Is this year going to be any different for Arsenal? Tomorrow will tell. As far as I see it, the season can go two ways:
Arsenal beat United tomorrow...
This would do a few things all of which would be important for Arsenal. Here are the ones that come quickly to mind:
- Provide a nice lift for Arsenal in the wake of the controversial Barca match in midweek.
- Keep them alive on multiple fronts which would reduce the pressure on them to win any specific match the league and those high-pressure matches is where they tend to break down the most.
- Give them some confidence that they can win an important match against a "big" opponent.
- Give them some confidence against United specifically going into their head to head match-up late in the season in the league which is likely to be very important to a title bid if Arsenal stay close.
- Further beat down a United team that is reeling from a rough stretch minus Rio Ferdinand (and now Nani)
- United's exit from the tournament would leave Man Citeh as the only high quality team left to challenge Arsenal for the FA Cup (granted it only took Birmingham to beat them for the Carling Cup so the lack of "big" opponents left may or may not be seen as an advantage)
- You have to think Arsenal's worse insecurities will be re-doubled that they just can't win the big one
- United would reclaim some lost confidence
- United would have the clear psychological advantage going into their possibly decisive league match
- Despite there being no change in the standings, you'd have to heavily discount Arsenal's chances of winning the league in addition to obviously not winning the FA Cup
- You also have to see a potential long-term consequence of an increased likelihood of Cesc leaving in the summer along with possibly Clichy whose name has come up as a potential want-away.
You can see the advantage whichever way you'd like
- Arsenal would be likely to have Cesc back for the rematch
- United would be equally likely to have Rio back for the rematch
- The rematch would be at the Emirates and United hasn't been good on the road at all this season in either the league or cup competitions
Sadly, my gut tells me that Chicharito is going to make the deciding play in the match with Arsenal falling again to a headed goal. I hope I'm wrong but if I were forced to make a prediction it would be 2-1 United with an early goal from RvP canceled out by a Rooney in the first 5 minutes of the second half and the winner at about the 85th minute by Chicharito from Giggs on a set piece. Arsenal will attack furiously for the final 5 minutes plus stoppage time but get nothing for their efforts. The post-match media themes will be the eternal excellence of Giggs (with accompanying "best of Giggs in the FA Cup" lists and video montages) and the breakout season from Chicharito (he's the most efficient scorer in the league you know).
Almost like you don't have to watch the match. That said, I know I'll be there hoping against hope that I have the above entirely wrong.
Enjoy - Neal