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Manchester United is through to the semifinals of the FA Cup, an for a team that had to start three defenders in midfield, it was surprisingly easy. Never facing a moment where it look like their defense would crack, Manchester United got goals from Fabio da Silva and Wayne Rooney en route to a 2-0 victory over Arsenal, handing the Gunners their third competition elimination in two weeks.
Arsenal did put 11 shots on Edwin van der Sar, truly testing the United `keeper on a couple of occasions. Yet a large portion of Arsenal's shots failed to trouble United, with the 20-plus-yard shots being put right at van der Sar, Arsenal's chances were more akin to turnovers than threats.
It was a disappointing showing for an Arsenal side who, facing a team that was juggling injury concerns with the need to rest players for Tuesday's UEFA Champions League match, had to start Wes Brown and Chris Smalling in defense, Fabio, Rafael da Silva, John O'Shea and Darron Gibson in midfield. Wayne Rooney played central midfield for most of the match, leaving Javier Hernández to fight his own battles. Yet, despite those limitations, a prepared United team never looked a more limited side.
An even first half was tilted in the 28th minute, Manchester United going ahead when a counter attack produced a Fabio da Silva goal. The tally came after Manuel Almunia had made a diving save on a Javier Hernández header, with Fabio there to put home the rebound.
Though Arsenal would dominate possession after the opener, the goal exemplified how the first half was played. United relied on swift, direct movements - counter attacks - to threaten Arsenal, while the Gunners were left to craft chances from their possession advantage. It was the type of match that would lead many to claim Arsenal carried the advantage, but it was an even affair. United was playing the type of match they'd set-up for, and with their goal near the halfhour, they had executed their plan better than their opponents had implemented their's.
The second half started with promise for Arsenal, seeing Laurent Koscielny nearly beat Edwin van der Sar (twice) in the half's opening minutes. But moments later Manchester United had burst into the Arsenal third, with substitute Antonio Valencia finding an on-coming Rafael da Silva. The Brazilian's saved shot on goal set up a header for Wayne Rooney, the United star putting it far post from the right to double Manchester United's lead.
With the lead insured, United willingly resumed the defensive stance they were forced into at the end of the second half. The midfield collapsed to the edge of the box, while the wingers fell deep and allowed the fullbacks to play narrow. Arsenal passed the ball across the top of the area and dominated possession but had few ideas on how to threaten van der Sar.
Even after the teams started making adjustments - Marouane Chamakh on for Denilson at the hour mark, Ryan Giggs on for Rafael da Silva moments later - the match assumed a posture we've become accustomed to in United-Arsenal matches. Because United has had their way with Arsenal of late, the Gunners chasing a late United lead has been an unfortunately common viewing experience for Gooners. And as the match aged toward the 90-minute mark, the overwhelming feeling was this match would be no different.
Arsenal spent 15 minutes after the Rooney goal holding possession, checking United's shape for cracks, but ultimately found none. Come the 66-minute mark, United was starting to assume more possession, with Giggs' inclusion coinciding with (though not causing) a number of United forays into the Arsenal third. A cross from Giggs let to a corner. The resulting play nearly gave to a chance to Javier Hernández. Antonio Valencia was able to play-in a few targeted crosses from the right. United was starting to look like a team in control while Arsenal had assumed the stance of a team that had accepted its fate.
Sensing this, Arsène Wenger spent his final two substitutions in the 72nd minute. Aaron Ramsey, playing his first match for Arsenal since suffering a broken leg a year ago at Stoke City, came on for Abou Diaby. Tomas Rosicky also came on, replacing Andrei Arshavin. The changes seemed to inject some life into the team, but unable to crack United's defense, the Gunners were resigned to testing van der Sar from distance.
In the 80th minute, Wenger's decision to spend his subs came back to cost Arsenal, though that was the second thing on viewer's minds. In the process of trying to get between Javier Hernández and a Wayne Rooney cross, Johan Djourou suffered a shoulder injury, the Gunners' center half spending near eight minutes on the pitch before being carried off. The oft-injured defender's bad luck took the Swiss international out of the match and left Arsenal with 10-men, chasing United's two goal lead.
Though Arsenal had eight minutes of extra time to craft something miraculous, their attitude projected a team that had come to grips with the day's results. Alex Ferguson had his hands tied by congesting fixtures and injuries, had to start a midfield with three defenders, and still exerted his dominance in a fading rivalry. United booked a date at Wembley with a 2-0 win while Arsenal was eliminated from another competition.
Tomas Rosicky, take a bow. Or an un-bow, I suppose - you've just committed one of the worst misses of all time. Bacary Sagna, who's basically lived on the right wing for Arsenal when not gruesomely injuring his teammates, swung in yet another excellent cross, and it came in at a perfect height for Rosicky, who was free in the six yard box with only Edwin van der Sar to beat. his sidefooted effort didn't just miss the goal - it missed the ball as well. Whoops.
That chance was sandwiched by two awful tackles by substitute Paul Scholes for which he should have been sent off and chances for both Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez. The former completely mis-hit his shot (at least he hit it!) and the latter was denied by a stunning double save by Manuel Almunia, who's have a very good game in the Arsenal net. That save won't come as any consolation to a rather miserable looking Arsene Wenger, however.
While Johan Djourou was being tended to after that awful shoulder injury, Manchester United snuck in a substitution, bringing in veteran midfielder Paul Scholes for left back Patrice Evra. Presumably this will allow John O'Shea to drop back into a full back position as Scholes moves to the centre of the pitch. There are just a few minutes left of regular time to be played now, and despite the prospect of a long spell of injury time (eight minutes will be played after the Djourou injury break) it doesn't look like there's a way for 10-man Arsenal to get back into this game. It's a real shame for them too, as they deserve far better than being down 2-0 to an ultra-defensive Manchester United lineup.
Arsenal will have been knocked out of three competitions in two weeks as well as losing goalkeeper Wojiech Szczesny to a dislocated finger and now Djourou to what looks like a dislocated shoulder. Talk about a rough fortnight for them.
Johan Djourou is down in the Arsenal box with what appears to be a dislocated shoulder after being tackled by his own player. With a low cross screaming into the box and Javier Hernandez bearing down on the ball, Bacary Sagna and Djourou frantically tried to scramble clear. Both failed - instead, Sagna caught Djourou's left arm with his right foot, and it looked for all the world as thought the centre back's shoulder has been yanked out of his socket, an extremely painful injury.
Manuel Almunia prevented United from adding insult to injury by somehow clawing the ball to safety, but with three substitutes used and Djourou on the ground for almost five minutes already, the goal doesn't matter much to Arsenal that much. Djourou's pairing with Laurent Koscielny had been just about the only reliable defensive partnership that Arsene Wenger's team had fielded all year, and losing him for any length of time will be a huge blow to the Gunners, who'll play the rest of the match with ten men. Awful day for Arsenal here as Djourou is stretchered off the pitch.
More than a full calendar year after breaking both his tibia and fibula after a tackle from Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross, Arsenal FC's Aaron Ramsey has returned to first team action in their FA Cup match against Manchester United. Ramsey had been an unused substitute previously and has played for Championship clubs in two separate loan spells, but this substitute appearance is his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt since the 27th of February, 2010.
His 72nd minute entrance, in place of Abou Diaby, was met by a loud roar by the away fans that was easily audible at Old Trafford. Much like Valencia's return for United, Ramsey's return couldn't have come at a better time. Arsenal are thin in the center of midfield, with both Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas battling injury.
If you're unaware of how highly touted a young player Ramsey was before his injury (and still is), the announcer told an awesome story about a U-21 international fixture between Wales and England. in the game, Sunderland's hard-tackling defensive midfielder, Lee Cattermole, was set to man mark Ramsey during the game. Ramsey embarrassed him so thoroughly that Stuart Pearce subbed Cattermole off after 35 minutes. Welcome back, Aaron.
Manchester United have Edwin van der Sar to thank for even being in this game, let alone having a 2-0 lead. The 40 year-old goalkeeper has been an absolute rock between the sticks for the home side, and he's just pulled off yet another amazing save, this time from substitute Marouane Chamakh. Samir Nasri had fed Bacary Sagna on the right wing after drawing the defenders infield, and the right back swung in a perfect cross that Chamakh nodded into the ground and towards the corner, only to see van der Sar leap across goal and claw the ball out.
Tomas Rosicky had a long range crack on goal as well drawing another good save, but van der Sar spilled the rebound this time, with Patrice Evra clearing just ahead of Robin van Persie attempting to tuck away the rebound. Is this poor finishing from Arsenal or just horrible, horrible luck? The Gunners have outshot their hosts something like 2:1 over the course of the match, yet they've scored none and United have two.
Johan Djourou just came within about a foot of scoring what would have been an incredibly unfortunate own goal, deflecting an attempted pass from Wayne Rooney into the side netting with Manuel Almunia totally stranded. If that had gone in, it would have been very tough to blame the defender for the goal, considering that less than ten seconds prior Arsenal had the ball on the break and should have built up a strong attack - but a backwards pass by Maroune Chamakh broke up the momentum and the Abou Diaby gave the ball away. It was very, very sloppy play from the visitors. Abou Diaby is now off for Aaron Ramsey, and Arsenal have also made their third and final change - Tomas Rosicky on for Andrei Arshavin.
Chamakh has hit the crossbar, but nobody should mistake that for a chance on goal. A long ball dropped right onto the Moroccan's head and popped up well into the air, eventually landing on top of the crossbar and bouncing harmlessly behind. Edwin van der Sar had the flight covered regardless.
The obvious change has been made. With Manchester United playing deeper since scoring their second goal, Arsène Wenger has brought on Marouane Chamakh - somebody who will give the Gunners a presence within an ever-crowding United area. Denilson has been sacrificed.
The Brazilian made no impact on the match, and with Manchester United conceding the midfield battle, Chamakh for Denilson was the obvious choice. Jack Wilshire will likely play slightly deeper to pick up some of the distribution Denilson was supposed to promote. The narrowing United defense will now have to worry about Chamakh's presence as Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs go wide and get behind the Red Devils' line. Robin van Persie will also be freed-up from his responsibilities along the line, his strong left foot free to try from distance, hopefully loosening United's defense.
Still, van der Sar has not been threatened since Laurent Koscielny's early second half chances, and with the match assuming a posture that we're seen all too often in recent United-Arsenal meetings, the surfacing question is why we should expect this match to be different. Just after the hour, we're given little reason to think so.
After a long lay-off, Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia has finally returned to action. Based on the fact that Valencia came on for Fabio, a player who had given 110%, at halftime, there was probably a plan in place to get Valencia on for Fabio at halftime all along. His return couldn't have come at a better time for United, who are currently without Nani and Park Ji-Sung. Now that they're 2-0 down in this FA Cup tie, Arsenal can't be too pleased to see another attacking option on the pitch that they have to account for.
Valencia suffered a horrific injury in the UEFA Champions League against Rangers in September. He broke his ankle in terrible fashion, and it's no surprise that it's taken him until March to return. In fact, the injury was so bad that his March return should be considered a speedy recovery.
If Valencia is fit to play significant minutes against Marseille on Tuesday, it could be a big deal for Alex Ferguson's side. Valencia's presence could allow him to play Darren Fletcher in the center of midfield as opposed to on the right, where he often has to play when both Nani and Valencia are unavailable. His return could also mean that we see more 4-4-2 with Nani on the left hand side in the future. Any way you look at it, Valencia's return is a big deal and a huge positive for Manchester United.
Striker Marouane Chamakh is now on the field for Arsenal, replacing the woefully ineffective Denilson and presumably marking a change of tactics from the visitors. They now have much more of an aerial threat to hit with their crosses, and with two forwards may well give the centre back pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling more of a problem. However, Arsenal are still looking a little shell-shocked after going down 2-0 to Manchester United, and they don't really look like scoring anymore. The visitors are in desperate need for some drive from the midfield, and with Samir Nasri now dropping to the centre, he'll be asked to provide it.
United have now made their second substitution, with Rafael da Silva (unsurprisingly) off for the twenty-year veteran Ryan Giggs. His first touch launches a United attack, ultimately winning a corner after Wayne Rooney crossed - and somehow United failed to score after first Javier Hernandez was free with a header and then Giggs received the ball five yards out in front of an open goal. That should have been game over with twenty five minutes left.
Arsenal probably don't deserve to be 2-0 behind, or even behind at all, but there's a very real danger that this game will turn into something of a mauling unless they can rebound from this setback, and soon. Their play has probably warranted a goal - Edwin van der Sar has kept them at bay with fine saves from Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, and most recently Laurent Koscielny - and Manchester United have taken two out of their three real chances, but the Gunners are down by two at Old Trafford and opening themselves up to the counterattack, which is even more dangerous now that Antonio Valencia is on the pitch.
United are defending like lions to boot, with Chris Smalling and Nemanja Vidic obliterating Arsenal's best efforts to achieve penetration inside the Arsenal box. Smalling just produced a miraculous overhead kick clearance to prevent Jack Wilshere from going one on one against van der Sar, and he and Vidic are mopping up the now-dozens of crosses that are being swung into their box. Can Arsenal get one back and make things interesting? Marouane Chamakh is warming up, but he's unlikely to be the answer to his side's attacking woes.
Antonio Valencia takes the pitch for the first time in months as Sir Alex Ferguson withdraws goalscorer Fabio da Silva for the Ecuadorian winger at half time, drawing loud cheers from the Old Trafford crowd. Fabio, who worked his tail off down the left flank in the first half, deserves the rest and Valencia was undoubtedly itching to come onto the pitch, making his return from a broken ankle suffered against Rangers in early September.
The second half is now underway, and Manchester United, astonishingly, have doubled their lead thanks to the head of England striker Wayne Rooney. Rafael da Silva fed Javier Hernandez in the box, and his clash with the Manuel Almunia led to the ball popping up invitingly for Rooney, and his flicked header evaded the attentions of Almunia and Bacary Sagna to creep inside the far post. It's a 2-0 lead for United, and that comes within seconds of Edwin van der Sar pulling off a miraculous save to keep the home side ahead.
Laurent Koscielny, who despite being a centre back is no stranger to bombing upfield in open play, was fed by Robin van Persue, and while his first shot was easily kept out by the Dutch goalkeeper, the rebound fell to van persie, who again fed the defender. Koscielny's second effort was superb and draw an equally superb reaction from van der Sar, who picked himself off the ground to produce a crucial save as the ball started to curl in at the far post.
In the 28th minute of the FA Cup match between Manchester United and Arsenal FC, united's Fabio da Silva notched a goal that is almost certainly one of the highlights of his career at this point. In a great combination with his brother, Rafael, and United's two forwards, the Brazilian left sided player eventually finished off the chance. Check out the video here:
Wayne Rooney proves in this move that he's not just a goal scorer, which we knew all along. His ball to Rafael to start the move and his ball to Javier Hernandez to set up the Mexican international's header are both fantastic. Chicharito's header was great too, and Manuel Almunia actually does pretty well to get a hand on it and force Fabio to finish the chance. The goal was a harsh one on Arsenal, who were in control for most of the half. Still, United always looked dangerous on the counter whenever Darron Gibson and Chris Smalling weren't misplacing long balls, so it shouldn't be too shocking that they've managed a goal despite having a small minority of the possession.
Arsenal dominated possession, and by the end of the half they looked the more dangerous side, but that was only after Manchester United had taken a lead, with their indistinguishable Brazilian twins seeing a half of endless work pay-off in the 28th minute, Fabio da Silva giving Manchester United a 1-0 lead. Arsenal now has 45 minutes to find a goal against a defender-laden United set-up else face elimination from a third competition in two weeks.
In the 16th minute Manchester United produced the match's first real chance, with Fabio da Silva crossing from the left flank for his brother. Lazy defending by Arsenal allowed Rafael to get ball side on his man (Kieran Gibbs) while the left center half (Laurent Koscielny) stood idle. Finding himself in an uncustomary position, Rafael applied no technique to the header, putting his shot over the bar.
Arsenal's first decent chance came in the 24th minute, though had it not come off the foot of Robin van Persie, the 21-yard attempt wouldn't be worth noting. But van Persie had been quiet over the first quarter of the match, but with Arsenal increasingly holding more possession, the Dutch attacker was coming into the match. Just past the half's mid-way point, van Persie brought his heavy foot down on a shot with a thud, the ball knuckling as it approached Edwin van der Sar. The veteran `keeper had to block the ball down to his feet before collecting it on the bounce.
As van Persie let go of the shot from just outside United's area, Wayne Rooney stood yards away, at a position on the field he looked intent on occupying for most of the match. Although he was playing more advanced than John O'Shea and Darron Gibson, Wayne Rooney was very much a central midfielder, occupying a role you would normally see Anderson fill.
Rooney's biggest contribution, however, would still come in attack. In the 28th minute the midfielder swung a ball wide for Rafael, who carried the attack into the final third. The right midfielder put a ball in for Javier Hernández, the Mexican international heading a ball for the lower left corner that was barely saved by Manuel Alumnia, The rebound, however, was easy pickings for Fabio da Silva, who finished high into the Arsenal net to make it 1-0.
The goal, completing a United counter attack, was the logical end to a tactical progression that had played out over the first 30 minutes. While the match played out evenly over its initial moments, the play had slow gravitated toward an Arsenal possession game matched against United trying to break-out. In the minutes before the goal, Arsenal had pushed United deeper, yet were unable to generate meaningful chances. United, on the other hand, had become more willing to try more direct moments into the Arsenal half. In the 28th minute, those dynamics manifested a goal for the Red Devils.
The rest of the half saw Arsenal create some half-chances, testing van der Sar's gloves a number of times, with van Persie showing some indignation at having to play from behind. But there was never a true, close call for United, and with their Brazilian twins gasping for air as they went to the locker room, the Red Devils held a 1-0 lead on Arsenal.
Arsenal still aren't creating great goalscoring chances as the half draws to a close, but they're certainly coming close than they were before Fabio da Silva opened up the scoring for Manchester United. The United defence is stretching to cut out the Gunners' passing moves now, and if the pressure continues they're unlikely to be able to hold out. However, with the visitors committing so many bodies forwards, counterattacking football is becoming increasingly attractive for United, and they're using the hard work and speed of the da Silva twins to very good effect on the break.
Just before the first 45 concluded, Samir Nasri nearly levelled matters for more or less nothing. The winger picked the ball up on the left and moved into the area, but with absolutely no Arsenal players free and more than half a dozen red shirts in the box, he had very little on. So instead of passing, Nasri stung a snapshot towards Edwin van der Sar's near post - the Dutch goalkeeper reacted a little slowly, surprised, but managed to get down to make the save in the end. Close call, though.
Robin van Persie appears to be rather annoyed by going behind to Manchester United, and has nearly scored twice in the span of about 30 seconds. First, Edwin van der Sar is forced into a magnificent fingertip save to keep out a low scudding effort inside the box, just about deflecting the shot past the post, and on the subsequent corner the Dutch striker missed the post by about an inch as he bulleted a header just wide. Better from Arsenal, but no cigar there just yet.
At the other end of the pitch, Javier Hernandez somehow earned himself a corner by kicking the ball straight out of play to rather vocal protests from the Arsenal bench. United were bemused enough not to take full advantage, and the visitors were poised to break upfield before Wayne Rooney laid a reducer on Bacary Sagna. It's a definite booking for the England forward, so Chris Foy just has a bit of a chat with him and moves on. Of course!
Arsenal FC have had the much better of the possession in the first half of their FA Cup tie against Manchester United, but it always seemed like the two teams were about equally likely to score. Fabio da Silva's goal in the 28th minute exemplified that, as it came at the end of a great counter-attacking move. The 1-0 scoreline, along with the way United are playing at the moment, is probably going to force both teams into some changes in the second half if the score stays the way it is at the moment.
Tomas Rosicky was somewhat of a surprise exclusion, and he will probably make an appearance at some point. Denilson hasn't been terribly effective in the midfield for Arsenal, and he will probably be the man removed. If things get really desperate, Wenger could also opt to remove either Denilson or Abou Diaby for Marouane Chamakh.
On the other side, there's no way that Fabio and his brother Rafael can keep up the pace that they have been playing at for 90 minutes. Both of them have been absolutely everywhere, both going forward and tracking back, and they both appear to be exerting all of the energy that they have. It would be surprising if either of them was able to play the entire 90 minutes for United.
The hosts have the lead as Fabio da Silva both starts and finish a swift counterattack that left Arsenal's defence in tatters. Fabio took the ball out of the centre circle, passed to his brother Rafael, who laid the ball back to Wayne Rooney. Rooney's cross was brilliant, picking out a completely unmarked Javier Hernandez at the back post, and when the Mexican forward smashed a header goalwards Manuel Almunia could only spill the ball inside his six-yard box. Fabio had continued his swashbuckling forwards run, and was the first to the loose ball, smashing it into the roof of the net to give Manchester United a 1-0 lead. Where was the Arsenal defence there? Someone should probably have attempted to put pressure on one of United's attackers at one point, but they had the freedom of Old Trafford there.
Arsenal did manage a shot on target slightly before the goal, but Robin van Persie's ambitious 30-yard attempt should never have been expected to trouble Edwin van der Sar. It didn't. Although Arsenal are dominating possession and spending plenty of time camped out in their attacking third, they've achieved no real penetration into the United defence.
One of the da Silva twins really ought to shave their heads to make recognition easier. Fabio da Silva (probably) make space down the left flank and swung in a glorious cross over a sleeping Arsenal defence. Neither Kieran Gibbs nor Laurent Koscielny paid much attention to the ball, allowing Fabio's doppelganger Rafael to nip in and get his head to the ball six yards out. Unfortunately for Manchester United, Rafael isn't much of a finisher and his attempt flew well over Manuel Almunia's crossbar. He really should have scored there - the ball was at a perfect height and he was under something approximating zero pressure from the defenders.
Meanwhile, Patrice Evra has laid in an unpleasant tackle of Samir Nasri, which sent the French winger to ground and prompted a nice little rant about how much the announcer hates him for being a whiner (I paraphrased that). Nasri is fine, of course, but he's well within his rights to fall over when he gets kicked in the ankle while running at full speed. Most of Arsenal's best work is coming down the right side, and Evra's already responding to that with some cynical tackles. It wouldn't be much of a surprise to see the left-back booked at some point in the match.
Arsene Wenger has presumably taken his players to task for that early spell of sloppy play, because Arsenal keeping hold of the football a little better and are starting to build possession nicely. Unsurprisingly, Manchester United's team are defending resolutely, but Kieran Gibbs, Samir Nasri and most recently Bacary Sagna have managed to swing in crosses from dangerous positions. Even with their seven defenders (and the relatively poor deliveries so far), United aren't going to be happy that the ball keeps getting pinged into the box.
It's also painfully evident that Fabio da Silva isn't a midfielder - the fullback being pressed into service as United's wide left player and apparently totally ignorant of the rules of offside. Failing to hold his run while totally clear of the defence, the Brazilian singlehandedly ruined what was probably the home side's most promising attack. Not very clever play there.
Anyway, it's been a reasonably entertaining game so far, but there've been no great chances yet.
The game has kicked off at a packed Old Trafford, with Manchester United wearing their home reds while Arsenal take the field in their rather attractive yellow and maroon away kits. The visitors have us underway, but after playing the ball back to their defence immediately gave up possession when Laurent Koscielny was forced to boot the ball away after being put under severe pressure by Javier Hernandez. United have flown out of the blocks in the first few minutes, Arsenal giving the ball away far too easily - that's twice in seconds that Arsene Wenger's side has conceded possession in their half after Kieran Gibbs had his pocket picked by Hernandez.
Strangely, it's Andrei Arshavin and Arsenal who've registered the first shot of the match, assuming you don't count Hernandez's shot after being flagged for offside. The little Russian was set free down the right and wiggled his way in to the penalty box despite attention from Nemanja Vidic, and forced Edwin van der Sar into a relatively easy save from a tight angle. It wasn't the most dangerous effort, but it's already better than their attacking performance against Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
With injury-hit Manchester United deploying no less than seven defenders in their starting lineup today against Arsenal, one might be forgiven for thinking that Sir Alex Ferguson is worried, even scared, about the potent attacking threat posed by the visitors to Old Trafford. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, however, is having none of that:
They always play always against us with a very tight midfield, try to put pressure on us from midfield, and in December they had only Wayne Rooney up front, so I think they always set up against us to defend well. However, I wouldn't say they are scared. They have no reason to be scared because they have enough experience.
To me, it looks more like United literally have nobody to play in midfield, and by choosing to rest both Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes ahead of the more important Champions League tie against Marseille in midweek, Ferguson's hand has been forced. Without Nani, Park Ji-Sung, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, and Darren Fletcher, this is what we've got. Who says United have lost their glamour, eh?
The quick turn-around would have United play three matches in seven days, set to appear at The Emirates three days after meeting Olympique Marseille for a UEFA Champions League match in Manchester.
There are four factors that are compelling the quick turnaround, set to give us a rare Friday FA Cup match:
Should the replay be required, United and Arsenal's weekend matches (with Bolton and West Ham, respectively) would be postponed, and with Manchester United's injury situation compelling Alex Ferguson to start a team better suited to defend, the Red Devils are closing in on a very busy week.
Gunners fans, today might be your day! Thanks to Manchester United's upcoming UEFA Champions League match against Olympique Marseille, Alex Ferguson has opted to play a weakened team today against your beloved Arsenal FC. You can check out the Manchester United lineup right here, and the Arsenal lineup is here. As you can see, Sir Alex has selected an inane amount of defenders and Darron Gibson, meaning that United is literally playing without a midfield.
Okay, so the win isn't a given. Wayne Rooney is Wayne Rooney, and Chicharito's not half bad himself. Edwin Van Der Sar is still in goal and Nemanja Vidic is now in defense. But still, United has no midfield! Drawing United at Old Trafford looked like it spelled the end of your trophy dreams when it came out, but thanks to their injuries and their 0-0 draw at the Velodrome, United are there for the taking.
Of course, the trophy drought should already be over. Thanks to Laurent Koscielny's Benny Hill-esque error at Wembley a couple of weeks ago, Birmingham City lifted the Carling Cup and the drought continued. Then, not long after, FC Barcelona knocked you out of the Champions League. I know Gunners, it's been rough. Really rough. This is your chance, though.
Seriously, the FA Cup is there for the taking. If you don't win this trophy, you might never win another one under Arsene Wenger. If you find a way to screw this up, my whatever deity you believe in have mercy on all of your souls.
Sir Alex Ferguson has released the Manchester United lineup, and it's a bit of a strange one. No less than seven defenders feature for the home side, who are clearly treating the FA Cup as a bit of an annoying distraction in the leadup to United's key Champions League clash against Marseille in three days time. There'll be no Paul Scholes, no Ryan Giggs, no Dimitar Berbatov, and there's not even any sign of Michael Carrick. The da Silva twins look as though they're playing as wide midfielders, and the only 'midfielder' who isn't traditionally a defender is Darron Gibson, and classifying him as a natural midfielder would also be a little bit silly considering how he can't play there either.
In good news, Antonio Valencia returns from the horrifying broken ankle he suffered months ago against Glasgow Rangers, making the bench for United, but there's less happy news as well - according to Ferguson both Carrick and Darren Fletcher are injured and have 'no chance' of playing against Marseille on Tuesday (let alone today), leaving the club with little option but to play a 4-4-2 and hope for the best.
Coming off the back being denied the Carling Cup thanks to a last-minute defensive error and being knocked out of the Champions League in extremely disappointing fashion, we'd expect Arsenal to be making a statement today in their FA Cup quarter-final match against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Although the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song, and Theo Walcott are missing (along with long-term absentee Thomas Vermaelen and all of the team's goalkeepers save Manuel Almunia), the Gunners can still deploy a fine side against United.
Arsene Wenger has chosen to field a fairly typical side, considering who he had available, but the inclusion of Kieran Gibbs as a left back will raise some eyebrows. It's not clear whether Gael Clichy is injured or just being rested after working incredibly hard against Barcelona last Tuesday, and Tomas Rosicky being dropped for Denilson is also a bit of a surprise, but Arsenal will (shock!) field a 4-3-3 with a strong midfield and a dangerous attack.
We've mentioned previously how difficult it is to predict just what Sir Alex Ferguson will do with his Manchester United team on any given day, but a whole raft of injuries to crucial players plus the need to prioritise the Champions League match against Marseille on Tuesday constrains the managers options to the point that guessing at lineups isn't a total shot in the dark.
SB Nation's Kevin McCauley thinks that United are likely to run out a 4-4-2 against Arsenal, with Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez leading the line, but with two high-profile defeats on the bounce for United, the Busby Babe's Gene Um thinks that the club will switch things up for the FA Cup clash at Old Trafford:
United have lost their past two matches while playing in a '4-4-2' shape and with the lack of available wide players, I fully expect manager Sir Alex Ferguson to play in a '4-3-3/4-5-1' hybrid shape. Fergie has stated that "we will play our best available team."
It's somewhat depressing for United fans that after quoting the manager as saying that the best available team will be fielded, Gene then goes on to pencil in Gabriel Obertan on the right - as indicators of an injury crisis go, you don't get much more dire than that. Here's the Busby Babe's projected lineup in full:
Manchester United (4-3-3): Edwin van der Sar; Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling, Rafael da Silva; Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Darron Gibson; Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Gabriel Obertan.
It does seem fairly reasonable for the hosts to try to match Arsenal's midfield three, especially with Paul Scholes not expected to start, so the projected lineup of Carrick, Fletcher, and Gibson in the centre of the pitch makes some sense, but it's still a weak point in the team that the visitors may well march through. No matter what, though, United fans will be hoping that Carrick finds some semblance of passing range and that Gibson... gets better at football, I guess.
Although Arsenal have a fairly miserable history against Manchester United at Old Trafford lately, winning a grand total of zero matches when travelling to meet the Red Devials since 2006. To be fair, their play at home hasn't been much better - you have to go a long, long way back before you find a game in which Arsenal haven't disappointed against Sir Alex Ferguson's side.
However, at SB Nation's Arsenal blog The Short Fuse, Ted Harwood is quite rightly pointing out that past records matter for not much at all:
That is all ancient history, now, though, of course. What matters now is that Arsenal pick themselves up from the events of midweek and put in a good showing up north. It's down to two competitions now, fixture congestion is clearing up some, and with a two week break looming on the horizon, there is perhaps a little room to really go for it this weekend.
If the Gunners have been saving up for a big performance against United, now's the time to give it. They've gone from quad-contenders to competing in two competitions inside the span of two weeks, and if they lose today that wait without a trophy will seem like even longer to the (admittedly spoiled) fans. The history of the tie doesn't matter at all - Arsenal need to go for broke at Old Trafford to get the win that will soothe the organisation's collective psyche.
With a UEFA Champions League match against Olympique Marseille looming on Tuesday and a variety of players unavailable due to injury, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has a serious selection dilemma on his hands for the FA Cup quarterfinal match against Arsenal. It seems like it's been a very long time since Ferguson, who has built the deepest squad in English football, has been forced into considering what players need to be conserved and at what positions he has available, healthy bodies. Seven of his first team players have injuries that will prevent them from playing in either Saturday's game or Tuesday's game, and three of his players are unlikely to be fit enough to start both matches.
Let's start by taking a look at the players that Ferguson does not have available, and how that might affect his team selection.
This list includes United's three best wide players in Nani, Park, and Valencia. The last of those players has been injured for quite some time, but the other two have picked up injuries very recently. If they were healthy, Nani and Park would be virtual locks to start on either side of a central striker against Marseille on Tuesday. Their absence leaves Ferguson with some tough decisions, and they probably force him into a formation change as well.
Additionally, if you've stumbled upon this post and you have some kind of passing interest in Manchester United, I probably don't have to explain to you how important the absence of Rio Ferdinand is from the United lineup. Some might argue that Nemanja Vidic is the more important player to the Red Devils at this point, but Rio Ferdinand is still a world class central defender.
Evans is just returning from an injury layoff, while Giggs and Scholes are, unfortunately, old. All three of these players seem likely first choice selections against Marseille, which means they're unlikely to start against Arsenal.
Ferguson probably wants to give these guys a run-out: Javier Hernandez, Rafael
Hernandez and Rafael are both talented young players who have shown off their potential in the opportunities they've gotten for United this season, but both are unlikely to be first choice against Marseille. As a result, even though likely starters John O'Shea and Dimitar Berbatov, can probably go 90 minutes in back to back games, Ferguson could opt to play it safe and rest them just to give Chicharito and Rafael some playing time.
So, this leads us to the Marseille lineup. After a 0-0 draw at the Velodrome, Ferguson is almost certainly prioritizing that game over the FA Cup. With the injuries that United has, they're going to need Evans, Giggs, and Scholes to be ready to go 90 minutes in that game. Ferguson would probably prefer to play Darren Fletcher in the center of midfield, but injuries could push him into a right midfield spot. Additionally, Ferguson's first choice team for Champions League is probably a 4-5-1 with two of Nani, Valencia, and Park wide, but the lack of availability for all three players could lead to Ferguson selecting a team in a 4-4-2 formation.
Projected Manchester United lineup vs. Marseille (4-4-2): Van Der Sar; Evra, Evans, Vidic, O'Shea; Giggs, Scholes, Carrick, Fletcher; Berbatov, Rooney
So, there have to be some changes from that lineup to Saturday. Based on everything discussed above, here's a crack at Saturday's lineup.
Projected Manchester United lineup vs. Arsenal (4-4-2): Van Der Sar; Evra, Smalling, Vidic, Rafael; Obertan, Gibson, Carrick, Fletcher; Hernandez, Rooney
It's far from an ideal situation for United, but something tells me that Sir Alex will discern how to deal with his selection dilemmas without too much of a problem.
Talk to Arsenal fans about the last time the Gunners faced Manchester United and you won't hear disappointment. Manchester United got lucky on December 13, is a common refrain. Arsenal outplayed the Red Devils at Old Trafford, losing 1-0 when Park Ji-Sung headed home the match's only goal in the 41st minute.
But no matter the degree of revisionism from their fan base, Arsenal did lose to United, just as they've almost always done of late. Over the clubs' last ten meetings, Arsenal is 1-2-7, having been outscored 21-7 since their November 2007 match.
Since 2009, the divide has been even larger. Starting with the team's UEFA Champions League semifinal meeting that spring, Arsenal has only one "positive" result against United - a 0-0 at Old Trafford on May 16, 2009, though it's very difficult to draw too many positives from that point. Going into the match, United needed only one point to clinch the Premier League, and they go it, able to celebrate their league title with Arsenal dressing in the visitor's locker room.
During this most recent stretch - between spring 2009 and now - Arsenal's only led for 19 minutes, in front after Andrei Arshavin gave them a 1-0 lead minutes before half time on August 29, 2009. In that same stretch of time, Park has scored three times, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo have each scored twice, and ...
You get it: United's done well. It's been a tough couple of weeks for Gooners and we don't mean to pile on, but this is a piece looking back at the recent iterations of this rivalry. As sympathetic as I want to be toward their tribulations, facts are facts. United has owned Arsenal.
We cheat a little here by combining two "games" into one, but as they were part of a Champions League tie, we have some license to consider them halves of a 180-minute match. And per recent Arsenal Champions League tradition, the Gunners played decent in the first leg (a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford, John O'Shea scoring), decided to own the most positive interpretation possible of the leg's result, craft false expectations from it, and be handed their hopes in a paper sack in the second leg. United scored twice in the second leg's first 11 minutes, added another after half, eventually winning 3-1 at the Emirates.
United needed only a draw to clinch their 18th first division title, though Ferguson's starting attack of Rooney, Ronaldo, and Carlos Tévez wasn't a lineup that would be playing for one. Yet United, possibly looking ahead to their Champions League defense two weeks later against Barcelona, failed to put a shot on Lukasz Fabianski. Regardless, United would celebrate their league title on the pitch, though a second consecutive Champions League would eventually elude them.
Arsene Wenger would finish this match in the stands, standing above Old Trafford's benches, his palms facing upward at the end of outstretched arms, as if to ask the official "What else do you want?" By that time, Arsenal was destined to lose. A controversial penalty given early in the second allowed Wayne Rooney to equalize a stunning Andrei Arshavin opener, and as if to give the Gunners' critics fuel, Abou Diaby put the winner into his own net in the 64th minute. A year-and-a-half later, the defeat seems the quintessential Arsenal big-game loss: early lead, some misfortune, aim pistol at own foot and pull the trigger. Arsenal spend the last half-hour dwelling on their self-inflicted wounds.
And this is where is all falls apart if you're trying to defend Arsenal's stature within the Premier League. While United did recently lose 3-1 to Liverpool, that loss snapped a three-match winning streak against their rivals. This 3-1 result affirmed the notion that the Arsenal-United rivalry that had (at one time) defined the Premier League was now sprouting grass six feet above its coffin.
United scored in the 33rd (Nani), 37th (Rooney), and 52nd (Park) minutes, taking a 3-0 lead. Ultimately, it was comically easy for Manchester United, the comfort of their celebrations on Arsenal's pitch leaving a bitterness on the tongue of each Premier League fan whose conception of the league is defined by United and Arsenal competing with each other. A year ago, they were not competitive.
In light of the previous two years' results, you can't blame Gooners for contorting to find angles from which this would be a positive. Yet, in light of the five previous results, this outcome may be the most disturbing. Not only did Manchester United never have to play hard to get their 1-0 result - with Park Ji-Sung (who, in fairness, always plays hard) beating Bacary Sagna to head home the match's only goal - they didn't even want to play hard. In season's past, United would have reveled in a big result against Arsenal (like the 4-0 they posted the last time the teams met in the FA Cup). In December, United couldn't be bothered to push beyond their opening goal.
Such a nonchalant victory for United would bring an element of irony to Arsenal defeating the Red Devils on Saturday, though Arsenal's recent big-match performances (combined with their recent history against United) do not bode well, though there is one point of solace: United, for the first time this season, enters a match on a losing streak, having lost two in a row.
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
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