League leaders Arsenal travel to title rivals Manchester United for what is undoubtedly the tie of the Fifth Round. The two have become great rivals since Arsene Wenger’s arrival in the country in 1996 and this clash has all the makings of a classic.
United and Arsenal are the two most successful club’s in FA Cup history with a combined haul of 21 trophies from 35 finals. Ferguson has won five of them, Wenger four.
The winner of this tie will be among the favourites to add to those trophies because these are clearly the two best sides in the country this season.
Arsenal were tipped by many pundits to finish outside the top this term, but as Gunners fans say, ‘Arsene knows’. Wenger has created a team on a shoestring budjet that have excelled beyond even his own great expectations for them.
Arsenal are playing with such energy and style that it is difficult to believe that the club actually made a net profit in the summer’s transfer window. Goals are arriving from every part of the team with defensive midfielder Mathieu Flamini and centre back William Gallas scoring vital goals already this campaign.
The main man at the moment is Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor who has stepped out of Robin Van Persie’s shadow to produce a stunning run of form where it seems everything his hits turns to goals. With excellent service provided to him by the subtle midfield promptings of Hleb and Fabregas, Adebayor will look to add to his winner at Old Trafford last season, when the Gunners were in a preiod of transition. A huge boost for Arsenal is the return of Kolo Toure at centre-back.
The powerful Ivorian has returned from the African Cup of Nations just in time as Wenger may be without three defenders that started Monday’s win over Blackburn at the Emirates.
Returning Rooney Bolsters United
United will be boosted by the return to the team of both Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra, and both players are key to the way United play. Without the energetic duo last week, United appeared flat as they fell to defeat at home to local rivals Manchester City which sees the champions trail Arsenal in the league by five points. Louis Saha is also back after six weeks to provide options up front, something they sorely missed against City.
United will be desperate to put a marker down in the title race by knocking the Gunners out of the cup this weekend. United just never really got going in last week’s derby, and looked unusually sloppy at the back where the usually dependable duo of Ferdinand and Vidic each had their worst game of the season so far.
It could be argued that they missed having a shield infront of them, and either Michael Carrick or Owen Hargreaves should return to the starting line up in an attampt to quell Arsenal’s quick passign attacking midfield.
Alex Ferguson has laughed off the distance between these sides at the top, arguing with some credibility that Arsenal have the more difficult run in and far less experience. The fiery Scot will hope that his side can back up his argument by beating his old enemy Arsene Wenger’s side, and continue in the hunt for a second treble, which Ferguson has mentioned at various points this campaign.
It is hard to recall when United last lost consecutive home games, but that is a fait which awaits them unless they produce a much improved performance against a rampant Arsenal. The sides drew 2-2 at the Emirates earlier in the campaign, and another stalemate can be expected again at Old Trafford on Saturday.
10 Feb v Manchester City (H) LOST 1-2 (Prem)
02 Feb v Tottenham (A) DREW 1-1 (Prem)
30 Jan v Portsmouth (H) WON 2-0 (Prem)
27 Jan v Tottenham (H) WON 3-1 (FA Cup)
19 Jan v Reading (A) WON 2-0 (Prem)
12 Jan v Newcastle (H) WON 6-0 (Prem)
11 Feb v Blackburn (H) WON 2-0 (Prem)
02 Feb v Manchester City (A) WON 3-1 (Prem)
29 Jan v Newcastle (H) WON 3-0 (Prem)
26 Jan v Newcastle (H) WON 3-0 (FA Cup)
22 Jan v Tottenham (A) LOST 5-1 (League Cup)
19 Jan v Fulham (A) WON 3-0 (Prem)
FA CUP THIS SEASON
Round 3 v Aston Villa (A) WON 2-0
Round 4 v Tottenham (H) WON 3-1
Round 3 v Burnley (A) WON 2-0
Round 4 v Newcastle (H) WON 3-0
FA CUP HONOURS (bold ones won under current managers)
11 times winners (1909, 1948, 1963, 1977, 1983, 1985, 1990, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004)
10 times winners (1930, 1936, 1950, 1971, 1979, 1993, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005)
Manchester United Long term casualties Michael Silvestre (knee, Gary Neville (calf) and Ben Foster (knee) are all missing, but the short term problems have all been solved.
As mentioned, Wayne Rooney, Loius Saha and Patrice Evra are all available again. Midfielders Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves as well as Evra and Rooney could return to the starting eleven after sitting out last weekends defeat to City.
Last Starting XI (v Manchester City): Van der Sar – Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, O’Shea (Carrick 73) – Ronaldo, Scholes, Anderson (Hargreaves 73), Nani (Park 64) – Giggs – Tevez
Jens Lehmann should continue in goal as he has been chosen for all Arsenal’s FA Cup ties this season even if first choice Manuel Almunia recovers from a virus in time. Lively midfielder Tomas Rosicky is expected to remain sidelined with a hamstring injury and Denilson (hamstring) and Abou Diaby join him in the stands.
Dutch forward Robin Van Persie (thigh) is still missing, although with Adebayor in such fine form Arsenal are not missing there star forward as much as they would have anticipated. Full-backs Gael Clichy (knee) and Bakary Sagna (personal reasons) could miss out and Johan Djourou (groin) and Philip Senderos (thigh) are also doubtful.
Last Starting XI (v Blackburn): Lehmann – Sagna, Gallas, Senderos, Clichy – Fabregas, Flamini, Gilberto, Hleb – Adebayor, Eduardo
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney, although not the most technically gifted of United’s attacking talent, has shown his importance to the team in his absences so far this season. His feisty presence was sorely missed in last weekend’s derby defeat, and United never manage to play at as high tempo when Rooney is missing. His return will be a welcome boost and should allow a little more space for the skillfull Tevez and Ronaldo to exploit.
Arsenal – Emmanuel Adebayor is currently the hottest striker in the Premier League, and is enjoying a sensational run of goalscoring form that has seen the Togolese hitman find the net nine times in his last seven Premier League games, plus two in the last round against Newcastle. Adebayor on this form is unplayable and he will cause Ferdinand and Vidic all sorts of problems if they perform as sluggishly as they did last week.
A game that could go either way between the two top sides in the country. Surely United will have to show an improvement on their lacklustre derdy day defeat last week, but in present form it is hard to back against Arsenal. A score draw and an unwanted replay may be the outcome of this mouthwatering cup tie for old enemies Ferguson and Wenger.
Filed under: FA Cup