Manchester United's season went from bad to worse on Monday night, as their last chance of silverware evaporated with a 2-1 FA Cup quarterfinal defeat at home to Arsenal. It was a cowardly managerial performance from Louis van Gaal, whose inexplicable halftime substitutions allowed the Gunners to gain the ascendancy and take a decisive lead through Danny Welbeck, after Wayne Rooney had cancelled out Nacho Monreal's opener in the first period.
The game was pretty even in the opening exchanges, with Arsenal sitting deep and looking to soak up the early United possession. It was a strategy that worked well for the Gunners, who looked consistently dangerous on quick-counter attacks before breaking the deadlock after 25 minutes. Some brilliant individual play from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sent Monreal through on goal, with the Spanish left-back capitalising on a calamitously contorted United defence with a fine finish.
However, it took less than five minutes for United to produce an equaliser. A brilliant cross from the right by Ángel Di María was met in the area by a totally unmarked Rooney, whose header sailed into the back of the net. From there to the halftime whistle, United looked on top. They should've gone ahead just a couple of minutes before half time, though Wojciech Szczęsny kept the game level with a good save to deny Di María at the near post after a fine through ball by Antonio Valencia.
One guessed that while the first half produced some of the most exciting football Old Trafford has seen this season, Van Gaal wouldn't have been too happy with United's lack of control. It was fun; perhaps a little too fun to fit with the increasingly tiresome ‘philosophy'. Sure enough, he elected to start the second half with a couple of substitutions: Michael Carrick came on for Ander Herrera, while in an even more peculiar switch, Luke Shaw was replaced by Phil Jones.
Suffice to say, the changes didn't exactly have the desired effect. Instead of United looking more solid in midfield, they allowed Arsenal to enjoy their first sustained spells of possession. But it was a calamitous mistake from Antonio Valencia that gifted the Gunners the lead just past the hour; the Ecuadorian's weak backpass pounced upon by Welbeck, who rounded David de Gea and slotted home.
The game should've been over with just over 15 minutes left, though de Gea got down to make a tremendous save on a volley by Santi Cazorla. Alas, it was all in vain; just minutes later Di María was sent off for what appeared to be tugging the shirt of referee Michael Oliver, and Arsenal were able to see out the remaining minutes and pick up a deserved win. Di María's red capped yet another disappointing performance, and achieving a top four finish must surely now be imperative for van Gaal.