Mar 9th, 2015 by 'holic
Well, as nights go that was one of the more memorable ones. Tonight we are celebrating reaching the FA Cup semi-finals after the Arsenal once again produced a disciplined display to claim their first victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford since 2006.
I’m aware that half the planet, and therefore the vast majority of you, will probably have seen at least the key moments of the match live, so I will try and avoid the conventional and discuss instead the key points.
Where better to begin than with the starting line-up. If you read my preview you will know I would agreed wholeheartedly with ten of the eleven starters. Arsene gave us something of a surprise with the selection of Danny Welbeck as the focal point of the attack rather than Olivier Giroud. That caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth on Twitter, but proved to be a match-winning masterstroke.
Giroud gives us strength, and hold-up options that weren’t required tonight. This was all about having Welbeck’s pace and willingness to look for the gaps behind defenders, and looking to thread balls through any gaps that appeared. Understanding that United’s defenders kept a close eye on him, which meant there was space for others to exploit, notably Alexis Sanchez as early as the third minute.
United’s defence was therefore concentrating on other options as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain danced through their massed ranks midway through the half to set up Nacho Monreal for a wonderful near post finish that took De Gea, among others, by surprise. One nil to the Arsenal. To this point we had defended superbly, which made the one major mistake we made all night just three minutes later so frustrating.
Di Maria had a mixed night, but his excellent cross picked out Rooney in the centre of the six yard line, and astonishingly unmarked. On such a night apportioning blame is a churlish exercise for a blogger, but it is something to be addressed at Shenley on Wednesday.
The other talking point of the opening half was a penalty appeal for a tug on Danny Welbeck. Now we have seen them given, and we have seen them not given. Michael Oliver decided it wasn’t. On the basis of his first-half performance it was not a surprise. He booked Hector Bellerin in only the fourth minute for his first foul, and let much go, particularly from Fellaini who tested Francis Coquelin’s broken nose at around the same time and went on to commit several fouls.
My dislike of the current crop of PGMOL officials is well known I think, so I have to hold my hands up and say I thought Oliver’s second-half performance was a blueprint for how matches should be handled. Not once, but twice, he punished obvious dives by Di Maria and Januzaj with a yellow card. Supporters of every club have been crying out for that, and television replays showed that both decisions were spot on. Di Maria objected a little too physically and by the letter of the law earned his second yellow.
By the time Di Maria had seen red though we had secured our passage when Danny feasted on Valencia’s woeful backpass to score in front of the magnificent traveling Gooners, and celebrate a winner how it should be celebrated, bollocks if it is against your old club. Louis van Gaal’s “Welbeck is not the standard required at Manchester United” quote probably warranted such glee.
Eleven against ten we held out comfortably, and the BBC viewers voted for Francis Coquelin as man of the match. Of the three options they offered I thought it a reasonable call, but how on earth was Monreal not in the vote? A scorer at one end, he defended superbly, which is why this amateur wanted him selected ahead of Kieran Gibbs.
The real match winner tonight though was the man we are not allowed to credit, it seems. Arsene doesn’t always get it right, particularly in the big away games in recent years, but just as he did in 2003 he came to Old Trafford, ‘rested’ his main goal threat, got his tactics absolutely right, and saw his team keep their heads while United’s lost theirs.
I would also like to show my appreciation to David De Gea. But for two unbelievable saves from Cazorla and Sanchez United’s embarrassment would have been greater, and I would not be celebrating the third successive ‘holic pound to come in.
Reading or Bradford City it is then. Let’s worry about one of them another day.
Enjoy basking in this one, ‘holics.