Of the two tough draws we could have gotten in the FA Cup last eight, a home tie against Arsenal was the easier of the two. That conclusion has nothing to do with the current form of the two sides with Arsenal very much the form team heading into Monday's tie but everything to do with the fact that it's coming to a decade since Arsenal last won a game at Old Trafford. It's almost 4 years since they've beaten us in any form of fixture, hell, even during their most golden generation in 2004, we were the only side Arsenal did not beat throughout their unbeaten run---and ended it just for good measure.
In all, it boils down to a more than decent record against the Gunners. That is largely because Arsenal are one of the most predictable sides in world football in terms of how they will play. The rule is, if you are going to be predictable, be perfect at it so that whatever the opposition, you're play prevails. It's why Barcelona can be successful with that model of football but Arsenal can't quite. Similarly, Arjen Robben is one of the most predictable footballers in the game in terms of how he cuts in and lets fly into the top corner. So you know what he's going to do, but try stopping him!
That tactical naivety has cost Arsene Wenger in many of the big games he has been involved in but here's the worry: Not so long ago, Arsenal went to the Etihad and played for instance how United would play there and won the game. That performance was everything against the script that Arsene usually preaches from and it got them a most unlikely win. Less possession, less chances, but a 0-2 victory. The concern for United is that whilst we've been comfortable letting Arsenal play the football with us winning the games, we've since become a more possession based side with no teeth upfront as Arsenal seem to have assumed our style of smash and grab when it really matters.
The danger for LVG is therefore to attempt to play Arsenal at their game on Monday night. United have a very successful blue print for Arsenal games that involves playing beautiful football but denying them the joy they usually crave for in matches. I mean, the last time we met them in this competition in 2011, we still managed to win 2-0 despite fielding a starting XI that comprised 7 defenders. Even before that, back in 2009, Luis Nani still managed to look like Ronaldinho by playing keepy-upy against Arsenal in a 4-0 4th round win.
United have the psychological edge ahead of this one and the confidence of playing at the ground where we seem to click best. The first of the many tests to come in the next 6 weeks is an opportunity to build confidence ahead of the next. Goodness knows all manner of confidence in achieving the season's target could go up in smoke if we fail at the first hurdle.
The boss has described the game as an important facet of the 'rat race' for qualification for Europe and rightly so because these two sides reconvene on the penultimate weekend of the premier league season in what could yet be a straight shoot-out for a top 4 spot.
It's been a while since we were at Wembley in the FA Cup. Our last contribution there must have been Dimitar Berbatov's back pass of a penalty to Tim Howard in 2010/11 or thereabouts. Our last appearance there in all competitions was (can you believe) David Moyes winning silverware in his first game in charge (which he at the time attributed to Sir Alex, but you'd reckon he'd take it now) against Wigan Athletic. It would be great to see the lads out there again.
Labels: THE FA CUP