So ladies and gentlemen, the moment of truth is almost upon us. I don't know about you but over the last few days I haven't been able to get this match out of my head. Without wishing to go overboard here; Manchester United away could be the obstacle between winning back to back FA Cups or a season end of restlessness from the fan base.
There is little difference between the two teams in the league so far this season, we remain only 1 point above them with 10 games remaining. I may be viewing tonight's opposition through Arsenal red tinted specs here but it has seemed to me that they have churned out poor performance after poor performance yet have managed to continue winning. The last match against Newcastle United being the perfect example of this, escaping a sure penalty against them only to be gifted a last minute winner following defensive and goalkeeping madness from the barcodes.
So on paper and performance there is absolutely nothing to be worried about, even more so with van Persie and Evans missing for differing reasons. But points on the board and our awful record against our opponents tells another story altogether. A late Cesc Fabregas run, nudge through and Adebayor toe-poke in late in the game was the last time we won at Old Trafford. That was a long time ago and we've taken our fair share of beatings during that time.
The one thing I would say though is that our awful run of results has coincided with a halt to our spending and continued spending of commercial giants Manchester United. Today the playing field has been dragged closer together so the gap in squad strength is different today. Basically quality is not the issue here, whatever mental issues the players have, today is the opportunity to right any previous wrongs. A lot of the players should not be suffering with any inferiority complex. Bellerin, Alexis, Özil and Coquelin do not have much of a history against Manchester United if any at all. Tonight should just be a big game where 100% will be required. Nothing more, nothing less.
We know how the pattern has gone over the years; Manchester United sit back and allow us to play in front of them before picking us off on the break. We are a little less predictable these days. We approach games in different ways as we showed on our last visit to Manchester against their neighbours. So it will be very interesting to see how we approach the game. I wonder if Arsène is looking at the United team sheet and is tempted to go at them from the start, pushing them into their own half and using our high energy forwards to force them into turnovers near their goal. That is what we did in November, a game where we were completely on top of them so much so that to this day, I still don't know how we lost that game. In fact it was a little Monaco-esque. Missed chances galore and suicidal defending, never a great combination.
It will be a lot more difficult to play that way at Old Trafford so we could well see a more conservative Arsenal team as we were at the Etihad recently.
With Gabriel injured with a hamstring strain, the only decisions I can see are between Ramsey or Oxlade-Chamberlain/Welbeck. The way I see it, we will go one of two ways. Firstly Arsène could continue with Cazorla and Özil in central positions and to balance the team, play with Welbeck or the Ox on the opposite flank to Alexis. The other option and I think the most likely is to move Özil back to a wide position and shifting Ramsey alongside Cazorla to make a more 4-1-4-1 shape. With Valencia playing at right back it would make sense to have Alexis on his side (our left) and Özil the right.
Mean Lean's Predicted Line Up:
I would have quite liked to have seen Danny Welbeck let loose against his former team after fluffing a few decent chances at the Emirates earlier in the season against them, he may just have that little extra desire (not that he doesn't have plenty already) to get one over his old team. But I don't see who will be replaced.
Szczesny is set to come back into the team for David Ospina, now is as good a time to produce the performance of your life fella. Scrap that, hopefully he won't have a jot to do such is our dominance. Yeah, like that would ever happen.
I was feeling quite calm before writing this, not so much now. In fact I am far too nervous for this stage of the day. I can't imagine how I'll be feeling later.
As Arsène said, we have to forget about history and look at producing a performance tonight. We've frozen at Old Trafford too many times, let us show how good we can be. Go there with fight, determination and a willingness to play the game we can play, at speed.
We need some big performances from our big players. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla all need to produce tonight. So will each member of our back four. We cannot afford to carry anyone this evening, so I hope everyone goes into it like it is our cup final. With Liverpool drawing at home and having to play a replay at Ewood Park, the chances of the winners from this tie going on to win the cup have increased every so slightly.
Tonight is the time we have to win at Old Trafford, let's do this.
Please! Pretty please.
Check back for the usual post match stuff.