Premier League Decider?
A classic cup tie in the making against the old enemy awaits; a rematch of our last successful final, back in 2005 on a rainy day in Cardiff. Overmars’ breakaway winner; Bergkamp’s penalty miss, Giggsy’s chest wig; Keane and Vieira toe-to-toe; Wiltord’s winner; Giggsy’s open-goal miss, Arsenal taking the piss; Rooney’s dive to bust on 49. You could say there’s recent history at Old Trafford.
And tonight, an FA Cup Quarter Final lies in wait, however, in truth, this evening’s match is about far more than that. The Gunners are wounded and now chase two of four trophies. Our opponents are still in three competitions but consecutive defeats have compounded this terms relatively poor form. As much as both sides will want to take a step closer to a show-piece final, neither side will want to lose.
From our perspective, this is huge. It presents us with a chance to bounce back after Tuesday night. The protestations of what might have been in Barcelona will carry more substance if we advance to another domestic Semi tonight. At the same time, we have an opportunity to fire a warning across Old Trafford and confirm what Sir Alex said earlier in the week; Arsenal remain a serious threat for the title.
I’d imagine that there are very few Gooners who wouldn’t accept losing tonight if it meant we would go on to lift the Premiership, however the psychological damage of a defeat today – not to mention the predictable media shit storm – would make the task of over hauling the Mancs at the top of the league even harder.
Wenger noted in his press conference that he would play his strongest team. There can be no excuses for doing otherwise as after today we don’t play again until next weeks trip to West Brom. Equally, without Fabregas, Vermaelen, Walcott, Song & Szczesny our options for rotation are limited.
Midfield will be pivotal to this contest and will see Wilshere pulling the strings but whether he’ll play alongside Diaby and Denilson, or if Rosicky will be preferred in one of those berths, remains to be seen. For me, Denilson has to start in a pivot with Wilshere. Between them they are capable of protecting the ball as well as will be required. I would then give Diaby the chance to play with more freedom than he was afforded in the Camp Nou. Rosicky has an abundance of experience, yet he is yet to make that count in any real way this season.
At the back we have no option but to play Almunia. Despite conceding three goals on Tuesday, it’s hard to apportion significant blame to our defence. The Spaniard was professional whilst Koscielny and Djourou contended admirably with the waves of Barca attack. Up top, without Walcott, the front three of Nasri, Arshavin and RVP picks itself.
Conversely, United may have an eye on their Champions League second leg with Marseille – another must win. Usually, Fergie would rotate but I’m not so sure what scope he has to do so at present. United have injuries too and will not want to risk a 3rd defeat in three against the remainder of the traditional Big Four.
The Premier League’s best home record against its best away record. It’s a Cup game but it could be the match that decisively shifts the title race one way or the other.
Keep The Faith. In Wenger We Trust.