Manchester United is through to the semifinals of the FA Cup, an for a team that had to start three defenders in midfield, it was surprisingly easy. Never facing a moment where it look like their defense would crack, Manchester United got goals from Fabio da Silva and Wayne Rooney en route to a 2-0 victory over Arsenal, handing the Gunners their third competition elimination in two weeks.
Arsenal did put 11 shots on Edwin van der Sar, truly testing the United `keeper on a couple of occasions. Yet a large portion of Arsenal's shots failed to trouble United, with the 20-plus-yard shots being put right at van der Sar, Arsenal's chances were more akin to turnovers than threats.
It was a disappointing showing for an Arsenal side who, facing a team that was juggling injury concerns with the need to rest players for Tuesday's UEFA Champions League match, had to start Wes Brown and Chris Smalling in defense, Fabio, Rafael da Silva, John O'Shea and Darron Gibson in midfield. Wayne Rooney played central midfield for most of the match, leaving Javier Hernández to fight his own battles. Yet, despite those limitations, a prepared United team never looked a more limited side.
An even first half was tilted in the 28th minute, Manchester United going ahead when a counter attack produced a Fabio da Silva goal. The tally came after Manuel Almunia had made a diving save on a Javier Hernández header, with Fabio there to put home the rebound.
Though Arsenal would dominate possession after the opener, the goal exemplified how the first half was played. United relied on swift, direct movements - counter attacks - to threaten Arsenal, while the Gunners were left to craft chances from their possession advantage. It was the type of match that would lead many to claim Arsenal carried the advantage, but it was an even affair. United was playing the type of match they'd set-up for, and with their goal near the halfhour, they had executed their plan better than their opponents had implemented their's.
The second half started with promise for Arsenal, seeing Laurent Koscielny nearly beat Edwin van der Sar (twice) in the half's opening minutes. But moments later Manchester United had burst into the Arsenal third, with substitute Antonio Valencia finding an on-coming Rafael da Silva. The Brazilian's saved shot on goal set up a header for Wayne Rooney, the United star putting it far post from the right to double Manchester United's lead.
With the lead insured, United willingly resumed the defensive stance they were forced into at the end of the second half. The midfield collapsed to the edge of the box, while the wingers fell deep and allowed the fullbacks to play narrow. Arsenal passed the ball across the top of the area and dominated possession but had few ideas on how to threaten van der Sar.
Even after the teams started making adjustments - Marouane Chamakh on for Denilson at the hour mark, Ryan Giggs on for Rafael da Silva moments later - the match assumed a posture we've become accustomed to in United-Arsenal matches. Because United has had their way with Arsenal of late, the Gunners chasing a late United lead has been an unfortunately common viewing experience for Gooners. And as the match aged toward the 90-minute mark, the overwhelming feeling was this match would be no different.
Arsenal spent 15 minutes after the Rooney goal holding possession, checking United's shape for cracks, but ultimately found none. Come the 66-minute mark, United was starting to assume more possession, with Giggs' inclusion coinciding with (though not causing) a number of United forays into the Arsenal third. A cross from Giggs let to a corner. The resulting play nearly gave to a chance to Javier Hernández. Antonio Valencia was able to play-in a few targeted crosses from the right. United was starting to look like a team in control while Arsenal had assumed the stance of a team that had accepted its fate.
Sensing this, Arsène Wenger spent his final two substitutions in the 72nd minute. Aaron Ramsey, playing his first match for Arsenal since suffering a broken leg a year ago at Stoke City, came on for Abou Diaby. Tomas Rosicky also came on, replacing Andrei Arshavin. The changes seemed to inject some life into the team, but unable to crack United's defense, the Gunners were resigned to testing van der Sar from distance.
In the 80th minute, Wenger's decision to spend his subs came back to cost Arsenal, though that was the second thing on viewer's minds. In the process of trying to get between Javier Hernández and a Wayne Rooney cross, Johan Djourou suffered a shoulder injury, the Gunners' center half spending near eight minutes on the pitch before being carried off. The oft-injured defender's bad luck took the Swiss international out of the match and left Arsenal with 10-men, chasing United's two goal lead.
Though Arsenal had eight minutes of extra time to craft something miraculous, their attitude projected a team that had come to grips with the day's results. Alex Ferguson had his hands tied by congesting fixtures and injuries, had to start a midfield with three defenders, and still exerted his dominance in a fading rivalry. United booked a date at Wembley with a 2-0 win while Arsenal was eliminated from another competition.