As if we didn’t already know, the Gunners face a ropy Manchester United side on Monday night as the Premier League giants go head to head, where the prize is a semi-final date at Wembley.
Four years ago, Arsenal fans could only whisper when they were on their way to Old Trafford, but boy, how times change.
Arsene Wenger has spent time and money rebuilding his team after the construction of the Emirates, and after ending the trophy drought last year, finally has a team that are worthy of giving United a decent game.
Arsenal – Francis Coquelin
Not exactly the game changer we’ve needed in recent weeks, but perhaps the game saver we’ve never had. Let’s be honest, Coquelin has surprised you, he’s surprised me, and most of all he’s surprised the boss after his gritty attitude has earned him a massive reputation at that centre defensive midfield position.
Coquelin is going to have his work cut out on Monday night, with Di Maria and Wayne Rooney both overlapping to cause problems. His mix of both discipline and dedication is something we’ve missed in recent seasons, and the 23-year-old will need to be at the top of his game to keep his concentration.
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney
Forget Drogba, it’s Rooney that Arsenal truly fear, with the Englishman holding the record for most goals scored against the Gunners in the Premier League.
Rooney has struggled so far this year, with just two goals to his name since 2015 began, he is still trying to prove to new boss Van Gaal that he has what it takes. That provides all the more reason to focus on Rooney, a player who like Sanchez, needed a pick-me-up to find that underlying confidence again.
He picked up two goals against Sunderland in the League last week, which is reason to suggest he’s finding his feet again. The striker will want nothing more than to grab a goal against the Gunners, and with Gabriel injured, it will be down to Mertesacker to step out and close him down before that inevitable shot is unleashed.
Pressure on both managers means this is a game neither can afford to lose. It remains the only trophy either can realistically win, and Van Gaal will be just as keen to start his United career by dusting out the trophy cabinet than Wenger is on keeping his polished.
This won’t be a battle between the managers for once, it will be between the fans, who cheer on two teams who look incredibly different to last year. Old Trafford is no longer a fortress, we all know that, and with Arsenal’s impressive away form in the league, you have to say it looks as if this could have a Gunners win written all over it.
But lets not forget, this is United v Arsenal, a game in which form goes out the window, and it comes down to what happens on the night. United will want to start strong, bully Arsenal off the ball and increase pressure throughout the game. That will be their plan, whether they are successful remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a tactic that worked for both Tottenham and Monaco.
Prediction: Manchester United 2 – 2 Arsenal
Although they manage to get slated every week in the media, United have five wins in their last seven games, and have shown they’re prepared to win ugly, following the 1-0 victory over Newcastle in mid-week.
With so many important games against the bigger clubs coming up for the Red Devils, Van Gaal is probably scratching his head over which competition is the priority. However, he has shown in games against Yeovil and Cambridge that he isn’t holding back, and I am more than expecting him to throw as many big guns as possible out there.
There’s no doubt there will be goals in this game, and with a shaky Mertesacker back in the starting eleven, and United missing established defender Jonny Evans, chances will be thick and fast for the two sides.
But looking at how United have played in this competition before, and recent fixtures in the league, I think they will struggle to beat an Arsenal side who haven’t lost in the league in over a month.
For the first time in a while, Arsenal won’t be on the front foot the whole game, which means we will be dependant on Coquelin and Ramsey to hold the line in front of the defenders. It’s going to be tight, but I think with Arsenal’s Champions League exit all but confirmed, Arsene Wenger will hold on to a replay at the Emirates.