United FA Cup preview – hard to call

A game between Man United and Arsenal is always a big one. The years of rivalry, the quality of the two teams, the fact that sooner or later someone needs to kick Patrice Evra right in his swollen balls, the reasons are pretty much endless.

Today’s FA Cup 6th round clash probably has more significance than both teams would like. United have lost two in a row, to Chelsea and then to the Mugsmashers, while we’re still licking our wounds because of cup failures in the last couple of weeks. Add to that the upcoming league game between the two sides and there’s plenty to be played for today.

Quite how we respond to Tuesday night is anybody’s guess. Will we be fired by a sense of vague injustice, knowing that van Persie’s red card had a big impact on how the final part of that match played out, or will we find ourselves in a bit of a funk, confidence damaged and form suffering because of that? Arsene Wenger knows he’s got to pick the team up, saying:

My real problem is to get the team back with positive vibes, and for us the game on Saturday is important on that front. At the moment the two teams have a little disappointment with results recently, so it is still the one who deals with that the best who can come out on top.

It always amuses me when, after losing a couple of games, people predict that this is the end of United as we know them, too many old legs etc etc. The fickle media love to use the word crisis. They live for it. Every time anyone loses a couple of game it’s a crisis. It’s never just a team losing a couple of games. We know well how that has been applied to us also. So if anyone’s expecting United to turn up today, shocked and bewildered, bereft of ideas or endeavour, then they really should think again. They’ve been at the top so long they know exactly how to deal with a couple of painful results.

The big question is whether or not we’ve got the stones to go there and get a result. The league game back in December was disappointing. We never got going that night, United played us perfectly and while the goal had an element of luck to it we didn’t really threaten them at all. I suspect their tactics will be pretty similar today, they’ll work their holes off to deny us space and time and we’ve got be able to cope with that.

The manager says he’ll pick his strongest available team which for me, today, is: Almunia – Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy – Wilshere – Diaby – Denilson – Arshavin – van Persie – Nasri

However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Chamakh start, perhaps Nasri moving back into midfield into the ‘Cesc role’. How he and van Persie might play together is anyone’s guess, the obvious solution is a 442 but I can’t see him changing formation. I also wonder if he might think about some fresh legs, Squillaci and Eboue might find themselves called upon, but I’m hoping he finds a way with the 11 mentioned above.

As well as a place in the semi-finals there’s something of a psychological boost to play for too. Arsenal really have to find something to get the momentum going again. A win at Old Trafford would certainly help the confidence for the league run in and the game against them at home which is going to play a massive part in deciding where the title ends up. A defeat would be a big blow, to go out of three cup competitions in the space of 13 days … well, it’s hard to find anything positive to say about that.

Yes, it would allow us to concentrate on the league but as Arsene often says confidence is easily lost and very difficult to regain. I don’t expect a wonderful, flowing, crisp Arsenal performance today. I’m not sure we have that in us just yet, but I’m hoping that perhaps we might be on the end of a slice of a luck, or a generous decision, which has a big outcome on the game. It just feels a bit like everything that can go wrong has gone wrong in recent weeks and while I’m right behind the old adage that you make your own luck, a little helping hand today might just be the tonic we need.

Of course, it will ultimately come down to our performance. I don’t want to talk about responses or dealing with the pain of defeat, we’ve been down that road too many times this season, especially recently, but whatever happens let’s be sitting here tomorrow with no regrets about the effort we made or how we played. If the players give it everything and come up short, for whatever reason, then I can accept that.

The last time we went to Old Trafford in the FA Cup we got turned over, big time. A weakened team was put out ahead of a Champions League game, the players took their cue from captain William Gallas who couldn’t have made it more obvious he didn’t give a shit about the game, and we got spanked. The only player remaining from that day who might take part today is Nicklas Bendtner so you can’t talk about them putting painful memories behind them, but at the very least those who do take part today ought to reminded that the fans deserve something better.

Kick off is 5pm, there’ll be live blog coverage starting as soon as we get team news so check back later on for that. In the meantime, have a good Saturday.

Till later.

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