x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Manchester United deal a psychological blow in EPL race

Arsenal's depressing fortnight took another disastrous downturn as they crashed out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford.

MANCHESTER // Sir Alex Ferguson claimed before this contest that he had no sympathy for Arsene Wenger over the circumstances of Arsenal's Champions League exit in Barcelona earlier this week and his team duly rubbed salt into the Londoners' wounds by knocking them out of another competition.

Manchester United set up a seventh semi-final appearance under Ferguson - and record 26th overall - after goals from Fabio da Silva and Wayne Rooney secured a 2-0 victory that compounds the woes of an Arsenal side who, in the last fortnight, have lost the Carling Cup final, gone out of Europe and, with this defeat, seen their pursuit of silverware scaled down to the Premier League alone.

By contrast, United - three points above Arsenal at the league summit - put their league defeats to Chelsea and Liverpool behind them while dealing their rivals another psychological blow.

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Also

Hitzlsperger is crucial and 'in the zone' for West Ham
Miserable March continues for Wenger and his Gunners
Wembley has always been kind to me, says Bolton's Coyle
Date at Wembley is all the motivation Manchester City need, says Roberto Mancini

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Ferguson was missing Nani, a casualty of last weekend's Liverpool loss, and while Nemanja Vidic was back in central defence, United's midfield had an unfamiliar look to it. The absence of Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher was ascribed to injuries - not Tuesday's Champions League meeting with Marseille - by Ferguson, and the consequence was John O'Shea and Darron Gibson in the centre with the Brazilian twins Fabio and Rafael, normally full-backs, on the flanks.

That pair provided the first threat on Arsenal's goal on the quarter-hour as Rafael headed over his brother's inviting left-wing cross. Fabio both began and completed the move that brought United's 28th-minute opener. Breaking from his own half, he arrowed a pass to Rafael on the right, then took the return ball and laid it off to Wayne Rooney. Rooney's superb angled cross gave Javier Hernandez a heading chance and when Manuel Almunia could only parry, Fabio was following in to bury the ball high into the net.

Arsenal, up to that point, had played more fluently but failed to unlock United's defence. Robin van Persie came close to an equaliser in the 32nd minute when running on to Samir Nasri's pass, he fired in a low shot that looked bound for the bottom corner until Edwin van der Sar's fingertip save. Van Persie, Arsenal's captain in Cesc Fabregas's absence, then headed wastefully over from Nasri's ensuing corner.

The second half began with chances at both ends and, crucially, United took theirs. An Arsenal move involving Jack Wilshere, Van Persie and Arshavin concluded with Laurent Koscielny in a clear shooting position on the left side of the box.

Van der Sar stopped his first effort with his feet then readjusted superbly to palm away the Frenchman's follow-up.

Arsenal paid for that when, moments later, Rafael burst into the box and fired in a low cross to the six-yard box. Although Johan Djourou beat Hernandez to the ball, it span up in the air for Rooney at the far post and he headed neatly into the opposite corner beyond the advancing Almunia.

Only Wilshere's last-gasp intervention stopped Hernandez converting Chris Smalling's knockdown but Arsenal did not go down without a fight.

Marouane Chamakh, the substitute, had a troika of efforts and should certainly have done better with the third of them; a free header from Bacary Sagna's cross that bounced into the turf and was palmed away by Van der Sar.

Tomas Rosicky missed another clear Arsenal chance, but Rooney was similarly wasteful and for Arsenal, even the faint consolation of Aaron Ramsey's substitute appearance - his first for Arsenal since suffering a broken leg in February 2010 - was diminished by Djourou's departure on a stretcher with a serious-looking shoulder injury.

sports@thenational.ae