Thursday, February 14, 2008

Manchester United vs. Arsenal: FA Cup Match Preview

Arsenal travel to Old Trafford this Saturday to face off against Manchester United in a highly anticipated FA Cup clash. The top two goalscoring teams of the Premier League will be sure to entertain in a free-flowing 90 minutes of football.

Alex Ferguson's Manchester United will be looking to prove themselves after taking only one of the last six available Premier League points. A draw away to Tottenham and a loss at home city rivals Manchester City put the Red Devils five points adrift of a young Arsenal side. Having already forced a 2-2 away draw against the Gunners, Ferguson will be hoping to assert his team's efforts with a win in this fifth round FA Cup tie.

Arsene Wenger's squad has gone on a run of four straight wins since embarrassingly losing 5-1 against Tottenham. With Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue back from the African Cup of Nations, the Gunners will provide a tough challenge for Ferguson's United. Unfortunately, a large list of absentees means that Wenger maybe forced to field an under-strength side in an attempt to save key players for Wednesday's Champions League clash against Italian giants AC Milan.

Robin van Persie, Abou Diaby, Manuel Almunia, Neves Denilson, Johan Djourou, Tomas Rosicky, and Theo Walcott are all set to sit out yet another match after missing the clash against Blackburn on Monday due to injury. Gael Clichy and Philippe Senderos are new additions to the injury list with hamstring and knee injuries respectively. Bacary Sagna is another doubt for "personal reasons."

Manuel Almunia is currently suffering from a virus, ensuring that Jens Lehman will feature in goal for the Gunners for a third consecutive game after being Arsenal's second choice goalkeeper for much of the season.

A makeshift defense is likely to consist of experienced center-backs Kolo Toure and William Gallas alongside young full-backs Armand Traore and Justin Hoyte. Traore and Hoyte will have their hands full with Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and Carlos Tevez knocking at the door.

Arsenal's strength will come from the midfield where Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Hleb, and Gilberto Silva are likely to start. Arsene Wenger would have liked to have fielded a younger midfield including Abou Diaby and Neves Denilson, but due to a large number of injuries the manager will be forced to risk injury to his big names.

It will be interesting to see whether Wenger is willing to risk Emmanuel Adebayor up front. The striker has been prolific for his club recently, scoring twelve goals in his last nine appearances, and has become a key player at Arsenal. However, with the capable pair of Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo da Silva match-fit, Wenger may want to rest his star striker ahead of a tough Champions League tie.

No matter what teams are fielded, Manchester United v. Arsenal is always a huge game. With a promise of frenetic pace and a healthy injection of skill, this cream-of-the-crop tie should not disappoint. I predict that Arsenal will force Manchester United into a replay with another 2-2 draw.