Red Devils Advocate: Manchester United vs Arsenal Preview

Manchester United vs Arsenal, Old Trafford, 19:45GMT

In an FA Cup quarter final tie at Old Trafford, Manchester United are seeking a much needed result against Arsenal, a club they are looking to surpass in league play. A win is vital for both United’s season as well as for manager Louis van Gaal.

When the Red Devils faced Arsene Wenger’s side earlier this season, it was an incredibly tight affair but United came out victorious, winning 2-1, despite only having one shot on target. Although many observe that van Gaal was tactically superior in that match, Arsenal have improved vastly whereas United seem to have stalled slightly.  While the FA Cup has no bearing on the Premier League table, winning is equally important for both teams to maintain momentum.

Both sides desperately seek FA Cup success — United haven’t lifted the trophy for nearly 11 years. The last time they won the cup came in a 3-0 win in 2004 against Millwall. It has been a long wait for the Red Devils and, before his retirement, Sir Alex Ferguson often spoke of his desire to win the FA Cup once again. For Louis van Gaal, a cup triumph could win over some pundits, given that United are not participating in any European competitions after their embarrassing defeat to League One side MK Dons in the League Cup. With the Premier League all but out of reach, their current position in the FA Cup looks to be van Gaal’s sole chance of getting his hands on any silverware.

Arsenal will also want to retain the trophy, considering the long drought that ended last spring. Arsene Wenger’s men are in a similar position as United after their laughable 3-1 defeat at home to AS Monaco in the first leg of their Champions League knock-out round tie, they will also see a cup run as their best chance to pick up silverware this year.

On the pitch, fans can expect a very close and tense tactical battle; it will be incredibly interesting to see the clash of wits between Louis van Gaal and Arsene Wenger. Arsenal have looked impressive at times this season. United’s defence will have a tough task trying to keep the clinical Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud quiet, however, it is certainly possible if David de Gea maintains the form he has had all season.

It is also crucial that van Gaal deploys a strong defensive midfield player such as Marouane Fellaini or Daley Blind to keep Mesut Ozil quiet as his passing ability has the potential to pull United apart.

At the other end, Arsenal have a strong defensive back line, however, they are known for being particularly slow at times and susceptible to fast breaks. Although Manchester United have plenty of pace with Angel di Maria and Ashley Young, for most of this season van Gaal’s side have been playing with a slow, laboured build-up. United would benefit from changing this tonight and choosing to run at Arsenal’s defence. It is crucial that the creative play of Juan Mata returns and it would be beneficial for everyone at United to see more of the di Maria that started the season, as opposed to the player he looks to have become now.

The result of tonight’s game definitely hangs in the balance. Neither team has a clear advantage over the other and it is down to whoever plays their best and uses their opportunities. United will likely have confidence, given the fact that Arsenal have failed to beat United since May 2011 and have not won at Old Trafford since September 2006.

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