United took on Arsenal in the FA cup quarter final with the prospect of Wembley beckoning for the winning side. With Arsenal’s exit from the champions league, and failure to win the league cup final against Birmingham, the FA cup remained one of only 2 bits of silverware available to Arsene Wenger’s side in a season that promised so much. Despite still sitting at the top of the table, United had struggled of late, after back to back defeats to both Liverpool and Chelsea, and were keen to get back to winning ways with the second leg of their champions league last 16 tie against Marseille next up. It’s fair to say that in recent years United have taken the FA cup somewhat lightly, with Fergie often playing significantly weakened sides, however an injury crisis in the midfield forced what was a surprising United line up, with the Da Silva twins utilised in an offensive capacity in midfield whilst being supported by Gibson, O Shea and Rooney.
A wounded Arsenal side began the game with real intent, typically passing the ball around with purpose and precision keeping United pegged back in their own half. Yet the criticism that Arsenal lack real cutting edge was again applicable in this instance, as Vidic and Smalling demonstrated their ability to contain what was relatively toothless pressure. As the game wore on, United began to assert their own style onto the game, with the Da Silva twins showing real promise in the final third of the pitch and putting the Arsenal defence under pressure, preventing them from playing the ball from deep comfortably. And it was United’s young twins who began and finished United’s opener, after some tidy build up play by Rafael and Wayne Rooney, Hernandez’s diving header could only be palmed into the path of Fabio who slid home his second goal of the season. United were now in the ascendancy, with Arsenal looking somewhat shellshocked as yet another trophy appeared to be slipping away from them.
United began the second half by welcoming back Antonio Valencia from his long term injury sustained early in the season against Rangers as they looked to build on a solid first half performance. Rafael was moved into the centre of midfield to accommodate this personnel change, it it brought immediate results as 5 minutes after the restart, the Brazlian shimmied his way down the right hand side crossing to Hernandez who’s blocked effort was nodded home by Wayne Rooney at the back post. The goal came seconds after Edwin Van Der Sar sensationally denied Laurent Koscielny’s effort with a diving save, the first of many crucial interventions throughout the match. The dutchman was again called into action with the clock ticking down, as Marouane Chamakh glanced a header towards goal forcing Van Der Sar into a fine diving save, and again seconds later as he parried Rosicky’s strike preventing a tense finale for the reds.
However United were not merely sitting back and absorbing Arsenal pressure, posing a significant threat on the break with Rooney, Hernandez and the newly introduced Giggs in particular keeping Wenger’s side on their toes. Hernandez was denied a well deserved goal twice in the last 10 minutes, firstly by Johan Djourou who’s last gasp challenge prevented the Mexican, and then by Manuel Almunia in the last minute of stoppage time, who smothered a shot from close range. A sorry looking Arsenal never looked like breaking down a resolute United defence, and the reds secured a meeting against Manchester City at Wembley in what is sure to be a classic encounter. With United competing with Arsenal for the premier league title, this victory sends out an important message and could prove to be psychologically significant come the end of the season, as Wenger’s side looked to be broken mentally at full time with their season unfolding before them. United on the other hand still remain in the hunt for 3 pieces of silverware, and with a little bit of luck, this could be another historic one for the club.