Arsenal are now one step closer to separating themselves from United as the most successful team in the competition, with both clubs hoisting the trophy 11 times.

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The match did not fail to live up to it’s billing. From the first whistle, both sides showed intensity and quality. As the match began to settle, the Red Devils took most of the possession with Arsenal dropping back to defend and prepared to attack at any error. After defending well for much of the half, Arsenal found themselves on the counter where Mesut Özil made a cross-field pass to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The pacey 21-year old English midfielder danced around 3 United defenders and slipped a ball to an unlikely runner, Nacho Monreal. Monreal showed the poise of a striker and shot the ball past David De Gea to put the visitors up 1-0.

It didn’t take long for the home side to respond. Manchester United had done well of keeping possession and playing the ball into Arsenal’s final third, but lacked the final quality touch required; until the 29th minute. Antonio Valencia found Angel Di Maria (more on these two later), whose perfectly placed left footed in-swinger found Wayne Rooney. Rooney had slipped behind Laurent Koscielny and the Frenchman’s brief lapse in concentration cost the Gunners as Rooney powerfully headed the cross past Szczesny for the equalizer.

The sides went into the break tied at 1. United and their fans had to be happy with the control their side maintained in the first half; a trait that had surprisingly been lacking from the team in recent matches. Arsenal fans had to be pleased as well, as the Gunners showed grit in defense and signaled they weren’t going to crumble to the task at hand.

As Arsenal started to press up and pressure Manchester United to start the second half, signs of a previously error prone defense reared again for the Red Devils. Chris Smalling’s wayward touch almost led to a break and goal for Arsenal. Shortly thereafter, in the 61st minute, Antonio Valencia’s horrendous mistake put United behind the eight ball. A soft back pass intended for David De Gea did not quite make it to him and put the world class keeper in an ominous position. Danny Welbeck used his incredible pace to beat the Spanish keeper to the ball, tapped it around him and composed himself before putting a dagger into his former team.

United pushed for an equalizer until Angel Di Maria’s moment of stupidity, where he decided to put his hands on referee Michael Oliver and was promptly sent off, put all hopes of a comeback to bed. David De Gea made a couple of highlight reel saves on Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez to keep it close. It simply wasn’t enough as United couldn’t muster the equalizer. Here is De Gea’s miraculous diving stop on Cazorla’s volley.

In a clash that pitted two English titans against each other, let’s take a look at some of the takeaways from the thrilling encounter at Old Trafford.

Next: Valencia and DiMaria Cost United