There was more of the adventure demanded by United fans in this FA Cup tie, certainly in the first half, but ultimately a careless back pass from Antonio Valencia, a goal from a former Red and a needless sending off incurred by Di Maria conspired to bring a rare victory at Old Trafford for Arsenal which means no trophies for United for a second successive year.
There was certainly more zip about United’s play than of late and, with Arsenal defending deep, the Reds saw a lot of the ball in advanced positions in the early stages. At one stage, a superb move that saw nine Reds shirts involved around the Arsenal box looked to have put Fellaini in, only for the Belgian to check back rather than shoot and for the opportunity to go begging. Fellaini was involved again when he brought down a superb pass from Di Maria to set up Young, who blazed his shot high and wide.
Arsenal were set up to play on the break, however, and a sublime move saw Ozil set up Oxlade-Chamberlain who ran at the United defence, dragging players out of position and eventually slipping in Monreal, who came in from the left to finish clinically.
United responded in the best possible way, though. Di Maria’s crosses from the right had already caused Arsenal some problems and he fizzed in an absolute peach that Rooney met with his head to power home a quick equalizer.
The high-tempo sparring continued with Cazorla dangerous when on the ball for Arsenal and Oxlade-Chamberlain a constant threat when running at Shaw. For United, Herrera’s industry had the engine purring in midfield and Valencia and Di Maria were linking well on the right. The two linked up brilliantly as half-time approached when United picked up the pace again and an excellent ball down the right from Valencia put Di Maria through on goal, but the Argentinian’s shot was parried by Szczesny. The keeper was called upon again moment later when Fellaini drilled a shot straight at him.
Van Gaal made two changes at half-time, reorganising the defence to bring on Jones for Shaw and introducing Carrick into the midfield at the expense of Herrera and, whatever the reasons for the latter change, there was far less movement and penetration in the centre of the park after thr break. Although Di Maria was unfortunate not to get a free kick when he was clearly fouled when about to put Rooney in on the edge of the Arsenal box, it was the visitors who had the first effort on goal when Smalling gave the ball away and a break in numbers finished with Sanchez’s shot taking a deflection on the way to De Gea saving comfortably.
It was United’s first chance on goal of the second half that led to Arsenal’s second goal. An excellent ball around the corner from Fellaini put Di Maria through, but his shot drifted wide of Szczesny’s post and, from the goal kick, Arsenal regained the lead: Jones cut out the high ball but, when his clearance fell to Valencia, the Ecuadorian’s back pass was weak and allowed Welbeck to pounce before De Gea and put the ball into the empty net.
Smalling failed to pull the Reds level when, from a Di Maria corner, he failed to connect properly and saw his shot go over the bar with the goal at his mercy. From there, the game became increasingly frenetic and, with Giroud replacing Welbeck (who was shamefully booed by some in the Old Trafford crowd), Arsenal swarmed around the United box in numbers and De Gea was called upon to make a fantastic save to deny Cazorla.
United’s task was made much more difficult when Di Maria picked up what looked a soft booking when he went down under a challenge; unfortunately, he then responded with a frustrated shove on the referee which brought a second yellow and his departure from the field.
From there, United continued to expend a lot of energy but a well-drilled Arsenal central defensive partnership soaked up the pressure well and Sanchez might well have added a third for the visitors in stoppage time, only for him to be denied by another excellent De Gea save. Unfortunately, this time the Spaniard’s heroics weren’t enough to get a result from his team and United bow out of the FA Cup on a miserable and disappointing night for Reds fans.