By Matt Fortune
A welcome distraction or interference?
The value of the FA Cup has been called into question this season, but you can be sure that when Arsenal and Manchester United are pitted together it will always generate a buzz.
The two sides head into the Fifth-Round tie harbouring aspirations of a treble - only one will emerge with their goals intact. Form and league position would suggest that it's Arsenal who hold the upper hand.
Ahead of Saturday's match we spoke to Stuart Mathieson of
the Manchester Evening News for his view on the Red Devils'
recent dip, the Wayne Rooney effect, Arsenal's form and the new
faces at Old Trafford.
STORY SO FAR
"Well from a Manchester United point of view, 2008 has been a bit hit and miss. The form at the start, beating Birmingham, Newcastle, Reading without conceding and putting six past Newcastle, it was fantastic. Since then though these last two weeks have taken the gloss off a little bit with the draw at Spurs and the defeat by City.
"It's hard to say what the problem has been because those results just arrived completely out of the blue. The side were in great form going into the Tottenham game and then something just didn't happen. What people tend to forget is there are opponents out there who are getting better and improving. Tottenham are one of those, they are much better than they were at the start of the season. The derby is a whole different scenario. It's hard to say if the draining affect of the Munich build-up was a factor but what we know is that it wasn't the real Manchester United out there. As Ryan Giggs said, they just didn't turn up but fair play to City they did the business.
"So generally the little dip in February cannot really be explained other then through the performance of the opponent."
"I think it's nice to take a step back from the League. The big clubs all see it is a great competition and they want to win it. If a side is aiming for the treble, like both these sides are, then they are going to need to win the FA Cup - it's a vital part of it. It's a different kind of day, with a different feel and the supporters like that.
"When the draw was made I thought it had been somewhat inevitable. United have a long history of drawing Premier League opponents in the competition! It's going to be a fantastic game regardless. When it came out a lot of people were rubbing their hands because of the rivalry between the sides. Added to that if the fact that I think you could say whoever wins this one could probably make the Final. They won't be complacent but I think the side to win will have a great chance of being at Wembley.
"I think that these kinds of matches could have some sort of bearing on the League game later. If Arsenal win then there could be the slight raise in confidence, spring in their step and perhaps trepidation for United. Similarly if it's a home win then I don't think Arsenal will be looking forward to it as much as they might with a good result on Saturday. Arsenal are the form team at the moment and if they pass this and kick-on you start to think they look invincible again and a defeat for Manchester United would extend the so-called blip and that then becomes a worry."
"Of Manucho, we have only seen what we saw on TV from the Africa Cup of Nations, but he did score some wonderful goals. His last, against Egypt I think, it was an absolute stunner - one touch control and blast it from 30 yards, He is on loan at Panathinaikos until the summer when the work permit issue will be sorted out. The one thing a lot of people are asking is that he is 24 years old so where has he been the last four or five seasons, why has he suddenly come to the fore now? But what we know is that to be named among the best at the Cup of Nations is hugely impressive so hopefully there will be a future for him at Old Trafford."
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"It is no great coincidence that Ronaldo wasn't on his top form and United have suffered because of it. In tight matches like this, when you can't normally slip a cigarette paper between the sides, it's players like him, and Adebayor of course for Arsenal who has just come on in leaps and bounds, that will decide games. Another one that Manchester United will be looking to is Wayne Rooney. The figures suggest that without the England man, they are not the same side. United have lost four times this season and Rooney is the only one of the regulars that hasn't featured in all those games. He hasn't tasted defeat so he has very much become a talisman at the Club."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"United have always proved in the past that if they do these things they call blips then they don't last very long. They are now though certainly capable of going unbeaten until the end of the season. They have done that kind of run in the past and are very, very capable of it. The players don't seem to dwell on it, let it fester away and aim to build up some kind of sequence."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"I think fans will say that United are light up front in terms of numbers. They are reliant on Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo keeping fit. Tevez is tired after his last two summers of competition and we have all seen that with Ronaldo, if his form suffers, so does the team. Rooney gets banned and there is a problem. Finally Saha is injury-riddled. A lot of people thought that the Berbatov move might be on and similarly Anelka."
"I imagine Ferguson will go with a pretty strong line-up. Whenever he has gone for wholesale changes this season it hasn't paid off for him. Yes Manchester United do have a very good squad but I do think that you do try to take four or five of your regular starting XI out of the side then you do suffer. The replacements are good but only if you're putting them in in ones and twos. So we will see pretty much eight or nine of the strongest XI and a couple of others might get run out."