It was the tale of an old favourite coming back to haunt the home faithful, as Manchester-born Danny Welbeck returned to score the goal that sent holders Arsenal on their way to a famous 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.
Welbeck’s strike came with just over half an hour to play, with the game finely poised as Wayne Rooney’s stunning header followed Nacho Monreal’s neatly taken opener in the first half.
Manchester United 1-2 Arsenal
The FA Cup Sixth Round
Monday 9 March 2015
Old Trafford, Manchester
United fans were craving a grandstand finish from the home side, so often an eternal force at Old Trafford, but Angel Di Maria was sent off just as they were mounting a response.
Arsenal make their return to Wembley in the semi-final, where they will take on either Reading or Bradford City.
The game had began at a frenetic pace, and although neither goalkeeper was called into action in the opening 15 minutes, the expectant crowd had plenty to cheer.
United, so often maligned in recent weeks for their lethargy in the opponent’s final third, moved the ball sharply and had their opponents on the back foot.
Ashley Young drew a foul and a booking from right-back Hector Bellerin, and Rooney, playing as an out-an-out striker, chased every cause.
This was more like it, was the sense of feeling from the home crowd in the opening exchanges.
They had their first half-chance when Marouane Fellaini chested a diagonal Di Maria pass into the path of Young, but his shot went high and wide.
For all the pressure they found themselves under threat on the break, and the 8,600-strong travelling support had their fair share to cheer.
Welbeck, playing at Old Trafford for the first time as an opposition player, looked dangerous on the break, and Alexis Sanchez tested makeshift right-back Antonio Valencia with his direct dribbling and relentless harrying.
For all United’s attacking intent, they were struggling to find a way through and it was the visitors who opened the scoring.
Mesut Ozil picked out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, and the England winger cut inside past three United defenders and squared to Monreal.
Two touches later the ball was past David de Gea at his near post and Arsenal were ahead.
It was September 2006 that Arsene Wenger last tasted victory at Old Trafford, and his side were daring to dream.
The goal was a clear example of what possession football with a purpose looked like. It seemed to be the catalyst to spark Louis van Gaal’s men into life – as four minutes later they were level – with a goal that oozed class.
Di Maria reminded the watching world why he is the most expensive footballer to kick a ball in England, as he picked out Rooney with an exquisite curling cross from the right.
The England captain met it with a diving header the injured flying Dutchman Robin van Persie would have been proud of.
Despite hauling themselves back into the game, neither side kicked on as the interval approached. Herrera struggled with the trickery of Santi Cazorla and picked up a booking for his troubles.
As the teams exited for the break, United boss Louis van Gaal left deep in conversation with Michael Carrick. A change looked imminent.
Carrick and Phil Jones came on for Luke Shaw and Herrera, but they failed to bring the intended calm to proceedings and Arsenal seemed to be the team in the ascendency.
United took to the second period much as they ended the first: nervous in possession at the back and lacking penetration up front.
De Gea, once again magnificent in the Manchester United goal, was called into action with a string of second-half saves, but he was powerless to prevent what turned out to be the game’s decisive goal.
Valencia, who had struggled to cope with the mobility of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez all night, underhit a pass to De Gea and Welbeck, showing great anticipation pounced, rounded the goalkeeper and fired home.
The former United favourite celebrated with gusto in front of the ecstatic Arsenal supporters.
There was a late red card for Di Maria, but the night – and the headlines – belonged to the returning Welbeck, Arsene Wenger and the travelling fans and they left Manchester singing their way south and planning another Wembley day out.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David De Gea; Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw; Ander Herrera, Daley Blind; Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini, Angel Di Maria; Wayne Rooney.
Substitutes: Michael Carrick for Herrera HT; Phil Jones for Shaw HT; Adnan Januzaj for Rojo 73.
Substitutes not used: Victor Valdes, Rafael da Silva, Juan Mata, Radamel Falcao.
Bookings: Herrera. Fellaini, Young, Rojo, Januzaj.
Red card: Di Maria.
Goal: Rooney 29.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez; Danny Welbeck.
Substitutes: Calum Chambers for Bellerin 66; Olivier Giroud for Welbeck 74.
Substitutes not used: Emiliano Martinez, Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Chuba Akpom.
Bookings: Bellerin. Ramsey.
Goals: Monreal 25. Welbeck 61.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Watch highlights of the Sixth Round tie at Old Trafford