Preview: Beating Arsenal is not just necessary, it is needed to put them back into the bin of failure…

Arsenal -v- Manchester United

Emirates FA Cup

Emirates Stadium, London

Friday 25 January 2019; KO 19:55 GMT

Referee: Craig Pawson

Manchester United take on Unai Emery’s Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Friday evening in the Emirates FA Cup. The two sides met earlier this season, albeit under Jose Mourinho’s leadership with Arsenal finding it hard to beat United, the result being a 2-2 draw. United are undefeated by Arsenal in the last three matches, the last defeat saw United lose 2-0 at the end of the 2016/17 season. Since the two sides last met at the start of December, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has come in and changed the landscape at the club.

Solskjaer has given his side the freedom to express themselves, which most of the time has seen United back at their best, playing attacking football, scoring goals galore and getting the results that were needed to help United get the finish they desire in the Premier League this season. In the past seven matches, United have earned 18 Premier League points (six Premier League matches), scored 19 goals, conceded just four, keeping three clean sheets.

United and Arsenal have met 228 times in the history of both clubs, dating back from the first match, Newton Heath v Woolwich Arsenal, a 3-3 draw on the 18 October 1894. United have won 98 times, drawn 48 times and lost just 82 times, meaning they are unbeaten in 64% of the matches they have played, losing 36% of matches played. Since Solskjaer took the caretaker manager role, United have won their last seven matches in all competitions, surely in form but still needing consistency and improvement.

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Pre-Match Opinion: Solskjaer has helped his team improve but the players need to continue their development, taking account of their own actions

It is fair to say that this United team has been much better under Soldkjaer than it was under Mourinho. Some will tell you that it was all down to Mourinho, even though the problems he faced were much similar to those that Louis van Gaal and David Moyes faced. Granted, Mourinho took no prisoners and the club knew what they were getting but by no means was everything his fault. Some players needed to stand out and take account of their actions.

As the time has gone by since Mourinho’s sacking, the squad have overcome the problems sustained at the time and played much more fluid football, attacking their opposition from the start of the game in many instances. However, there have still been some bring performances to contend with; the 2-0 victory over Reading in the FA Cup, the 2-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend was another. Rome was not built in a day so I am not expecting miracles.

If United can take on Arsenal as they took on Tottenham Hotspur a few weeks ago, they will be in with a chance of getting something at the Emirates; in the last five meetings at the Emirates, United have won twice, lost twice and drawn once. Arsenal supporters held the bragging rights over United this season with their massive unbeaten run and the fact they were well above United. Now that they are both on par, the bragging rights have dissolved with United close to getting the better of this fallen North London club.

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Form: United are in much better form than Arsenal, winning their last six matches with Arsenal winning just three

Manchester United: WWWWWW

Huddersfield Town 3-1 W, Bournemouth 4-1 W, Newcastle United 2-0 W, Reading 2-0 W, Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 W, Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 W

In the last six matches, United have scored 14 goals, conceding just three, keeping three clean sheets, which was something seemingly unheard of from United this season. The fact that Solskjaer has given this side the confidence they now have is there to be seen. In the majority of these matches, bar Reading and Brighton, United have played some good free-flowing attacking football which has helped change the landscape of the club, at this moment in time at least.

Arsenal: DLWWLW

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-1 D, Liverpool 5-1 L, Fulham 4-1 W, Blackpool 3-0 W, West Ham United 1-0 L, Chelsea 2-0 W

Arsenal may not have fully impressed in their last six matches, winning three, drawing once and losing twice, scoring 11 goals, conceding eight (five against Liverpool). The fact they have kept only two clean sheets is telling, one of those was against a poor Blackpool team, the other more recently against a misfiring Chelsea side. Arsenal’s defence is shocking again, they don’t tend to keep players fit, which is problematic at United too, which led to Emery seeking to sign Eric Bailly on loan this month.

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Team News: Alexis Sanchez will face Arsenal; Chris Smalling, Marouane Fellaini, and Marcos Rojo will miss out

Solskjaer sat down with the media ahead of this game on Thursday morning. It was confirmed that Alexis Sanchez will be fit to face his former club, which will be the second time he has faced Arsenal; the first time at the Emirates though. It is fair to say that Sanchez has not lived up to expectations since he signed for United, which is something he needs to start doing, otherwise, he could be a casualty in the summer. Chris Smalling, Marouane Fellaini and Marcos Rojo miss out through injury.

Arsenal will be without Danny Welbeck, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Hector Bellerin for this important fixture, which could spell problems for Emery, who has faced criticism of late despite being touted by the Arsenal supporters as the saviour of the club earlier in the season when the North London side were beating European fodder teams in the UEFA Europa League, a competition the same supporters mocked United for winning in 2017, one of the few options to get into the UEFA Champions League this season.

United should be in better shape defensively with Eric Bailly back, meaning Solskjaer will have the choice of three central defenders with Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones the other fit players. Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw are all fit for the fullback positions and United’s midfield, other than Fellaini are fit, meaning a trio of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba is likely. In attack, United have all players ready to knock Arsenal out of the FA Cup.

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Predicted Starting XI: Injuries aside, United have a first-choice team fit and ready to place Emery in hot water

David De Gea reportedly did not travel to London so Sergio Romero will likely take his place. The back for would most likely be Ashley Young, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones, and Luke Shaw. Although I would like to see Eric Bailly in place of Jones. A midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, and Paul Pogba, with the Frenchman in a more advanced position, seems likely as Pogba has been a lot better in this role, achieving five goals and five assists in his last six appearances.

Solskjaer has confirmed that Alexis Sanchez will play a part against Arsenal. I would like to see him utilised on the right-wing with Anthony Martial on the left and in-form Marcus Rashford leading the line once again. Recently, Jesse Lingard has been preferred on the right, which could be the case as a lack of football may see the Chilean rusty, despite reports of him impressing his teammates in training. Romelu Lukaku will probably be benched as he’s not offered what Rashford has recently, which is worrying.

Match Prediction: United to hit Arsenal where it hurts to continue momentum needed to oust them from the top four race this season?

United owe it to the supporters to ensure they leave North London with a place in the fifth round of the Emirates FA Cup this season. Arsenal has won the FA Cup more times than any other club, which United could have matched if they turned up against Chelsea in the final last season. This season, the players have let the supporters down at times and that needs to be repaid with a good performance at the Emirates again. There will be another visit to the Emirates in March.

Under Solskjaer, the confidence in this side has been high, even when they were not playing well. United beat Reading and Brighton when they were not playing well recently, which gives us memories of the United of old, who played poorly many times but managed, most of the time, to get the result they desired. The FA and the BBC may have screwed United supporters over by selecting this game for television, playing it on a Friday evening. However, it gives United three days of recovery before facing Burnley.

Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United

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copyright: JW

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