Arsenal dominated possession, and by the end of the half they looked the more dangerous side, but that was only after Manchester United had taken a lead, with their indistinguishable Brazilian twins seeing a half of endless work pay-off in the 28th minute, Fabio da Silva giving Manchester United a 1-0 lead. Arsenal now has 45 minutes to find a goal against a defender-laden United set-up else face elimination from a third competition in two weeks.
In the 16th minute Manchester United produced the match's first real chance, with Fabio da Silva crossing from the left flank for his brother. Lazy defending by Arsenal allowed Rafael to get ball side on his man (Kieran Gibbs) while the left center half (Laurent Koscielny) stood idle. Finding himself in an uncustomary position, Rafael applied no technique to the header, putting his shot over the bar.
Arsenal's first decent chance came in the 24th minute, though had it not come off the foot of Robin van Persie, the 21-yard attempt wouldn't be worth noting. But van Persie had been quiet over the first quarter of the match, but with Arsenal increasingly holding more possession, the Dutch attacker was coming into the match. Just past the half's mid-way point, van Persie brought his heavy foot down on a shot with a thud, the ball knuckling as it approached Edwin van der Sar. The veteran `keeper had to block the ball down to his feet before collecting it on the bounce.
As van Persie let go of the shot from just outside United's area, Wayne Rooney stood yards away, at a position on the field he looked intent on occupying for most of the match. Although he was playing more advanced than John O'Shea and Darron Gibson, Wayne Rooney was very much a central midfielder, occupying a role you would normally see Anderson fill.
Rooney's biggest contribution, however, would still come in attack. In the 28th minute the midfielder swung a ball wide for Rafael, who carried the attack into the final third. The right midfielder put a ball in for Javier Hernández, the Mexican international heading a ball for the lower left corner that was barely saved by Manuel Alumnia, The rebound, however, was easy pickings for Fabio da Silva, who finished high into the Arsenal net to make it 1-0.
The goal, completing a United counter attack, was the logical end to a tactical progression that had played out over the first 30 minutes. While the match played out evenly over its initial moments, the play had slow gravitated toward an Arsenal possession game matched against United trying to break-out. In the minutes before the goal, Arsenal had pushed United deeper, yet were unable to generate meaningful chances. United, on the other hand, had become more willing to try more direct moments into the Arsenal half. In the 28th minute, those dynamics manifested a goal for the Red Devils.
The rest of the half saw Arsenal create some half-chances, testing van der Sar's gloves a number of times, with van Persie showing some indignation at having to play from behind. But there was never a true, close call for United, and with their Brazilian twins gasping for air as they went to the locker room, the Red Devils held a 1-0 lead on Arsenal.