LONDON: Manchester United and Arsenal renew, Monday night, one of the ‘royal’ rivalries of the FA Cup with not only a place in the sem-finals but the credibility of managers Louis Van Gaal and Arsene Wenger on the line.
History is there for the taking, as well, but the history of the fixture is so even it might need a replay to separate them.
They sit fourth and third in the Premier League, separated by only one point, each has won the oldest competition in the game a record 11 times and each has won seven of their 14 FA Cup meetings (United 18 goals, Arsenal 17).
Twice they have met in the Final. Again the results could hardly have been tighter. Arsenal beat United 3-2 in a classic in 1979 and then again by 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in 2005.
Wenger has even more at stake than Van Gaal. United, whatever the erratic nature of their tactics and results this season, have regained top—four status after slipping out of the frame under David Moyes and remain a team in transition.
Defeat would be a major disappointment for a club who have not won the FA Cup since 2004 but Van Gaal would live to fight another day.
The outlook for Wenger is far less assured. Last year’s FA Cup triumph was the Gunners’ first trophy in nine years and silenced the anti-Wenger brigade temporarily.
However exit from the FA Cup and, probably, from the Champions League all within nine days would be a devastating blow to confidence which might then undermine pursuit of a place in the league’ top four. That would test the patience of even the Arsenal board.
Much may depend on whether Mesut Ozil can justify Wenger’s confidence in him. Countering criticism from old United hero Paul Scholes that the German has proved only a ‘luxury’ player, Wenger said: “It’s a wrong statement. He works very hard and he’s a great player. A player like Paul Scholes would have loved to play with Ozil.
“Mesut has a point to prove and he knows that. I believe he has the quality, he puts a lot of effort in to help the team and he works much harder than his style shows.
“You can be cheated a little bit by his style of play, because he is fluid, easy, subtle and he does not look like he puts the effort in, but he does.”
First club assured of a place in the semi-finals were Aston Villa. They face disciplinary action from the FA, however, after a 2-0 derby victory at West Bromwich was marred by a late pitch invasion from celebrating fans.
Bradford and Reading must replay after a goalless draw at Valley Parade.