Manchester United welcome old foes Arsenal at the Old Trafford in the FA Cup Quarterfinal showdown on Monday.
With both sides chasing a top-four spot in the Premier League, the FA Cup is the only realistic chance of bagging silverware for the most successful clubs In the competition.
Although the visitors have not tasted success of late against the Red Devil’s, Arsene Wenger’s men are no short of confidence going in to this game, and will be out to end their Old Trafford hoodoo.
With Michael Carrick featuring on the bench against Sunderland and Newcastle, Robin van Persie and Luke Shaw remain the only injury absentees for Louis van Gaal. The Dutch striker suffered an ankle injury in United’s 2-1 defeat to Swansea City, and is out with an ‘unknown return date.’ Defender Jonny Evans serves a six-game ban for spitting at Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse.
Arsenal’s injury woes continue, with winter signing Gabriel suffering a hamstring injury against QPR. He joins the likes of Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby and Mathieu Debuchy on the treatment table. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, defender Nacho Monreal and midfielder Mathieu Flamini all face late fitness tests, adding to Wenger’s misery.
Wayne Rooney vs Laurent Koscielny
Manchester United’s captain will weigh the responsibility of leading his side to yet another triumph against the Gunners. Wayne Rooney is Arsenal’s nemesis, and 11 goals to his name against the Londoners is itself quite evident how the England captain enjoys the clash. The 29-year-old put in a sublime performance when the sides met earlier in the season, and Laurent Koscielny will have a job at his hand if a repeat of November is to be avoided.
Olivier Giroud vs Chris Smalling
With eight goals in 10 games, Arsenal will be looking at Olivier Giroud for goals on Monday. The Frenchman rich vein of form has helped his side leapfrog Liverpool and Manchester United for the 3rd spot, and despite fluffing in the crucial Champions League tie against AS Monaco, his domestic form will be a matter of worry for the Red Devils. With Evans banned and Marcos Rojo deputizing at left-back for the injured Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling will have the responsibility of stifling Giroud. Having been in good form himself of late, this battle might eventually prove to be the decider.
Mesut Özil vs Daley Blind
Arsenal’s most creative in Mesut Özil spark has ignited quite well in the past few games, and Wenger will be hopeful that his £42.5 million man finally delivers when it really matters. The Frenchman has defended Özil from Paul Scholes’ criticism, claiming the Manchester United legend would have ‘Scholes would have loved to play alongside’ the German. United’s Daley Blind will have the onus to stop the former Real Madrid man from influencing the game. The versatile Dutchman has nailed down a starting place for himself in van Gaal’s midfield, and has been one of the Red Devils’ standout performers.
– Manchester United have kept a clean sheet in each of their last four FA Cup games against Arsenal.
– United have won 11 and lost just one of their last 15 matches against Arsenal in all
– Wayne Rooney has scored more goals against Arsenal than any other player in Premier League history (11) and has found the net in all three of his FA Cup appearances against Arsenal (in the 2005 shootout and in normal play in the last two ties).
– Arsenal and United have met twice in the final (the Gunners coming out on top both times) and three times in semi-finals (United progressing each time).
Louis van Gaal
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal is relishing the fixture, which for him is ‘like a final’, and believes that it will have an impact on the top-four race too.
“United and Arsenal are placed third and fourth in the league, so it’s almost like a final, I think.”
“I think if we beat them it is a big blow for them, but if they beat us it is a big blow for us. It is very important game, not only for the FA Cup but also for the rat race.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger meanwhile is unperturbed by his sides’ poor record against their old adversaries, also reserving praise for the forthcoming fixture.
“The cup tie against United is of special intensity because it is between two teams who have a chance to win this competition,”
“Both teams will think: ‘If we get over this hurdle, we have a good opportunity to win the competition.’
“I don’t believe too much in history. I just believe in the performance on the day. At the moment, we are doing very well away from home.”
Michael Carrick could come in to add some experience to the side, while Ángel Di María’s poor form could see him axed for Adnan Januzaj.
Szczesny will feature in goal should he prove his fitness, while Walcott could be again sacrificed for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Danny Welbeck might feature off the bench against his former employees.
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Image Courtesy: BBC, Bleacher Report.