Manchester United 1 Arsenal 2: Five talking points

FA Cup tie at Old Trafford had a bit of the old between these two rivals

Manchester United’s Angel Di Maria reacts after being sent off during the English FA Cup quarter final between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford. Photograph: Nigel Roddis/PA

Manchester United’s Angel Di Maria reacts after being sent off during the English FA Cup quarter final between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford. Photograph: Nigel Roddis/PA

 

1)The momentum is now with Wenger’s men

Before this barn-burner of a contest Louis van Gaal said: “What’s the plan? That we beat Arsenal. Arsenal are one of the best teams in the Premier League but I have noticed that they have played more defensively lately.

With a lot of success.” By the close the Gunners had been anything but negative and were savouring a victory that keeps the dream of retaining the FA Cup alive and is the perfect fillip as they seek to finish in the top four yet again.

United, though, have only the quest for a Champions League berth remaining. “A win this evening would be perfect for us to go into the run of tough games that we have coming up” said Van Gaal, ahead of playing Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea in four of the next

2)Di María sees red to spoil what had been a good performance

After reports the British record £59.7m signing may be unsettled came the first question on precisely this subject in the programme, to which he said: “I feel really good here. I’m very happy. A lot of players speak Spanish and that was very important when I arrived.”

There cannot have been too much contentment at being hooked in the last two matches – at half-time and on 59 minutes - and, by the 76th minute of this outing Di María’s mood was even darker when being sent off by Michael Oliver. Before this the Argentinian had caused serious problems. A swift cut inside and pinpoint ball in-behind Arsenal – this one found Marouane Fellaini – proved a warm-up for the first of many including the sweet left-foot cross that allowed Wayne Rooney to head the equaliser. And though he showed why Van Gaal can be frustrated with him when losing possession to Santi Cazorla this threatened to be Di María’s best display of recent memory until he received his marching orders.

3)Fellaini emerges as one of Van Gaal’s main men

The Belgian’s emergence under the manager is this season’s United selection surprise as he again forced £80m of elite football talent in Radamel Falcao (cost, £43m if United want him permanently) and Juan Mata (a £37.1m buy) out of the team, Fellaini doing so for a consecutive match. As in last Wednesday evening’s 1-0 victory at Newcastle Van Gaal decided that in the absence of the injured Robin van Persie United should have a lone striker in Rooney, who would be supported by the big-haired midfielder-auxiliary forward. As can be the case Fellaini’s offering was a mixed-bag. When put through by Chris Smalling near Wojciech Szczesny’s goal he failed to shoot and ended careering and sliding around like a novice ice-skater. But there was also smart movement and the ability to break Arsenal’s lines by drifting in behind, and the target presented by his head and chest for Di María and company to find with aerial balls.

4)Welbeck makes a triumphant Old Trafford return

The former favourite son of this parish made a first return to Old Trafford in Arsenal livery since his £16m transfer last summer. Not for the first time in his career Welbeck arrived in need of a goal, having last scored on 28 December. With only seven strikes all campaign for Wenger’s team the forward, who is still only 24, has not always been an automatic choice. Yet he did keep Olivier Giroud on the bench here, and Welbeck’s pace and movement were as evident as each quality was when a United player, but touch and composure were too often awry. There was a clumsy mis-control from an Alexis Sánchez pass, then a header that lacked power and went straight at David de Gea.

Perhaps this lack of conviction caused Sánchez to refuse to play him in when racing at the United defence later in the contest.

5)This was more like old times – well, kind of

As these old foes who dominated the Premier League era, until Arsenal fell away around a decade ago, prepared for this first FA Cup meeting since February 2008, in the BBC Match of the Day studio Roy Keane was saying: “It’s great to look back at the clips, great memories of some great games. It was such a clash of characters in the contests. In those days, you knew if you got a result against Arsenal, you had a chance of winning a title. These games [NOW]are just lacking that bit of intensity.”

What unfolded was a pell-mell contest that was, actually, reminiscent of the yesteryear Keane spoke of. While it may have missed a clash of alpha males like the Irishman and Patrick Vieira in those days of yore the atmosphere and spectacle did tingle the senses as then.

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