FA Cup - United v Arsenal
After two Premier League defeats on the trot Manchester United face a break from the rigours of the domestic league when they take on Arsenal in a highly anticipated FA Cup quarter-final. With the Gunners still licking their wounds after their mauling in the Camp Nou, on Tuesday evening, both sides will be desperate to get back to winning ways and secure a place in the last four of the greatest domestic cup competition on this globe.
As the game approaches, Sir Alex Ferguson has broken his media silence, albeit in his programme notes, to comment on the emergence of Arsenal, this season, as our major rivals, remarking,
"Last season the Gunners faded around the February-March period to leave Chelsea and ourselves in a two-horse race which saw us pipped at the post by a point. I think most pundits expected to see something similar this season, plus a challenge from Spurs, and Manchester City to make it even more difficult for Arsenal to get back up to the top."
"But Arsene Wenger and his players have rearranged the pecking order to come storming through to second place, three points behind us with a game in hand."
"Clearly they represent the main danger to us achieving our ambitions in a revival of the rivalry of a few years ago - and I am sure they regard us as the major threat to their hopes."
Strange after the draw pitched us in with non-league Crawley Town in the last round but then pulled out a plum-tie that pitches the top two, current, team sin the league against each other.
The Arsenal camp, still reeling from the mauling they received at the hands of Barcelona and the official on the pitch, will be looking towards the Old Trafford fixture as a way of getting back on track, with young Jack Wilshere, commenting,
"We have got great mental strength, and yes there is disappointment in the dressing room."
"But we`ve got to pick ourselves up and go to United to get the win on Saturday."
Like we said earlier, it has all the makings of a great cup tie and one that should illuminate the weekend up.
Manchester United Team News:
Sir Alex Ferguson has seen his injury list lengthen this week. Joining Hargreaves, Owen, Park, and Valencia on the sidelines is Nani. However, after serving a one match suspension, Vidic is available for selection. It remains to be seen whether either of Evans or Ferdinand have sufficiently recovered from injury to be considered.
Normally Sir Alex would use the FA Cup to field a few youngsters and a few youngsters and fringe players but the magnitude of this tie infers it`ll be his strongest eleven that emerges from the tunnel on Saturday.
Fletcher was rested at Anfield and is likely to return whilst Berbatov is likely to be recalled to partner Rooney in attack. Apart from that it`ll be a case of selecting those who are fit and can last the distance in what will be a tense affair.
Player to watch: Wayne Rooney
Our striker has had an indifferent season but surely the stage is set, this Saturday, for Wayne to produce the kind of form that makes him one of the top strikers in Europe.
Arsenal Team News:
Desperate not to go out of competition number three, following hard on the heels of losing the Carling Cup Final (surprisingly to Birmingham) and being knocked out of the Champions League (not surprisingly by Barcelona), Arsene Wenger will bring his squad to Old Trafford without one very key player, his midfield general and captain, Cesc Fabregas.
Fabregas, who played in the Camp Nou after a swift recovery from a hamstring injury, had a recurrence of the injury on Tuesday, commenting,
"Fifteen minutes into the second half I felt a pinch at the back and knew the game was over for me."
There`s also a chance that Almunia will be between the sticks after their young Polish keeper damaged a hand on Tuesday night and had to be substituted. Robin van Persie, who saw red in the Camp Nou, is expected to start and could be the main threat up front.
Player to watch: Jack Wilshere
Still only nineteen and so much is expected to this talented lad, so far he seems to be delivering the goods and with Cesc Fabregas unlikely to feature, stop Wilshere and we`ll be controlling the midfield area of the park, the area, I believe, which will determine the victors in this tie.
Match Facts & Stats
Looking back through the years, this fixture has often hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, we`ve witnessed tunnel bust-ups, we`ve witnessed a brawl on the touchline that resulted in points deductions for both sides, we`ve witnessed Martin Keown intimidating Ruud van Nistelrooy and we`ve also had pizza chucked in the direction of Sir Alex Ferguson. Add to that the fact that it was United, courtesy of a dubious Rooney penalty decision, that ended the long unbeaten run Arsenal once established under the nickname of the Invincibles!
Hopefully, with both sides going into this fixture on the back of fixtures that have seen both clubs not win in either of their last games, come Sunday we`ll be talking about the football rather than an off-the-field even tor something that will result in more scandal in the tabloid press.
The fact that this tie is at Old Trafford could be our saving grace. Our home form this season has been phenomena, in stark contrast to our away form, but Arsenal will be formidable opposition and having been beaten in the Camp Nou will be desperate to not see their once much-vaunted quadruple hopes evaporate to leave them chasing one trophy, the Premier League title. With so much at stake we could get a feisty encounter and an encounter that could be settled by a single goal, 1-0 to United for me, with Rooney hitting a late winner.
Another home fixture but a different competition awaits us in midweek when we welcome Marseille to Old Trafford as we seek to edge past the French team and earn a place in the last eight of the Champions League.