FA Cup Q/F Manchester United vs. Arsenal: When two derailed trains collide
Just when it seemed Manchester United and Arsenal had opened up a gap big enough atop the Barclays Premier League for it to be dubbed a two-horse, both suffered significant, yet contrasting jolts since the turn of the month. There was talk of an unprecedented quadruple amongst the Emirates faithful just ten days back, but should Arsenal lose to their arch-rivals on Saturday, the Premier league would be their only hope of ending a silverware drought that dates back to 2005. A last minute misunderstanding between Szczesny and Koscielny proved decisive against Birmingham in the League Cup final and a most unlike Arsenal performance (without a single effort on goal) catalyzed by the ludicrous dismissal of striker Robin Van Persie sealed their fate against Barcelona in the Champions League.
The Red Devils on the other hand had got away one too many times playing ordinary football in away games and had to endure a mini slump starting with a controversial defeat to Chelsea and a mauling at the hands of bitter rivals Liverpool at Anfield. They now have Arsenal breathing down their necks with Chelsea believing they still might have a sniff at the Barclays Premier League.
Thus this Saturday’s showdown at Old Trafford is much more than a FA Cup tie. Both teams are desperately looking to lift their spirits and at the same time gain the mental edge over the other in the tense run in that would ensue. Last time Arsenal looked like serious contenders for the Premier League was in the 2007-08 season and it was a 4-0 drubbing in the FA Cup at Old Trafford in the lead up to the run-in which proved a major factor in Arsenal eventually running out of steam. Neither team would want to slip up and the sheer magnitude of the stakes is what makes this tie stand out from other Manchester United –Arsenal ties in the recent times.
In-from striker Robin Van Persie who made a miraculous recovery to face Barcelona has been declared fit but captain Cesc Fabregas and goalie Szczesny would miss out with hamstring problem and a dislocated finger respectively.
Nani’s absence will be a major blow to United’s chances as he is one player who’s looked menacing most consistently. Ji sung Park, who’s scored the last three times he’s played Arsenal will be out as well. Rio Ferdinand hasn’t recovered and it’s too early for Antonio Valencia to make a comeback though he’s started training with the first team again.
Robin Van Persie’s been in fine form lately and Samir Nasri has improved leaps and bounds this year but Arsenal’s drive this season has undoubtedly come from wonder-kid Jack Wilshere. He has tremendous reserves of energy, pace to burn and an ever-improving passing ability. He has the ability to thwart the likes of Scholes and Carrick from controlling the game and his form will be crucial for the Gunners.
A lot of what United has created this season has come from Nani’s wing play and he will be sorely missed by Manchester United. With Valencia still on his way to recovery, Sir Alex might have to once again turn to Ryan Giggs to create some magic down the wings. His ability is unquestioned (how could anyone forget the 1999 FA Cup semi final), but whether he still has the pace to go past the likes of Sagna and Clichy is what remains to be seen.
It’s undoubtedly a big game, one where big game players are expected to stand up and be counted. Rooney’s often been Arsenal’s bane in the past or perhaps it is going to be Van Persie’s night. However more often than not, it’s an unheralded name that clinches victory for his side and going by the mettle he has shown this season, you really would not want to bet against a young Mexican by the name of Javier Hernandez.