Friday, February 15, 2008

United v Arsenal: Is it make or break for the Red Devils?

Manchester United go into Saturday's 5th round FA Cup tie with Arsenal coming off the back of two very poor performances in the league, the worry for United fans is that defeat in this fixture could turn out to be psychologically damaging for Fergie's players' and the remainder of the season.

In the Manchester derby last weekend, the Reds looked and played nothing like champions, there was spells in that game when they looked more like a team threatened by the fear of relegation, devoid of ideas, lacking in effort and collectively rubbish in every department.

FA Cup ties between these two sides have been very close affairs down the years, with Arsenal having the better of things in 2005 and 2003, though United out played the Gunners in the 2005 final, but ended up losing in the dreaded penalty shoot-out. How Van Nistelrooy failed to win that final for United remains a mystery to this day.

In 2004 when the Reds went on to win the final they beat Arsenal in the semi-final with one goal separating the two sides.

In 2003 Arsenal faced United in the 5th round of the FA Cup at Old Trafford and ran out two-nil winners and they went to on to win the competition. However, as United fans will know the Reds went on to win the title by five points, with Arsenal finishing runner-up.

Even if United lose on Saturday, the Reds will be able to look back to the 2003 result in the same fixture and hope for the same outcome with United going on to lift the title again. That is only one of many scenarios because if the Gunners win they will no doubt fancy themselves for another double or even a treble.

Rooney returns to face Arsenal and it is to hoped that he makes amends for his untimely suspension which saw him miss the Manchester derby, many Reds believe that the England striker's absence was the main reason United performed so poorly last weekend. Tevez, cannot lead the forward line on his own and he needs Rooney alongside him.

Nani is likely to return to bench warming duty with Rooney coming in, but it remains to be seen who plays in midfield, Fergie still doesn't appear to know what his strongest starting eleven is, the recent return of Paul Scholes has if anything just muddied the waters and the manager's thinking.

Against the Arsenal, Fergie will need to ensure that his team dominates midfield. Logic suggests that Anderson and Hargreaves with their younger legs and stamina should be selected at the expense of Scholes and Carrick. However, ahead of the game Fergie has hinted that there will be changes with the midweek game with Lyon in mind when he said: "There are massive games to come so we have to balance our teams and hopefully get it right." It's tinker time...

Whoever Fergie selects in the engine room, the United manager wont want to see a repeat of the Reds poor defending as we saw against City and the return of Patrice Evra will hopefully help on that score.

United's very own 'man in bandages' Louis Saha is apparently fit again, but he's been known to collect injuries in the pre-match warm-up, so his inclusion in the squad could be premature.

As for the Arsenal team news, the visitors will be without their first choice fullbacks as both Gael Clichy (hamstring) and Bacary Sagna (personal reasons) are both out. But the good news for the visitors is that Toure and Eboue are both back from African Nations Cup duty, although they were not named in the provisional overnight Arsenal squad.

Harking back to the famous 1999 FA Cup semi-final victory over Arsenal, it would be great to see Giggsy score another wonder goal tomorrow, but a win for either side will be welcomed by either set of supporters, no matter how it is achieved.

If you fancy a punt on this massive game then why not open an account with Betfair and receive benefit from a £25 free bet.

Man Utd (from): Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Brown, O'Shea, Simpson, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Fletcher, Nani, Park, Scholes, Ronaldo, Anderson, Carrick, Hargreaves, Giggs, Tevez, Rooney, Saha, Welbeck.

Arsenal (from): Lehmann, Fabianski, Senderos, Hleb, Fabregas, Flamini, Adebayor, Eduardo, Bendtner, Traore, Song, J Hoyte, Gilberto, Gilbert, Randall, G Hoyte, Lansbury.

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