AUTHOR: – Doron
Manchester United and Arsenal have played out some classic FA Cup fixtures in the past 20 years. United fans will naturally think back to Giggs at Villa Park, whereas Arsenal fans may remember Edu’s deflected free kick and Giggs open goal miss in 2003. Tomorrow’s game comes at a tricky time for both sides and in many ways the FA Cup this year may represent the best chance of a trophy for either side, with neither seemingly wanting to put a firm grasp on the league.
Arsenal’s season to date has been a mixed bag. There have been stunning performances, crumbling defeats, maturity, immaturity and ultimately so far disappointment. That said, they’re still very much in the race for the league title and are potentially 90 minutes from Wembley and an FA Cup semi final. The recent loss in the Carling Cup final was quickly glossed over as attention turned to trying to beat Barcelona in the Champions League. Injuries, refereeing and ultimately being outclassed saw them lose in Spain and has given this tie against Man United a bigger importance.
It’s incredibly hard to judge the mentality at Arsenal at the moment. There is no doubting that the players feel sorry for themselves, various comments on Twitter prove that. Wenger has taken a leaf out of Ferguson’s book and expressed his real feelings towards UEFA, branding them “arrogant”. Yet, this game is the perfect opportunity for the club to rally round, go to Manchester and get a morale boosting win whilst also making United suffer a third straight defeat. What’s more, despite Ferguson this morning denying that the result would have any effect on the title, defeat for either side would certainly give their opposition the psychological edge ahead of next month’s crucial game at the Emirates.
Arsenal didn’t invest in January but have instead seen new summer signing, Laurent Koscielny grow in confidence as he learns the English game. Lately his performances have been increasingly solid and he has certainly played a part in helping Arsenal to have the third best defence in the league (behind Chelsea and Man City). Like Koscielny, Nasri has matured this season and become a tricky inside winger. His performances have been so good that he’s hotly tipped for the Player of The Year award. It would be wrong of me not to highlight Jack Wilshere too. Surely the Young Player of The Year award will be his. He appears never to be fazed and rarely a game goes by now where he’s not Arsenal’s best performer. His ability to pass, dribble, surprise and make the correct decisions are reminiscent of a young Paul Gascoigne.
Yet, for all the positives, the same old problems remain for Arsenal. The most striking is the lack of a natural leader. Fabregas at times looks like he needs someone leading him and there always seems to be an implosion around the corner. The goalkeeping area still provides problems. The prodigious talent, Wojciech Szczęsny has taken his chance well but it hasn’t been error free. Almunia appears to be close to the exit and Fabianski has done well in patches but like Szczęsny, he’s fallen victim to another problem – injuries. For whatever reason, be it bad lack, injury prone players, or something in training; Arsenal seem to always have injury problems. These injuries will force Almunia to start in goal tomorrow and youngster James Shea has had to be recalled from a loan as cover. Walcott, Song, Vermaelen and Fabregas all would have possibly started will miss the tie too. On the plus side, Van Persie does seem to be fit and will captain Arsenal.
Arsenal’s style is unique in English football. Their formation, a 4-2-3-1, enables them to play short passes, have clever movement, sees pace throughout and their ability to keep the ball can all be associated with how they try to play football. United have struggled this season when playing teams who have men moving between the lines – only last weekend did Suarez and Kuyt highlight this frailty. However, tactically, Ferguson got it spot on against Arsenal back in December and Arsenal didn’t really ever threaten the United goal.
United have had six days to prepare for this game whereas Arsenal will have only had four. Arsenal’s form in all competitions has seen only two wins in the last six games (against Leyton Orient and Wolves). However, taking league form alone, they are the most in-form side, taking 14 points from the last 18 available. Similarly, away from home in the league, they are the most in-form team too, with 11 points taken from the last possible 18.
Arsenal are yet to face a Premier League side in the cup. This will be their sixth game after both Leeds and Leyton Orient took them to replays. Those ties were broken up by a narrow victory over Huddersfield. For the past six years Arsenal have gone out to opposition in the top flight – victory for either team would see a record 27th semi final reached in the competition.
Enough on Arsenal…onto United and my predicted line up:
Despite Sir Alex telling the press today he’d play his “strongest team”, I have my doubts. He was very quick to suggest that the result of the game would mean little in the title race which seemed to me to be covering already in case of defeat. The 4-5-1 we played in December worked well against Arsenal and despite wanting to see a 4-4-2 at home, I think we have to match how Arsenal will set up. With a game against Marseille just three days later on Tuesday, I think players will be rested with that in mind – Giggs and Scholes notably.
So with Tuesday in mind I’ve picked a very changed line-up that I expect may people to disagree with. I’ve picked Lindegaard in goal, in front of what should be a solid back four of Rafael, Vidic – fresh from his suspension, Smalling and young Fabio. Evra needs a break, at Anfield he didn’t look fit and at times made running look awkward. Rio Ferdinand remains absent and it’s not clear when he could return – be it on Tuesday or in a month.
The midfield area causes some problems. Anderson remains out, as does Hargreaves. With Scholes needed on Tuesday, I’ve picked Carrick sitting deepest with Fletcher and Gibson ahead of him. One feature of Gibson’s game we’ve seen lately are surging runs forward. Away at Marseille he was often the man getting high up to join the striker. There’s no reason why he can’t do this again. However this will no doubt come with big responsibility as it may also be his job to try and keep Wilshere quiet. On the wings, only Giggs is fit. Neither Park nor Valencia are ready for returns and Nani is out for an unspecified length of time. Like Scholes, Giggs will be needed on Tuesday so this provides a chance for Obertan to impress in a big game and in a strong line-up. On the other side, I can see Rooney being asked to do a job on the wing. Up front, I’ve selected Chicharito ahead of Berbatov as I think his movement could cause Arsenal problems and Berbatov is likely to start on Tuesday.
United are looking to try and avoid three defeats in a row having lost at Anfield and Stamford Bridge. They are in fact only the 9th most in-form side in the league but have won the last 8 games at Old Trafford. It’s 23 games in total since they last lost at Old Trafford. So far to reach this stage in the cup, United have seen off Liverpool, Southampton and Crawley Town. It’s a competition that has alluded the club since 2004 when a record 11th FA Cup was won.
This will be the 14th meeting between the sides in the FA Cup. United hold a 6-5 advantage in the win column however, one of the drawn games was won by Arsenal on penalties – an infamously one sided final in 2005 that haunts United fans. The most recent Cup meeting came in 2008 when United ran out 4-0 victors. There is a lot of history associated with this fixture and the videos at the bottom will recall some highlights for Reds.
United have struggled for goals in the cup this year, just four in three games. I think both sides will be hungry for success but I think United will have more than half an eye on Tuesday’s game. Based on my predicted team, call me a pessimist but I can see this game going to a replay. Hence I shall predict a 1-1 draw.
You can share with us your thoughts ahead of the match and your favourite moments from FA Cup games against Arsenal on our forum.
As promised, here are some of the better memories from FA Cup matches against Arsenal:
1982/83 FA Cup semi final win:
That semi-final in 1999:
“It’s a wonderful run from Giggs…”:
2004 semi-final triumph with Fletcher at the heart of it:
Crushing 4-0 win in 2008: