On Saturday at 5:45 PM GMT (12:45 PM EST) Manchester United host Arsenal in the most interesting of this year's FA Cup quarter-final ties. With Wembley and the semi-finals awaiting the winner, the match at Old Trafford is a chance for both teams to get past their recent poor run of form. United are coming off losses at Chelsea and Liverpool in the league as well as a disappointing 0-0 draw away to Marseille, while Arsenal have managed to lose the Carling Cup final to Birmingham, fail to gain much ground at the top of the table despite plenty of opportunity, and threw away a 2-1 home lead to be knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona.
It's not only disappointment that's rocked each team over the past few weeks - a number of injuries have struck each club over the past few months and key players are missing. For the home side, Nani, Rio Ferdinand, and Park Ji-Sung all miss out, while Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas leads a list of absentees that could form the core of many sides' starting XIs. With so much talent absent, you might expect a cagey match at Old Trafford, but there are still plenty of superstars to ply their trade in the Theatre of Dreams tomorrow.
Although Sir Alex Ferguson has deployed his side mostly in a 4-4-2 of late, it hasn't done well and you'd probably expect him to go to a 4-3-3 against Arsenal's potent central midfield. It's not clear, however, how highly Manchester United value this competition, since they're not quite as desperate for trophies as their guests and have a midweek Champions League match to worry about as well. It's difficult at the best of times to figure out what Sir Alex will do, but I'd imagine he fields as strong a side as possible in order to put Arsenal in their place, while resting veterans like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
Arsenal, meanwhile, will clearly be looking to snap themselves out of a two-week funk which saw them knocked out of two competitions in fairly cruel fashion, and are always up for a match at Old Trafford. One would expect to see a similar team as that which was hammered by Barcelona - with Fabregas out, Denilson might feasibly slot into the midfield alongside Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby. If Arsenal really want to go for the win, they could field a dangerous front three of Andrei Arshavin, Robin van Persie (recovered, apparently, from that knee problem sustained in the Carling Cup final defeat), and Samir Nasri. Even with centre-back Nemanja Vidic returning from suspension for United, that attacking trident could cause major problems in the home defence.
Anything can and will happen in an FA Cup match, and Manchester United's home form hasn't counted for much in the competition. They were very nearly held to a replay by non-league Crawley Town at Old Trafford in the previous leg, and Arsenal were indeed forced into replay by Leyton Orient before beating the League One side 5-0 at the Emirates. Without knowing who'll be fielded by each side, predictions become a fool's errand, but let's go with a 2-1 home win as Arsenal continue their slump.
Birmingham vs. Bolton, 12:45 PM GMT (7:45 AM EST), Saturday
Birmingham have won their trophy and have a much more important fight on their hands than an FA Cup. Look for them to field a weakened side while Bolton steamroller City at St. Andrews.
Pick: 3-1 Bolton
Stoke are in a tailspin, while West Ham find themselves invigorated by Scottie Parker's impassioned speeches about how amazing he is. I'd be shocked if Stoke won here - about the best they can do is force a replay at Upton Park, which they will lose.
Pick: 2-2 Draw
Manchester City vs. Reading, 4:45 PM GMT (11:45 AM EST), Sunday
Reading pulled off a shot by beating Everton at Goodison Park last round, but Manchester City are a rather trickier proposition. Don't expect a miracle the second time around.
Pick: 2-0 Manchester City