MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Danny Welbeck scored the winner on his return to former club Manchester United as Arsenal won 2-1 at Old Trafford on Monday to reach the FA Cup semifinals and stay on course to defend the trophy.
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 end the season without a trophy.
United sold Welbeck on transfer deadline day last summer, with manager Louis van Gaal saying he wasn’t up to the standard of the club’s strikers, but he showed great instincts to pounce on Antonio Valencia’s poor back-pass and score in the 61st.
Wayne Rooney’s diving header in the 29th canceled out Nacho Monreal’s well-worked opener four minutes earlier for the visitors, who joined Aston Villa in the last four.
The Bradford-Reading and Liverpool-Blackburn quarterfinal matches ended 0-0, forcing replays.
It was a rare start up front for Welbeck, who has had a mixed first season for Arsenal since his move for 16 million pounds (then $26.5 million), and he took his only real chance well after Valencia underhit his back-pass. The England striker rounded David De Gea, slotted the ball into an empty net and celebrated by clenching his fists.
Welbeck, at United from the age of 8, was applauded by most of the home fans when he was substituted in the 74th.
The FA Cup’s two most successful teams — with 11 titles apiece — were taking a break from the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League, which Van Gaal says is his priority in his first season at Old Trafford.
Perhaps that made them shed their inhibitions, with the first half an open game in which both defenses looked vulnerable.
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.
United finished the half stronger, with Wojciech Szczesny — recalled as Arsenal’s goalkeeper — saving from Di Maria and Fellaini, but Arsenal always looked threatening on the counterattack with Welbeck as a pacy lone striker.
And he showed great opportunism to pounce on Valencia’s back-pass, nip the ball to the side of the outrushing De Gea and steer it into an empty net. Santi Cazorla and Sanchez had efforts saved by De Gea in the closing stages as Arsenal threatened more goals.
United rarely threatened after Di Maria’s dismissal, which 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.
This article was written by Steve Douglas from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.