By Mark Young
FA Cup Quarter Final
Manchester United 2 – 0 Arsenal
Man United are on their way to Wembley for the FA Cup Semi Final after beating Arsenal 2-0 on Saturday in the sixth round at Old Trafford which included a master class by Edwin Van Der Sar.
Fabio da Silva’s tap in, in the first half and a placed Wayne Rooney header after the break helped put Arsenal out. Even though the Gunners dominated possession, United never looked like losing this with Chris Smalling, Nemanja Vidic and Van Der Sar producing some solid displays.
United have heaped more misery on the Gunners after knocking them out of their third competition in a little under two weeks while Fergie’s men still fight on three fronts and the Red Devils are hoping that victory at Old Trafford will give themselves a psychological advantage in the title run in.
Sir Alex named seven defenders in his starting line up and played 4-4-2/4-5-1/4-3-3 with Rooney playing a much deeper position than normal, whilst Wenger kept to as full strength as he could. He made four changes from the Nou Camp, three enforced. On paper, Arsenal looked stronger at kick off but Fergie’s faith in his squad paid dividends.
Arsenal dominated possession throughout but with the da Silva twins on opposite flanks of midfield United tried hitting them on the break. Rooney was dropping deep and looked like he could make himself a force in the Steven Gerrard type role. He was looking for killer balls and even if it would affect his goal scoring, his creativity would be a fantastic asset to a weak midfield.
Rooney’s creativity was in evidence before the half hour mark as United hit on the break. After a well worked Arsenal attack broke down Van Der Sar cleared to Fabio. The Brazilian fed a through ball to the right flank to twin brother Rafael who checked back around 25 yards out to pass back to Fabio. He laid off to Rooney, whose wonderful ball over the Arsenal defence found Hernandez. Chicharito stretched with a diving header only for Almunia to save. Luckily for United Fabio had continued his run and could make no mistake with the tap in.
Arsenal had been keeping the ball away from United in the first half with very little end result. Andrey Arshavin was wasteful in possession and until Robin Van Persie’s turned Vidic inside the United area there was hardly any spark from the Gunners. The Dutchman received the ball from the energetic Samir Nasri and turned the United skipper. He shot from a tough angle but Van Der Sar got down low to save and a corner was given. From the corner Van Persie headed narrowly wide. It was a good response from Arsenal.
Arsenal continued to keep the ball with relative control but United still looked dangerous on the break. Just before half time the impressive Smalling burst forward and set up a United attack. Rafael and Hernandez kept the ball well between them until the Little Pea played Rafael in on the right hand side of the penalty box. He played a low ball in to the six yard area but it was easily cleared.
United went in 1-0 up at half time and the attacking forces of Rooney, Hernandez and the Brazilian twins were very impressive on the break. Arsenal kept possession well but they lacked a spark in the final third and United seemed happy to let them carry on playing in front of them.
Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia came on at half time for Fabio after six months out with a broken ankle. This was good news for United with midfield options are looking slim ay present.
Arsenal started the second half like they had played the entire first, with lots of possession. Two minutes after the break centre back Laurent Koscielny ran from the back and played a one-two with Robin van Persie to put him in on goal. He shot but Van Der Sar made a superb double save to keep the Frenchman out.
This kind of performance from the big Dutchman must be giving Sir Alex Ferguson headaches on how he is going to replace such a brilliant keeper when he retires this summer.
United attacked by breaking down the right wing from Valencia, who gave the ball inside to Rafael and easily beat Kieran Gibbs. Rafael delivered the ball to Hernandez whose close range shot was blocked by Djourou but it bounced into the path of Rooney who calmly headed past Almunia from a tight angle. United were cruising now.
Wenger must be pulling his hair out after the past fortnight as United went sailing into the Semi-Finals and Arsenal were crashing out of a cup….again. Wenger brought on Chamakh to try and change things up but Van Der Sar stood in their way. The irrepressible Dutchman made a string of saves including a close range header from Chamakh and long range strike from Rosicky but United’s number one was not to be beaten.
United were still threatening on the break and Hernandez should have made it three on 85 minutes. Giggs played a through ball to Rooney on the right hand side. He crossed for Hernandez into the six yard box but Almunia eventually clawed away.
Djourou had been injured during the last attack after a collision with Sagna. The Swiss international was stretchered off and it looked a pretty bad one. So bad in fact, there were to be eight minutes injury time.
Paul Scholes came on for a cameo role but probably should have been sent off after two typical Scholes tackles in stoppage time. The first one on Chamakh was the first booking of the game and a foul on Nasri a minute later really should have been punished.
Overall United looked comfortable playing on the break and the strange looking starting eleven was justified with a brilliant result. They had a good base to build on with the centre backs and the goalkeeper. Van der Sar was asked after the game if he would play another season and he replied with “no, definitely not.” It’s an expected answer but still very disappointing. United go marching on, the treble, for now is alive.
Manchester United: Van Der Sar, Brown, Smalling, Vidic, Evra (Scholes, 78), Rafael (Giggs, 64), Gibson, O’Shea, Fabio (Valencia, 45), Hernandez, Rooney. Subs Not Used: Kuszcak, Berbatov, Obertan, King.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Gibbs, Denilson (Chamakh, 61), DIaby (Ramsey, 70), Wilshere, Arshavin (Rosicky, 70), Nasri, Van Persie. Subs Not Used: Shea, Squillaci, Clichy, Eboue.
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