Sport Soccer

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Fergie's defensive ranks squeeze out Gunners


DION FANNING at Old Trafford

At least Arsenal can't have a fortnight like that again. Manchester United moved into the semi-final of the FA Cup last night but there was even greater significance to their victory.

Alex Ferguson was clearly thinking about the Champions League on Tuesday with a team that contained seven defenders, but the benefits of beating Arsenal with this side will be felt in the Premier League.

Fabio and Wayne Rooney scored the goals that take United to another Cup semi-final. Rooney gave a complete performance. His touch was back but the menace remains and he is a subtly different player now. The selfless workhorse has gone; now he is a performer.

Ferguson says Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher have no chance of playing against Marseille on Tuesday so they'll probably start. Their absence and the curious formation and selection offered Arsenal some light after a fortnight in which so much has been extinguished.

At the end, it was another defeat. They will try to determine which was the most significant defeat and Wenger insisted that the title can still be won but yesterday's game concluded with an air of resignation.

"I believe that we can do it but it is a big test to regroup," Wenger said. "We'll find out if they have the mental strength but I believe they do. We are used to being questioned." Arsenal keep giving the wrong answers.

Arsenal would have anticipated dominating a United midfield with Darron Gibson and John O' Shea at its centre and, briefly, they did.

United looked sluggish and Arsenal were first to everything, Samir Nasri nicking the ball off Rooney's toe as he waited for a Van der Sar throw to reach him.

Slowly United began to come into it. Gibson showed some authority when he shrugged off a few Arsenal challenges, kept the ball and found Fabio on the left. He delivered a dangerous cross but his brother couldn't time his header. Something that seems to be a family failing.

The goal when it came, came, inevitably, for United. Fabio picked the ball up deep in his half and picked out his twin who had space to run into on the right as Arsenal dawdled. They linked again then played the ball back to Rooney who chipped a ball over Johan Djourou who had lost Chicharito. That was a mistake. Hernandez headed towards goal, Manuel Almunia could only palm the ball along the six yard box and Fabio slid in.

Most of the United team ran to the Da Silva twins, but Rooney turned to the Stretford End, arms outstretched and demanding their acclaim for his role, admittedly significant, in the goal. Some of his team-mates ran past him, ignoring this demonstration of ego but one or two ran to him.

Rooney seemed to know more was to come. In the first half, he showed some fine touches, swinging in another ball but Fabio mistimed his header, yet trouble is never far way. He took the opportunity to hammer Bacary Sagna when the ball was there to win with a legitimate tackle but there was intent and depths of anger in the challenge.

Rooney's influence in the game grew as he delighted in the opportunity to dominate a beleaguered foe.

Before the end of the first half, Arsenal lifted themselves again. Van Persie got away from Vidic and shot across goal, Nasri shot at the near post but like all their attempts to shoot, it was straight at the goalkeeper. Wenger might have told Arsenal to prove a point at half-time and if they came out determined to demonstrate one, they ended conclusively establishing another.

After a couple of minutes, Koscielny joined the attack and looked surprised to find himself in so much space. He reluctantly took a tame shot which Van der Sar saved with his feet. The ball came back to Koscielny and he shot with more vigour but Van der Sar saved from him again.

Everything seemed designed to break Arsenal's heart because United went up the other end and scored again.

They broke and Rafael delivered a dangerous cross from the right. Djourou got in the way but the ball popped up and Rooney headed in. He took all the praise this time.

United were then able to sit back and waited to see what Arsenal had. Mainly they shot from distance but when they didn't they took the wrong option.

Wilshere, again showing an eagerness missing in some of his team-mates, did shoot into the side-netting when Arsenal fashioned a proper opening.

There were a few. Marouane Chamakh, on for Denilson, should have scored when Sagna delivered an excellent cross but Van der Sar again was in the way.

He saved again from another sub, Tomas Rosicky, before a swift counter-attack from United ended with Rooney playing the ball across for Hernandez. The Mexican slid in front of Djourou but his touch was forced out by Almunia.

Djourou stayed down having collided awkwardly with Sagna. Eventually he was taken off on a stretcher and his season is over. Wenger denied that Arsenal's was too.

Rosicky missed the ball completely when another Sagna cross caused United trouble. He has been one of a number of Arsenal players who have failed when asked to contribute over the key fortnight. Only Wilshere has enhanced his reputation.

Ferguson sent Scholes on for a cameo and he did what he does, hitting some beautiful passes, getting booked for one tackle and amazingly avoiding a second yellow for another.

It didn't matter. Even Wenger didn't see a miscarriage of justice in this defeat.

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