Sir Alex Ferguson’s media-blackout came to an end during the week, as he took time out to throw a few (surprisingly nice) words in Arsenal’s general direction. Indeed, Ferguson seems nothing short of delighted that the old rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United is taking off once more. It’s a rivalry that has fizzled out over the last 3-4 years, thanks to Chelsea’s rise to prominence, but this season the Gunners appear to be United’s fiercest competition and vice versa. As Fergie notes:
“Clearly they represent the main danger to us in a revival of the rivalry of a few years ago… I am sure they regard us as the major threat to their hopes.”
Something of an understatement, you might say – of course Arsene Wenger and co. view United as a ‘major threat’. United are currently three points ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League table (although the Gunners have a game in hand) and are favourites to beat Arsenal at Old Trafford today.
A re-ignited rivalry between the two sides is a tasty prospect. Despite all the talent that both Chelsea and United have had at their disposal these last few years, their battling it out at the top of the table never quite offered the same degree of spark. I’m speaking on behalf of the neutrals of course.
Just think about some of the great games these two sides have shared over the years. The ‘five-minute cup final’ of 1979, which Arsenal won 3-2 in the last minute of extra time. United putting Arsenal to the sword with a 6-1 victory back in 2001. Arsenal completing the double at Old Trafford with a single Sylvain Wiltord goal in 2002. United derailing the invincibles in 2004 with a 2-0 victory that culminated (if reports are to be believed) with Cesc Fabregas throwing pizza at Sir Alex Ferguson in the dressing room.
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The list goes on. But that should be enough to whet your appetite for today’s clash, right? It’s a huge game – whoever wins this sixth-round clash will be favourites to go on to lift the FA Cup. Imagine the damage that United could register to Arsenal’s confidence should they knock Arsenal out of a third competition in as many weeks. The stakes are high.
So where do these two teams stand? United come into this game having suffered two defeats on the trot – to Liverpool and Chelsea. Arsenal’s last couple of games have seen them lose 3-1 to Barcelona (fair enough) and draw 0-0 with Sunderland (inexcusable). If formbooks were anything to go by, both teams would lose today.
In terms of injuries, the home side are missing Nani, who had his leg brutalised last Sunday, Rio Ferdinand and Park Ji-Sung. Antonio Valencia, has been back in training for the last few weeks, but it’s unlikely he’ll make his return against the Gunners. Arsenal on the other hand are missing their captain Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Alex Song, Thomas Vermaelen (who isn’t likely to return this season) and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who is thought to be out of contention for at least six weeks.
It’s difficult to call anything other than a United win. Arsenal haven’t had the best record at Old Trafford in recent times, and without Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song in the centre of park, may struggle to get their creative juices flowing.
Both teams will be looking to respond to what have been a difficult couple of weeks, but I can foresee only further disappointment for the Gunners.
Great odds: United to win 2-0 – 8/1.
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