With one clinical finish, Danny Welbeck propelled Arsenal into the FA Cup semifinals and made former club Manchester United pay for selling him last summer.
Welbeck marked his first return to Old Trafford by grabbing a 61st-minute winner in a 2-1 victory for Arsenal on Monday, in a matchup between the competition’s two most successful teams.
Angel Di Maria’s 77th-minute sending-off for two yellow cards – one for diving and the other moments later for tugging the referee’s shirt in protest – completed a disappointing evening for United, which is almost sure to go without a trophy for the second straight season.
United sold Welbeck for 16 million pounds (then $26.5 million) on transfer deadline day last summer, with manager Louis van Gaal saying the England striker wasn’t up to the standard of the club’s attackers.
Playing with a point to prove, Welbeck led the line well and showed great instincts to pounce on Antonio Valencia’s underhit back-pass, round goalkeeper David de Gea and steer the ball into an empty net. His fist-clenching celebrations, in front of Arsenal’s jubilant fans, were firm but respectful.
”You always want to do well when you play against your former club, to show you are a great player,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who added that he chose to start Welbeck for ”psychological considerations.”
Wayne Rooney’s diving header in the 29th canceled out Nacho Monreal’s well-worked opener four minutes earlier for the visitors, who will play third-tier Bradford or second-tier Reading in the semifinals at Wembley Stadium. Arsenal is the titleholder.
Aston Villa, which beat West Bromwich Albion 2-0, was drawn against the winner of the replay between Liverpool and second-tier Blackburn.
In a choice that could define his first season at United, Van Gaal opted to sell Welbeck – who had been at United since the age of 8 – and replace him with expensive loan signing Radamel Falcao.
Falcao has under-performed, scoring four goals, while Welbeck now has eight for Arsenal despite largely being a backup to Olivier Giroud and sometimes playing on the left wing. Falcao was an unused substitute here.
”It was a surprise that Wenger put him in the lineup in that position,” Van Gaal said. ”Also, a lot of times against the club who a player was playing for, he shall be very motivated. But I think we gave that goal particularly.”
Welbeck was applauded by most of the home fans when he was substituted in the 74th.
United’s priority this season is finishing in the top four of the Premier League and getting back in the Champions League. Currently the team is fourth, a point behind Arsenal and one clear of Liverpool in what is set to be a frantic fight for the final Champions League qualification spots.
With silverware now unlikely, Van Gaal is relying on a top-four finish to save his first year in charge. This was a dispiriting loss, which was made worse by Di Maria’s red card and another booking for diving in the area for substitute Adnan Januzaj.
Di Maria’s dismissal came after he was booked for tumbling under a challenge from Aaron Ramsey. He got up to protest and grabbed referee Michael Oliver, who produced a second yellow card.
”I know of course and also Angel Di Maria knows that he doesn’t have to touch the referee,” Van Gaal said, ”so that is not so smart of him. But to control emotion is not so easy in such a match.”
Arsenal carved United apart for Monreal’s goal. Alexis Sanchez set Mesut Ozil free and the ball was passed across to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The winger jinked past three defenders and drew in a fourth before finding Monreal, whose shot curled inside the near post.
United’s response was immediate, as Di Maria cut inside – a familiar tactic in the first half – and whipped in a cross that Rooney met with a diving header. It was Rooney’s fourth in five games since returning to his favored role as central striker.
Arsenal always looked threatening on the counterattack with Welbeck as a pacy lone striker and after his goal, Santi Cazorla and Sanchez had shots well saved by De Gea.
It was Arsenal’s first win at Old Trafford in 11 attempts stretching back to September 2006.