It was a clash of titans in the FA Cup yesterday as two of the most successful teams in the history of the competition faced each other in the quarterfinals. Arsenal and Manchester United have both won the competition eleven times, and in their hunt for a twelfth triumph, had to face one another at Old Trafford. While both teams have struggled somewhat this season, the match itself was played with extreme intensity; recalling the days of the past where Arsenal-United clashes were title deciders.
The match had all the twists and turns one has come to expect from the FA Cup. Arsenal, who handed a start to former United man Danny Welbeck, got off to a strong start causing several problems for the United defence. And when the opener came, it was a beautifully worked team goal that saw the Ox skip past three players before setting up Nacho Monreal to finish. United hit back immediately through a Rooney header however, and the score remained level until half time with non stop box-to-box action.
The second half started the same way, before Arsenal scored the decisive goal. Danny Welbeck pounced on a mistake by makeshift defender Antonio Valencia and rounded the impressive de Gea to slot home the winner. The game continued with relentless pace until a rush of blood from Angel di Maria saw him sent off and all but sealed the game for Arsenal. The ten men of United continued to fight, but both teams missed opportunities to score in the later stages and the game finished 2-1 in favour of the visitors. This was Arsenal’s first win at Old Trafford in nine years and when the manager came to address the press conference the joy was clearly visible on his face.
This is what the manager had to say:
It was important for us to start at a high pace, put them under pressure and I think we started without any apprehension. That gave them problems. Unfortunately at half-time it was 1-1 but overall we felt we were in control in the second half after we scored the second goal. We could have scored one or two more. Overall I’m pleased above all with the performance and the mental aspect of the game. It was always positive and you know that I like that.
I hope so [that this is a turning point for Arsenal]. On the day we have shown that we are mentally on the level that was required because it was a very physical game, a very committed game where we needed to deal with a very dedicated Manchester United team and we did that well without forgetting to play our football. You need some quality to do that.
Every win makes you stronger and you could see the fact that we have won at Manchester City certainly helped us to deal with the other part of the game. When you win in the big games it’s more [of a mental boost]. We know we have the football to go with it but the belief is important as well.
The inclusion of Danny Welbeck in the side over Olivier Giroud and his subsequent fine performance was also a major talking point during the press conference:
He [Welbeck] has pace and you also have to consider it psychologically. I have to rotate a little bit without destroying the balance of the team and I felt that we could have counter-attacking chances tonight and he would be ideal for that. Overall he had a great game.
We all want to do well when we play against our former club to show that we are a great player but it’s not easy to deal with the mental situation. He focused just on his game and didn’t do anything special, he just played football like you want him to play. He has shown mental strength because that’s not always easy to deal with.
I just think he wants to win and he’s a team player. What I like with Danny is that he’s intelligent, he wants to do well for the team, he’s a great talent and recently he has done extremely well for the national team as well. He has shown today when you can produce such a complete performance offensively and defensively, he has a great future.
The manager also spoke about the semi final draw and admitted that while Arsenal were the clear favorites, they would not underestimate their opponents.
We will be favourites but we have tricky memories from last year. It was our hardest game in the whole run. Let’s prepare well. What is important is to focus now on the Premier League. On Saturday we play West Ham and then the Champions League, we’ll see what happens. It’s a long way away now.
Like the manager said, the semi finals are not until mid-April; over a month away. We need to focus on the League in the meantime and try to secure the third place to get directly into the group stages of the Champions League. Also, next week we have the return leg against Monaco coming up. It seems highly unlikely that we will be able to overturn the deficit, but you never know and the manager will surely do his best to try and qualify for the next round. Let’s hope that this good steak of form continues for the club.