Old Trafford, Manchester
Monday, 09 March 2015 1945 UTC
After a series of insipid matches between Premier League sides and lower division teams, the FA Cup has finally thrown up a juicy fixture – Manchester United vs Arsenal. The two English giants will clash in their quarter final tie late on Monday and the game is a pretty important one for both of them. For starters, the FA Cup is the only realistic chance either club has at winning silverware this season. With Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton already having been knocked out of the competition, it leaves the two clubs and fellow top-four hopeful Liverpool to fight for the FA Cup. Arsenal and United are both currently in the top 4 of the league table but facing stiff competition from others currently lying in 3rd position to the 7th. United have already endured one season without European football and would be very eager to get back to playing with Europe’s elite. Arsenal on the other hand, are on the brink of being knocked out of the Round of 16 by Monaco after having capitulated to a 1-3 loss to the French side at Emirates Stadium.
Team News, Tactics and Predicted Lineups
Louis van Gaal will miss the services of his star striker, Robin van Persie as the Dutchman’s ankle injury suffered in the league game against Swansea will see him miss the FA Cup fixture against his former club. Defender Johnny Evans will also be unavailable due to the 6 match ban handed down to him by the FA for spitting on Newcastle United’s Papiss Cisse when the two clubs clashed at the Liberty Stadium last weekend. The second piece of news means that Louis van Gaal might yet stick to a conventional back four since he does not have enough defenders if he plays all three of them in case he needs to make a substitution. Luke Shaw is still completing his return from a hamstring injury and is unlikely to start such a big game without having proven his match fitness properly first. This means that Young and Valencia can be expected to operate the flanks alongside Rojo and Smalling in central defense. Carrick is still on his way back and may still not be ready to start a game while Phil Jones remains an outside candidate to start at the back making it a back three.
Blind will take his regular position in front of defense where he has proved to be immensely useful all this season. Herrera is likely to accompany him in a deeper role but will be the more mobile of the two, also functioning as a box-to-box midfielder. Fellaini will keep his place in the side primarily because he adds a huge physical presence in the middle of the park and can be asked to run at Arsenal’s already leaky defense. Angel di Maria has been off colour for some time now but there are no indications that van Gaal is considering dropping the Argentinian. However given his propensity to cut into the centre, it may be better to start him in that position itself playing behind Rooney and Falcao up front.
United’s best bet would be to try and overpower Arsenal on the flanks where the Gunners have shown some vulnerability. The defense is not the tallest and they are susceptible to a well-directed cross. Fellaini and Rooney’s excellent heading ability combined with their physicality can prove to be assets in the box against a defensive line that will most probably contain Koscielny and Mertesacker in the absence of Gabriel.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Young, Rojo, Smalling, Valencia; Blind, Herrera; Fellaini, Rooney, di Maria; Falcao
Arsenal have a laundry list of injuries to deal with going into the quarter final match. Szczesny missed the mid week game against QPR through illness and will undergo a late fitness test for the Cup game. Likewise for Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Flamini who are returning from a back and a hamstring injury respectively. Defender Gabriel Paulista has been ruled out for up to three weeks and joins Jack Wilshere (ankle), Mikel Arteta (ankle), Abou Diaby (calf) and Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder) on the sidelines. The absence of Gabriel might warrant the return of Per Mertesacker. The big German has been out of favour at the Gunners’ camp off late after turning in a bunch of insipid performances and now there are even rumours floating that this could be his last season at the Emirates as Arsenal might look to offload him during the next summer transfer window. For the time being he is still with the club and Arsene Wenger will need to use all the tools at his disposal if he wants to craft a win at Old Trafford, a ground where he has not won since 2006. Bellerin and Gibbs will continue at the right and left of central defense.
Cazorla has been almost a permanent fixture in Arsenal’s starting XI and he is expected to keep his place alongside Coquelin and Ramsey, who might come in for Rosicky after the QPR game. Ramsey provides some much needed speed on the flanks to Arsenal and they can use him effectively to trouble Young on the left given that he is not a regular full back.
Giroud who has been in spectacular form since his return from injury will head the attack assisted by Sanchez to his right. The left side is a vacant spot and Wenger has the option to use either Ozil or Welbeck in that spot. Ozil is clearly the more skilled of the two but there is sufficient evidence that Ozil can be played out of big games by a determined defence. Welbeck, on the other hand, is an ex-United player and knows the playing style of most of his former team mates. More importantly, while Welbeck may not be as skilled as Ozil, he has a tremendous work rate, enough to keep the right flank and defenders busy thus opening up spaces for Giroud and Sanchez in and around the box to attack the goal.
Arsenal will need to be wary of the threat that United will provide on the counter via the Ashley Young and Marouanne Fellaini combination. Over the past few months, Young has proved he possesses a mean cross and Fellaini provides him with a huge target. Arsenal will have two key responsibilities in this area of the pitch – prevent Ashley Young from crossing the ball either to Rooney or Fellaini and prevent either of the latter two from running directly at or behind Kieran Gibbs.
Predicted Lineup (4-3-3): Ospina; Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerin; Cazorla, Coquelin, Ramsey; Welbeck, Giroud, Sanchez
Key Match Facts
- Arsenal have not won a game at Old Trafford since 2006. In fact, they have not defeated Manchester United in their last 7 meetings, and won only once in their last 15.
- Manchester United and Arsenal hold a joint record highest 11 FA Cup finals. Yet the last time United won the title was as long ago as 2004 and many stars including Wayne Rooney have an FA Cup shaped hole in their trophy cabinet.
- United have defeated Arsenal comfortably while keeping a clean sheet in their last two meetings in the FA Cup. That said, Arsenal have reached this stage for the 11th time, progressing 10 of those times, the only strike being when United knocked them out in 2011.
- The two clubs have met twice in the finals (Arsenal winning both) and thrice in the semi finals (United winning all three).
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
The FA Cup is one of the only medals missing from Rooney’s impressive haul with United over the last decade. With no European football or League Cup fixtures, this is probably the lightest fixture list possible for a club like United. Moreover, as captain, Rooney would want to win at least some silverware to take the edge off what has been, by many standards, a disappointing season for United. Rooney has scored 9 goals so far in the FA Cup, including 3 in his last four outings.
Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
The Chilean striker has been in tremendous form for the Gunners this season. He also broke a short goal draught by scoring against QPR mid week bringing his season tally to 19 goals. Sanchez will be vital to Arsenal’s plans and especially his runs off the ball may put United’s fragile defense in a tight spot and even force Rojo into one of his trademark rash challenges. Let us not forget that this particular match up has had a propensity for sending offs having earned 4 red cards in the last 7 encounters.
Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1
The match is between two fallen giants. They are toe to toe in terms of FA Cup records and there isn’t much to separate the two sides. The encounter promises to be another epic one although United might just edge past Arsenal given their solid home record this season and Arsenal’s voodoo with Old Trafford.
Blast from the past
United fans remember the 1999 FA Cup semi-final very fondly when their team beat Arsenal to proceed to the finals. The standout moment of that match was when Viera’s loose pass was picked up by a young Ryan Giggs inside United’s half and then the winger proceeded to display a brilliant run before putting the ball past David Seaman into the net, scoring the decisive goal for 10-man United.