There was drama and suspense aplenty in the FA Cup this weekend, as the world’s oldest club competition came to life in some style, with Manchester United’s clash against Arsenal the pick of the clashes.
There were giant-killings, with both Everton and West Ham United dumped out of the competition by lower-league opponents, while Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United were two other grand old names to have fallen.
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Perhaps the Claret and Blues played a weakened team for a trip to the champions, but this was a commending display by Pep Guardiola’s side, and at this stage, it’s hard to see any team that might stop them.
Their cross-city rivals United might be their primary rivals in this year’s tournament, particularly after their superb display to dispatch Arsenal in Friday’s heavyweight clash.
This was a thrilling contest, and perhaps the best performance yet from the Red Devils under the tutelage of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
For its attacking vibrancy and resiliency, this showing was arguably even better than United’s victory over Spurs in the league earlier this month.
The win makes it eight games out of eight for the Norwegian coach, and at this stage, the 20-time English champions look the most likely roadblock for City en route to the final.
This 3-1 triumph was vintage United, as Solskjaer tapped into all the characteristics of the Red Devils under his mentor—Sir Alex Ferguson—to eviscerate Arsenal’s backline.
Admittedly, they were helped by injuries to Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny, as Arsenal’s injury-ravaged defence was depleted even further, but United deserve credit for the directness and effectiveness of their counter-attacking display.
“Today we looked more like a proper team,” the new manager told the Telegraph after the match. “We looked more structured. We’d worked hard at defending and counter-attacking.
“Counter-attacking is classic Manchester United – Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Park Ji-sung – we’ve scored so many at Arsenal over the years.”
While the display will have delighted the purists, the renewed performances of some of the players who had been pushed to the peripheries under Jose Mourinho was perhaps the most encouraging thing about the showing.
It was Alexis Sanchez, back at Arsenal—the club where he’d enjoyed some of the best form of his career—who opened the scoring, keeping his composure to beat Petr Cech.
The Chilean—who wore the armband on his day—wasn’t at his best, but Solskjaer still managed to eke out a stronger performance from the forward than Mourinho had managed during the entirety of his tenure at the club.
Romelu Lukaku was also restored to the fold and delivered an inventive display, while two of the young guns who are flourishing under Solskjaer—Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial—also found the net.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may have pulled one back for Arsenal, but this goal offered little succour for the home fans at the Emirates Stadium.
Earlier in the season, it was Arsenal who were rediscovering some classic values under a new face, as Unai Emery helped blow the cobwebs away after Arsene Wenger’s muddled tenure.
Now, they are beginning to look as limited and listless as United had earlier in the season, while it’s the Red Devils—a force renewed under Solskjaer—who are the club on the rise.