Arsenal have had a topsy-turvy time of it since their calamity against Birmingham in the Carling Cup final a fortnight ago.
Victory against Leyton Orient seemed set to get them back to winning ways but a draw against Sunderland, with referee Anthony Taylor playing no small part in that, and defeat at the hands of Barcelona, see the Gunners flirting with relative disaster once more.
A loss against tight title rivals Manchester United this weekend will not only see them knocked out of the FA Cup, obviously, but deal a shattering mental blow with a tie against United in the league still to come.
The 2010-11 Manchester United side is something of a curiosity. Firstly, this is easily the weakest team Sir Alex Ferguson has fielded in years. Sure, Edwin va der Sar remains evergreen between the sticks, Nemanja Vidic is at his shirt-tugging, stubborn best, Nani is as creative as he is pathetically theatric and when Dimitar Berbatov scores, he tends to get many and Javier Hernandez has done well with his limited chances.
But that is where the good news ends. Giggs and Scholes show class and age in equal measure. Rio Ferdinand is a crock, Chris Smalling has promise but remains short of guile and composure, Rafael is begging for a lengthy ban, Carrick is Carrick and the poor Rooney has the benefit of tap-ins set up by Nani to thank for an acceptable goal-scoring return. Well that and a moment of inspiration against Manchester City.
Yet still, United are still pushing on three fronts, leading the league and favourites against Arsenal this weekend. That is further testament to the guile of Ferguson and his ability to instil a winning mentality in his teams.
Of course the back-to-back losses against Liverpool and Chelsea have exposed the team’s fragility and showed the rest of the Premier League what can happen if you take the game to United and put their central defensive pair under pressure.
Arsenal need to do that this weekend. A midfield of Wilshere, Eboue/Rosicky, Nasri and Denilson will have enough in it to boss their United counterparts. Especially if they maintain a high tempo. If Vidic plays, he will know refs are onto his shirt-tugging ways and with Mr Taylor’s shenanigans still fresh on the mind, Arsenal can expect a fairer deal from the match officials.
The key will be Van Persie, can he maintain the pressure upfront for Arsenal?
This article first appeared on www.newstime.co.za