After the disappointment of Tuesday night's Champions League exit to Barcelona it's back to domestic action for Arsenal tomorrow with a trip to face Premier League leaders "Manure" in the FA Cup. With the cup having reached the quarter final stage Arsenal are within two games of another trip to Wembley this season, but they will have to do it the hard way if they are to make it.
"Manure" have by far the best home record in the Premier League this season with 13 wins and one draw from 14 games so far. It's a record that Arsenal should be envious of, as a similar home record for Arsenal would see them so far ahead at the top of the table that they would be almost certain to take the title. However that means Arsenal have a far superior away record this season, and they have only lost twice on their travels in the Premier League this season. Those two defeats were very costly, as they came at the hands of both "Manure" and Chelsea.
There are two big questions for Arsenal to answer before they can play this game, and the answers to those questions will probably decide their fate in the game. First of all there is the question of how seriously both teams will treat this game. Arsenal have played weakened teams in the previous three rounds of the FA Cup, and they have struggled to get this far. They had a very tough game away to the best club side in the world on Tuesday night, and the ability of their players to recover will be of paramount importance in team selection.
The Premier League still has to be Arsenal's first priority this season, but the FA Cup cannot be ignored. A trip to "Manure" is never an easy task, but they have a Champions League game on Tuesday night, and their manager will be tempted to rest a few players ahead of that game I'm sure. Nani is already an absentee due to the injury inflicted upon him by Liverpool's Jamie Carragher last Sunday. It was a disgraceful challenge by Carragher, but the referee lived up to the standard being set in the Premier League this season by not showing him a red card. Of course the "Manure" fans are having a good old moan about the challenge from Carragher, but when worse has happened to Arsenal players in the past their attitude was always that Arsenal should shut up and get on with playing football. The shoe is on the other foot now, and it's about time too.
Arsenal are bound to have a few injury worries too and Cesc Fabregas will not play any part in this game or more than likely against West Brom in the Premier League next week. If he doesn't play against West Brom he will not be available to play for his country directly after that game, and it would give him a further two weeks to recover. That time scale might be just what he needs to have him fit and ready for Arsenal's last nine Premier League matches of the season. In my opinion the league title will be won or lost in those nine games, and Arsenal need their best team possible available.
The latest news on Wojciech Szczesny is that he will be out for up to six weeks, and apparently according to Arsene Wenger Vitto Mannone is also likely to be out for that amount of time too. It leaves Arsenal with only Manuel Almunia as a fit keeper with first team experience for virtually the rest of the season. The boss has said he will be looking to bring in a goalkeeper as cover, and despite the transfer window being closed I'm sure he will be allowed to. Last season Arsenal had no strikers due to their injury jinx, and it seems like the goalkeepers are suffering this season.
The latest on Alex Song is that he too will miss tomorrow's game, and it means that Arsenal will be missing two of preferred three in midfield. It also means that either Abu Diaby or Denilson will play in Arsenal's midfield. The manager cannot play both Diaby and Denilson together as it just does not work as a combination. In my opinion Samir Nasri has to play the role Cesc usually plays if Arsenal are going to have a chance of winning this game. The inclusion of him in the midfield with Jack Wilshere and either Diaby or Denilson will give Arsenal the upper hand against a very average "Manure" midfield in my opinion. Personally I would choose Diaby before Denilson, but he hasn't exactly set the world alight recently.
The good news from an injury perspective is that Robin Van Persie is at least fit to play, and I would imagine he will lead the line. He is Arsenal's best striker and his presence will be crucial if they are going to keep their dreams of a domestic double alive. Arsenal have crashed out of the Champions League and lost the Carling Cup final in recent weeks, and they need to get their season back on track. The boss cannot field a weakened team, as the effect of another defeat on morale could be a crushing blow. The Premier League is the most important prize of all, but Arsenal's ability to win it could depend on how well they can play in this game.
There is still no word on a possible return date for Thomas Vermaelen, but I would be surprised to see him again this season at this stage. The word a few weeks ago was that he was pencilled in to play a reserve game in early March to help him regain some match fitness, but the reserves have now played two games this month, and he hasn't featured at all. Both Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny have coped admirably in his absence, and with seven clean sheets in Arsenal's last nine league games he hasn't been missed as much as I thought he would be.
The other big question to be answered for Arsenal, is how they will react to the Champions League exit to Barcelona. Hopefully the players will feel the sense of injustice that the fans felt after Barcelona were helped to beat them by a referee who can be described as inept at best. As Arseblog pointed out, he has refereed Spanish teams 29 times, and none of those games have been lost by the Spanish sides. Is that a coincidence, or does it point to a referee who is susecptible to the tactics Spanish teams employ. As I pointed out in my review of the game, he let them away with persistent badgering of him, and he failed to issue a card of any colour to any Barcalona players. Eric Abidal, Lionel Messi, and Dani Alves should all have had cards, but he failed to deliver to nay of them. I can't imagine that UEFA will even consider looking into his record in charge of games with Spanish teams in them, or that they will be anything other than happy that Barcelona have progressed thanks to his ineptitude. I know Barcelona were by far the better team, but what was to be expected against 10 players, and when RVP was sent off Arsenal were in pole position. There's nothing that can be done about it now though, and all I can hope for is their elimination from this year's competition as soon as possible.
I'm hoping to see the desire to bring a trophy back to Arsenal on display from the Arsenal players. With a win in this game Arsenal would be through to a FA Cup semi final, and within one game of a chance to make up for the loss to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final. That could be just what they need to help their push to win the Premier League title. Arsenal have 10 league games left, and if they win them all they will be champions.
It won't be easy by any stretch of the imagination for Arsenal to get the result they want, but it's a tough call for "Manure" to decide how much they rate this competition. They have a Champions League game at home to Marsaille on Tuesday night, and I would imagine it is their main priority. Their best player this season has been Nani, and he will be sorely missed, but not by Gael Clichy I'm sure. He has the ability to turn games all on his own, and "Manure" will be nervous of injuring any other important players ahead of that Marsaille game.
When Arsenal lost 1-0 away to "Manure" in the league in December they approached the game in a very strange manner for an Arsenal team. The game plan on the night seemed to be to try to keep things as tight as possible, and possibly nick a goal on the break. They created very little, and they never imposed themselves on the game. I would prefer to see them have a real go from the start tomorrow, and show this "Manure" team up to be the average team that they are. Arsenal have the capability to beat any team in the world, and a performance equal to their fans belief in them would be fantastic.
Like the rest of the Arsenal fans I would settle for a scrappy game with Arsenal managing a win or a draw, but I would love to see a statement from them, as well as a display of the football they are capable of. In recent years Arsenal have lost too many crucial games, and this is another crucial game in my opinion. I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal with both of the goals coming from RVP. It's probably a very unlikely prediction, but I still have faith in this team, and i hope the players still have faith in themselves.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at how Arsenal have managed to win at Old Trafford in a previous double winning season.
See You Tomorrow.