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Danny boy steps up as Gunners eye more FA Cup success

JUST DONE IT: Danny Welbeck celebrates his Old Trafford winner

ARSENAL STORMED into the FA Cup semi-finals with a deserved win over Manchester United in a thrilling contest at Old Trafford. It was former United favourite Danny Welbeck who applied the killer finish to the Red Devils' silverware ambitions by grabbing what proved to be a dramatic winner just past the hour mark. Nacho Monreal put the Gunners ahead with a coolly taken shot after 26 minutes.

The lead was to last just four minutes when Wayne Rooney headed past Wojciech Szczesny. Welbeck then latched onto a poor Antonio Valencia back pass to slip the ball past the onrushing David De Gea, before placing his shot into the empty United net.

Louis van Gaal was dumbstruck, and his woes were compounded soon after when record signing Angel Di Maria was firstly booked for diving and then sent off for manhandling referee Michael Oliver. The FA Cup semi- final draw took place immediately after the game, and Arsenal will face the winners of the Reading / Bradford quarter final replay, with Aston Villa drawn against the winners of the Blackburn Rovers / Liverpool replay. Both semi finals will be held at Wembley over the weekend of April 18 -19.

Hero for the Gunners, Welbeck was applauded pre match by all sections of the Old Trafford fans and with good reason at the club he supported and joined as an 8 year old. Those emotions were mixed when Welbeck was substituted for Olivier Giroud in the 74th minute, as by then he had latched onto Valenica's back pass to score what proved to be the winner, and earning Arsenal back to back FA Cup Wembley semi-final visits.

" We all want to do well when we play against our former club to show that we are a great player but it’s not easy to deal with the mental situation. He focused just on his game and didn’t do anything special, he just played football like you want him to play. He has shown mental strength because that’s not always easy to deal with," noted Arsene Wenger on Welbeck's triumphant return.

" He has pace and you also have to consider it psychologically. I have to rotate a little bit without destroying the balance of the team and I felt that we could have counter-attacking chances tonight and he would be ideal for that.

" What I like with Danny is that he’s intelligent, he wants to do well for the team, he’s a great talent and recently he has done extremely well for the national team as well. He has shown today when you can produce such a complete performance offensively and defensively, he has a great future. Overall he had a great game," continued Wenger.

Van Gaal refused to accept that his decision to sanction Welbeck's January transfer window move to North London was a mistake as the Dutchman felt he didn't score enough goals. That statistic doesn't hold up too well when you see that Welbeck's replacement Radamel Falcao was an unused substitute last night, and who has only scored four goals for United, whereas Welbeck's tally is eight.

Expectations were high amongst the near 12,000 travelling Arsenal fans, the FA Cup holders have been in good form of late, bar of course the Champions League first leg capitulation to AS Monaco. In their Premier League meeting earlier this season, the popular view was that United were fortunate in that game, so expectations of a first win in 8 and half years and in eleven Old Trafford visits were high.

The opening exchanges were understandably cautious, but not for long as the attacking intent of both sides would become evident. Arsenal with the menacing firepower of Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Özil and Welbeck, and with support from Santi Cazorla soon had United's vulnerable rearguard scrambling for answers. Luke Shaw looked nervous against his Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Francis Coquelin was adept at keeping the menacing Marouane Fellaini in check. There were nerves as well as expectation in the air at Old Trafford and soon there would be even more of the former.

Özil hard the beating of the United defence, but rather than continue to drive, he fed Oxlade-Chamberlain. The England man teased his way past three United defenders and found the unmarked Monreal advanced out on the left. The defender had time to look up and coolly slot past De Gea for the opener, and his second Arsenal goal. The Arsenal fans celebrations were loud, but they would not last too long.

Four minutes after going a goal behind, United were level. Di Maria's left footed cross from the right was allowed to elude the defending positions of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertersacker, as Rooney swooped to head in United's equaliser. United sensed another goal, but Szczesny was on hand to stop Di Maria's near post effort, and the half would finish with the team's level.

Arsene Wenger preferred to keep Giroud on the bench in the knowledge that Welbeck can play in both midfield and in attack, even though the England striker - but for a header which De Gea held, wasn't being allowed to play. That would all change and to dramatic effect.

Welbeck had been tracking back and hustling the United defence all night. Valencia may have forgotten how fast his former team mate was when he played the ball back to De Gea.

Welbeck was onto it in a flash, and as De Gea rushed out, Welbeck slipped the ball beyond the United keeper, before looking up to slot home into the empty net. Welbeck celebrated in true Arsenal style. His formative years may have been at United, but that goal and emotive celebration with his team mates said everything about the 24 year old's current loyalties and his first goal at Old Trafford since January 2014.

Arsenal stepped up their game, and went searching for more. Sanchez's cross found Cazorla, who got his technique perfect for the shot downwards, The ball was about to beat De Gea, but the United keeper produced an excellent save.

Özil then found Sanchez. His touch took him slightly wider than he'd have liked, but nevertheless he struck a low shot, which De Gea's finger tips prevented Arsenal from increasing their lead. The Chilean smiled at the quality of the save.

With Di Maria's off after mishandling the referee thirteen minutes before the end, the ten men of United struggled against the passing Arsenal game. Five minutes of tune added on received an Old Trafford desperate cheer of hope. Chris Smalling struck over the bar, but with substitutes Aaron Ramsey and Giroud coming on to play their part in this memorable night, it was Arsenal who would prove successful against one of their biggest rivals.

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