Our league form and position duking it out with United for Champions League football next season takes a back seat tonight, replaced by the defence of our shiny silver trinket we won last season in West London, as the FA Cup is the order of the day.
I’d have loved to have taken a trip up to Manchester with the missus to watch tonight’s game, but the ridiculous scheduling of the modern day cup competition has conspired against me from a work perspective, so I’ll have to contend with being an armchair Gooner come 7.45pm this eve.
But there’s no time for disdain for the ruining of this competition at the hands of the broadcasters, because you and I need to ponder on what Arsène should do with his team selection, as well as how he is going to reverse the tide of misfortune that has enveloped us in this particular head-to-head over the years.
I think I’ve said it before, but I believe that the FA Cup final win in 2005 in which United completely dominated us but we managed to lift the trophy on penalties, feels like we have been punished by the karma gods for laughing so heartily at the injustice of it all. After all, since that win at Wembley (or was it Cardiff? I’m too lazy to look it up…) I think we’ve beaten United twice. Once at Old Trafford in which Adebayor handled the ball in, then once at home in which Ramsey won what was effectively a dead rubber, as United were on the verge of winning the league anyway.
I think it’s fair to say that we’ve served our time, however, because we’ve had plenty of misfortune against United since then. Like last season. A goal from That Dutch Bloke off his shoulder which he didn’t mean at all, a battering of them on our own patch, in which they rode their luck for a 0-0. Then this season, where they found themselves being 1-0 up without even having a shot on target – the deflected Valencia goal going wide until Gibbs steered it in.
So surely enough is enough tonight. Surely this evening we get to finally experience what victory tastes like in a meaningful game against United. Right? Right?
Arsène needs to get his players majorly fired up for this evening. We need to channel the spirit of the 2002 Old Trafford win (to effectively win us the league back then) into the current squad and get them to deliver at least a draw. Given our record against them is so poor home and away it should hardly be extra comfort, but I’d feel happier if this was a home tie tonight, so on that basis I’d bite yer hand off right now for a replay.
We’ll also know who we’d face in the semi final by the time kick off comes, so brace yourself for Liverpool of we somehow defy the odds and win at Old Trafford.
The thing that’s the most irritating of all though, is that the United team aren’t even that good, so we should be feeling more confident than we are. Arsène says that history doesn’t play a part in tonight’s fixture for the players. If only that were true for the fans. It would make the pre-match build up a lot more enjoyable I can tell thee.
Arsène’s selection tonight should include Szczesny, which will be an opportunity for him to show his worth to Le Boss against one of the better teams in the country, after a couple of rounds in which he hasn’t really had a lot to do. I expect him to be called on a few times this evening so a good display would be nightly handy for him and us, potentially earning him a more regular recall to the first XI.
In front of him you’d expect Bellerin, Mertesacker and Koscienly to all play, but the decision on Nacho or Gibbs is interesting. Nacho has been out for a week but has established himself as first choice since the start of 2015, but Gibbs has more pace and will be able to go toe-to-toe against Valencia if van Gaal operates a 3-5-2 with wing backs. So my hope is that Gibbs starts. He’s also been effectve going forward – having teed up Giroud against QPR with his overlapping run for goal number one last Wednesday.
Midfield will surely see Le Coq and Cazorla operate as the deeper-lying midfielders and you’d expect to see Özil in front of them. All three warrant a place in the team and all three have been playin well in the last two or three games so I don’t know why Arsene would want to change it. The more interesting debate, however, comes in the shape of who should start in the attacking front three. Giroud almost certainly through the middle. But Arsène then needs to pick one from The Ox, Alexis, Welbeck or Walcott. The Ox offers trickery and an ability to beat a man one-on-one. Alexis has just found his scoring touch again and will give us tireless work rate. Welbeck will have a point to prove against his old club and a manager who thought he just wasn’t good enough to play for United. And finally Theo who, with the raw pace and natural goalscoring touch, would probably relish playing a United game who might just fancy giving him plenty of space.
Any of those options work for me, but if I was given the choice I’d go for Welbeck and Walcott. Welbeck for the power of having a point to prove, as well as Walcott for his raw pace and end product. We saw at home what happens when you don’t take your chances so I see tonight as a perfect opportunity to play for his strengths. Yes, it leaves no room for Alexis, but whilst he’s been one of our best players this season I do think he’s starting to show signs of fatigue in some of the ways in which he loses possession. He’s also an awesome option to have on the bench, by the way.
How do we beat this United them then, eh? Keeping Rooney quiet is the obvious answer, but having the Arsenal front three impact the game more effectively will have a bigger bearing on the success of our performance tonight.
I’ve become a bit cynical when it comes to matches against United. The result is also that I’m never confident. I won’t be surprised if United beat us 1-0 from a seven man ricochet that comes off Phil Jones gurning face, having not had a single other shot in the whole game, so I’ll not be predictng any kind of result. I’ll just be praying that we can do what we haven’t done for eight years. Win in the red half of Manchester.
See you tomorrow.