MAN UNITED 1, ARSENAL 2
Louis van Gaal’s hopes of winning silverware in his debut season at Manchester United disappeared following his side’s FA Cup, quarter-final defeat to Arsenal.
And to add insult to injury it was former Reds’ player Danny Welbeck who provided the perfect storyline as he scored the decisive goal for the Gunners.
While it was a disappointing night for United, it was a victory especially sweet for Arsene Wenger, only the second time in 16 games that he had beaten the Reds in 16 games.
It was also Arsenal’s first victory at Old Trafford since 2006 and erases the memory of some painful and embarrassing defeats on the ground in Wenger’s reign.
This time it was painful for the Reds who finished with 10 men after Angel Di Maria was sent off.
In what was a Titanic last-eight tie, Nacho Monreal put Arsenal ahead with a rare goal for the Gunners, Wayne Rooney equalised before Welbeck, discarded by van Gaal in the summer, had the sweetest of revenge for being sold.
United’s manager said: “It is very disappointing when you give victory away and when you don’t lose by your opponent, but by yourself.
“That was very disappointing because we know it could have been different. The player who gave away the goal (Antonio Valencia) was our best player, but that happens.”
Van Gaal was critical of Di Maria adding he was “not smart” adding he had been warned that it was forbidden to touch the referee.
He also believes his side will recover from the setback and it won’t damage the bid for a top four Champions League place.
“This is a big blow and we have to recover. I am not saying the motivation was bad. It was good and we showed tremendous fighting spirit,” he explained.
Wenger admitted there was a “little bit of psychology” involved in selecting Welbeck against his former club and ahead of Olivier Giroud.
“You always want to play well against your former club to show you are a great player. He focused on his game and didn’t do anything special,” he said.
And after winning at Manchester City, earlier in the season, Wenger added belief is important.
United went with a back four, five in midfield and Rooney as the lone striker as Radamel Falcao lost out.
Van Gaal made one change from the side which won at Newcastle, and that was enforced as Jonny Evans was ruled out through suspension with Luke Shaw his replacement in defence.
Arsenal sprang a surprise as leading striker Olivier Giroud was left on the bench as Welbeck was handed a starting spot and a first return to Old Trafford following his summer move.
There was plenty of pace in the Gunners’ side with the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in their starting line up.
The atmosphere at the start was super charged with 9,000 Arsenal fans making the journey to Old Trafford, despite the difficulty in travelling to a night match.
There was plenty of early endeavour from both teams, but precious little in terms of creativity in the final third of the pitch.
But when Arsenal mustered the first opening of the net, they found the net after 25 minutes.
Mesut Ozil supplied a pass to Oxlade-Chamberlain who skipped past two opponents before sliding a diagonal pass to release left-back Monreal who, from six yards, slotted the ball low past David De Gea.
It was only the second goal the Spaniard had scored in 76 games for Arsenal.
The game suddenly exploded to life and United were on level terms when Antonio Valencia and Di Maria combined and the Argentine crossed from the right for Rooney to head home from eight yards for his 12th goal of the season.
Arsenal had a shout for a penalty when Welbeck went to ground in the box and replays showed defender Marcos Rojo had a hand on him, though the striker went down too easily.
Late in the half, Di Maria and Marouane Fellaini had chances for United while Santi Cazorla’s free kick forced a diving save from De Gea.
United made a double change at the break as Shaw and Herrera were replaced by Phil Jones and Michael Carrick.
Arsenal regained the lead shortly after the hour after a piece of calamitous defending from the Reds.
Jones chested a long clearance down to Valencia whose back pass was intercepted by Welbeck who ran through and rounded De Gea to slot into an empty net for his eighth goal of the season.
United made their third and final chance with 17 minutes left when Rojo was replaced by Adnan Januzaj as Ashley Young dropped to left back.
Arsenal were denied a third goal when De Gea pulled off a fabulous save low to his left to keep out a shot from Cazorla.
United’s hopes of victory diminished with 13 minutes left when Di Maria was sent off. He was booked for diving and, in the resulting argument, the Argentine made contact with referee Michael Oliver.
Deep into the five minutes of stoppage time Alexis Sanchez had a great chance to seal victory, but dragged his shot wide.