The FA Cup’s two most successful clubs continue their storied rivalry at Old Trafford on Monday when Manchester United and Arsenal vie for a place in this season’s semifinals. The two English giants have featured in some titanic duels in the recent past, not least in the world’s oldest domestic cup competition. Most notably, Manchester United came out on top in a modern classic of a 1999 semifinal replay, while, in a clash considerably shorter on thrills, Arsenal won the 2005 final on penalties.
That win a decade ago had been Arsenal’s last trophy success before Arsene Wenger’s men defeated Hull City in last season’s FA Cup final to join United on 11 triumphs. But if they are to retain their silverware, Arsenal will have to correct a woeful recent record against their rivals to the north. Arsenal have beaten Manchester United just once in the clubs’ last 15 meetings in all competitions. At Old Trafford the run is even worse, having lost on their last six visits and going close to nine years without a victory. But, having seen his side beat win 2-0 at Manchester City in January, Wenger is confident that they have what it takes to come away with a victory from Monday’s quarterfinal.
“When the team is not as good, they lose,” he said, reports Arsenal’s official website. “It doesn’t matter what shirt they wear, or what stadium they play in. It is down to quality. If I’ve learnt something in my life it’s that the performance on the day decides the outcome of the day, not where you play.
“This team has a good mentality because we had a slow start this season and every time when we lose a big game you see how much the players are touched. I think the mentality is very healthy.”
Louis van Gaal’s first experience of the rivalry was a positive one as he led Manchester United to a 2-1 win at the Emirates Stadium last November. That could yet prove to be a crucial result come the end of the Premier League season, with both clubs part of a five-way battle for the final two Champions League places. Manchester United currently lie a point behind third-placed Arsenal, and Van Gaal, as Wenger has often done in the past, has made it clear that finishing in the top four is the priority.
“I want to get always the goals that we have set, and the goals we have set is the top four, and a trophy would be fantastic,” he said, according to Sky Sports. “It's fantastic for the players and the manager but our role in our first year together is to win a place in the Champions League.
“I think that Arsene Wenger is right -- I think that Arsene Wenger is always saying right things -- for a club, Champions League is the highest level and that's why he's saying that. To finish in the first four is a fantastic result and for us at Manchester United even more I think. If you win the FA Cup you are not in the Champions League but you have won a title.”
United come into the contest on the back of consecutive victories over north-east duo Sunderland and Newcastle United. Their win at St James’ Park came at a cost, however, with defender Jonny Evans receiving a six-match suspension after being found guilty of spitting at Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse. Arsenal also lost the services of one of their center-backs during their last outing, when January signing Gabriel Paulista suffered a hamstring injury during a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers. Wojciech Szczesny is, though, expected to return to fitness. If he does, Wenger has stated that the Poland international will start in goal in place of David Ospina. Meanwhile, Arsenal will avoid the sight of former striker Robin van Persie turning out against them, with the Dutchman ruled out with an ankle injury.
Prediction: Arsenal dominated much of the last meeting between the teams, but in a continuing theme of their rivalry in recent years. United exposed the vulnerabilities of Wenger’s men on the break. A 3-1 defeat at home to Monaco last month showed that those weaknesses have yet to be eradicated, despite the promise of their astute win at Manchester City. Admittedly, United have rarely shown the type of fluidity and explosiveness going forward to capitalize on such shortcomings this season, but Van Gaal could have the nous to see his side squeak through.
Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal
Kickoff time: 3:45 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1