Monday evening, one of the biggest ties in English football history stood between these two clubs and a place at Wembley. Manchester United and Arsenal is a rivalry as iconic as they come. These days, the two giants of world football battle for Champions League places rather than the title. Today however, it was the FA Cup in which these two sides met.
The atmosphere at Old Trafford was fitting for an FA Cup tie. The North London side got the game underway, and their first chance came just two minutes into the tie. Alexis Sanchez ran at Valencia, but his shot was deflected at De Gea caught well.
With seven minutes on the clock, Rooney swung in a fantastic corner however no one was in the box to put the home side in front. The game had started at a good pace and it looked like we would have a classic FA Cup game on our hands.
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The best chance of the game up to this point went to the home side. The lively Di Maria chipped a beautiful cross into the box to Marouane Fellaini who held the ball up superbly. Fellaini played it back to Young who fell as he shot, resulting in just a goal kick. Manchester United were finding the gaps in the Arsenal defence and it looked only a matter of time before the home side went ahead.
The Arsenal goal seemed to galvanise United, and just 3 minutes later, it was 1-1. Di Maria, like he did all through the game, cut inside onto his left foot before finding a free Wayne Rooney. Rooney timed his header perfectly and left Wojciech Szczęsny stranded. Old Trafford erupted and it seemed like the same old Arsenal.
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Arsenal replied well, coming close through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain . 25 minutes in, some good play between Monreal and Ozil found the German playmaker in yards of space. Ozil drove forward before finding Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox ran powerfully through the United defence, jumping through three challenges before realising Monreal inside the box. The Spaniard took one touch before calmly firing past David De Gea to give the North London side a 1-0 lead.
Yet again, just three minutes after a goal, the other team nearly struck back. Ex-United star Danny Welbeck rose highest from Oxlade-Chamberlain's cross. His header, however, lacked power and the United stopper caught it with ease. The best chance before half time fell to £60m Di Maria. A long ball over the Arsenal defence sent the Argentine through. At a tight angle though, Di Maria’s half volley was saved well by Arsenal’s Polish goal keeper.
Other than a 20 yard shot from Fellaini, that was all the action for the first half. Both sides went in happy with the game, of which there had never been a dull moment. Van Gaal made two changes at half time. Shaw and Herrera made way for Phil Jones and Michael Carrick respectively.
Just four minutes into the half, Arsenal’s most dangerous player Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was forced off through injury, and replaced by Aaron Ramsey. The home side had another chance through Di Maria on the hour. The ex-Madrid star fired just yards wide after being played through by Fellaini.
Just one minute later, Valencia received the ball across the United back line. He miss hit his pass, intended for David De Gea, and found the pacey Danny Welbeck. The Arsenal man took the ball round helpless De Gea before slotting the ball home into an empty net. Arsenal had retaken the lead with just 30 minutes of the game left to play.
Arsenal had not learnt their lesson. A deflected corner fell straight to Chris Smalling who failed to hit the target from six yards out. It looked a certain goal, but Arsene Wenger’s team were off the hook. Both sides made their final change, Adnan Januzaj replaced Rojo, and Welbeck, to a combination off boo’s and applause, was replaced by Olivier Giroud.
With just 15 minutes left, some great Arsenal play set up Santi Cazorla on the edge of the box. The Spaniard hit a fantastic volley towards the United goal but his compatriot De Gea clawed it away with a world class save.
The most unusual moment in the game came shortly after the Cazorla volley. Referee Michael Oliver deemed Di Maria had dived under pressure from Aaron Ramsey. After receiving a booking for his action, the talented Argentine then decided to grab Oliver’s shirt in anger. The referee deemed this action another bookable offence, and Di Maria had to walk.
10 minutes after the Di Maria dive, Januzaj also found himself in the book for the same offence. This decision was a little easier than previously, with it clear on second viewing that the talented young winger fell to the floor without contact.
The last notable part of the game came 3 minutes into added time. Ozil showed classy footwork before unselfishly setting up Alexis Sanchez. The Chile international forced a fingertip save round the far post to give United hope. As it turned out, United were unable to create anything substantial and suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of bitter rivals Arsenal. It was the Gunners first win at Old Trafford in 9 years!
It was a thoroughly enjoyable game to watch and, for the neutral, you won’t see a better game all season. Arsenal face either Bradford or Reading in the next round, with Aston Villa playing Liverpool or Blackburn in the other semi final.
Who’s going to win the FA Cup?