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United take advantage of average Arsenal to advance

Martial sealed the game late on. AFP

United take advantage of average Arsenal to advance

Ciara Fleming by Ciara Fleming @rfutbol - 1 +18k

In a match that threatened to fall flat of expectations, Solskjaer's side demonstrated a superior cutting edge to their hosts, to seal passage to the next round of the FA Cup.

The build up to this fourth round tie billed the match as a potential 'Clash of the Titans'. Two clubs with great history in the competition, in good form, with intentions to claim the last viable piece of domestic silverware available to them. However, for the opening half hour of the clash, the play did not match its prior billing.

In spite of both sides seeing plenty of the ball early on, neither team managed to carve out even the remotest of chances. Instead, the action remained fixed in the middle third of the field. Moreover, the most noteworthy event during the opening half hour was an injury to Arsenal centre half Sokratis Papastathopoulos. An aerial duel with United striker Romelu Lukaku saw the defender land awkwardly on his ankle, which could not be remedied, and he was forced into the treatment room. Yet another set back in a long line of defensive casualties for the 'Gunners'. 

Suddenly, as if a switch was flicked in the control room back at Old Trafford, Manchester United burst into action. First Pogba rolled the ball into the feet of Romelu Lukaku in the area, then, in an uncharacteristic but brilliant display of awareness, the Belgian fed the ball into the channel to Arsenal old boy Alexis Sanchez. From there, the Chilean had the composure to nick the ball around Cech, and slot a lofted finish into the far top corner of the net. Out of nowhere, United had taken the lead.

Hosts Arsenal reacted well to conceding the opener. Emery's side took no time at all to take the game to their guests, in search of an equaliser. Yet, after a great spell of pressure, and a series of  corner kicks, the hosts lack of cutting edge would prove their own undoing.

Immediately after, the visitors demonstrated their lethal capabilities on the counter attack. An ever-present thorn in the side of the Arsenal back line; Romelu Lukaku broke down the right hand side, before picking out Jesse Lingard in the middle of the area. The Englishman controlled the ball with one touch, before stroking the ball coolly past the on-rushing Cech. Just like that, United had assailed into a commanding two goal lead. 

Again, in spite of the two goal sucker punch, Arsenal displayed great resilience in instantly setting about trying to find an equaliser. Defender Shkrodran Mustafi  climbed the highest to get his head on a cut back from Aubameyang, but the German's effort flew just wide of the target.

Nevertheless, Arsenal's tenacity would be rewarded before the interval. A great burst into the box from Aaron Ramsey caused chaos into the United defence, and taking full advantage, the Welshman lifted his head to pick out Aubameyang at the far post. The Gabon international gleefully accepted the chance, smashing home into an empty net. 

Sadly for Arsenal, that was the only goal they would claw back on their opponents, as the referee would blew his whistle for the interval soon after. 

Into the second half, and it was clear from Arsenal's dominance, that manager Unai Emery had delivered a steely half time address to his players. The hosts sent cross after cross into the United box, and sustained great pressure in the attacking third of the field. However, once more, the key final pass was absent, and thus the 'Gunners' would be frustrated.

In fact, it was this dominance that prompted visiting manger Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to implement a brave attacking change to his line up. Despite his side being penned in their own half; the United interim boss opted to keep three players in his attacking line, bringing on the fresh legs of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, to exploit any chance of a counter-attack. 

This change proved to be a masterstroke from the Norwegian. At a point in the game where Arsenal seemed most likely to grab  the leveller, United pounced.

Paul Pogba took it upon himself to nick possession on the half way line, and drive at the Arsenal back line. Once he reached the edge of the box, he played a clever through ball to striker Marcus Rashford, who in turn was presented with a free shot at goal. Unfortunately for the Englishman, home stopper Petr Cech produced a strong save to deny his low drive. However, that proved irrelevant, as the ball fell back into the box, with  the advancing Anthony Martial smashing into the empty net.

At long last, the third goal looked to knock the confidence out of Arsenal.  Not even the introduction of playmaker Mesut Ozil, could inspire a fight back from the home side. Instead, Arsenal's frustrations boiled over in the final minutes; and rather than making the most of ten minutes of stoppage time, they repeatedly dumped United's forwards to the turf. 

All in all, United will be thrilled to continue their hunt for a domestic honour; even more so as interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to come through challenges with apparent ease. In contrast, Arsenal will be disappointed that they could not reproduce the cutting edge that saw them beat rivals Chelsea last weekend, as their only hope for a trophy now is the Europa League. Thankfully, they have a manager that tends to excel in that competition. 

So, United roll on and Arsenal bow out. 

Ciara Fleming

Ciara Fleming

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