Will tomorrow’s six-point cup tie be the game that defines the season?

by Will ODoherty

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Arsenal’s furious response to the catastrophically poor decision to send Robin van Persie off at the Nou Camp was based on more than the desire to advance in the Champions League.

It came from the fear that the club may be frail enough to again collapse at the business end of the season without arrogant, belligerent referees helping them on their way.

A season of surprises for the Gunners might be defined by their three last fixtures and their late afternoon trip to Old Trafford this Saturday.

Embarrassed at Wembley, blunted against Sunderland and consumed in Barcelona, Arsenal’s hopes of securing two trophies vanished entirely while their aspirations to another took an untimely set back.

Battle on four fronts will reduced to an outside chance in one if they taste more disappointment against United this weekend.

Haunted by a recent history of early-spring collapses and once again reduced by injuries to pivotal players, Arsenal are teetering and could conceivably hit the canvas should their hosts administer a convincing defeat.

Yet Sir Alex Ferguson’s cautious rhetoric in the build up to the match has spoken volumes of his side’s current state.

For a team favourite to pick up league and FA Cup titles and progress to the quarter finals of the Champions League, there is plenty of unease around Manchester United.

With defeats at Wolves, Chelsea and Liverpool fresh in the memory, an uncharacteristically weak midfield undermined further by the absence of the outstanding Nani, Rio Ferdinand’s injury and the continued struggles of the once-talismanic Wayne Rooney, United are undergoing a crisis of confidence too.

Normally Ferguson would relish piling the pressure on Arsene Wenger’s young and temperamental players but with form, injury and disciplinary worries of his own, Ferguson has not upped the pressure for fear of it being shifted to the league leaders in the event of a first home defeat of the season.

The result of the game has much greater bearing on both clubs than simply granting progress to the next round of the famous competition, and a step towards securing a trophy that might provide small comfort in the event of a collapse in the league.

Victory over such a fierce rival promises momentum where previously there was only inertia.

Victory promises the psychological upper hand going into the biggest game of the season – when Arsenal host United at the Emirates on May 1st.

With both teams wanting to avoid a crushing blow, expect the atmosphere to be fraught, and do not rule out a scrappy, cagey affair.

But with both knowing just what victory might mean, and still possessing the players to produce moments of magic, hope for a classic.

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  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Mystical Mike

    As an Arsenal fan, I’m very concerned, the Chelsea home game aside, we have failed in every big test since I can remember.

    We seem to play within ourselves at Old Traford. Even when we absolutely dominate United we still some how manage to lose the game by scoring own goals and gifting them penalties.

    I can’t see anything than a poor 0-0 at best.

  • Charlie George

    This is one of the poorest United sides I’ve seen in a long while. They are functional at best. Nani has been carrying them all season, now he is injured I fear for them.

    I think we’ll see a lot of 0-0’s until he is back their side, starting with today.

    Arsenal on the other need a leader, it’s been said a thousand times but Mr Wenger will not listen to anyone.

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