Ryan Giggs scored one of the more memorable goals in FA Cup history with his slalom run through the Arsenal defense in a semi-final tie in 1999. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
On Saturday evening, Arsenal FC travel to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United FC in a FA Cup quarter-final tie. Both sides have recently dealt with disappointment, injury, and extremely congested fixture lists. Arsenal was eliminated this past week from the UEFA Champions League by FC Barcelona and also recently lost the League Cup final to Birmingham City at Wembley a few weeks back. The Gunners trail United by three points in the Barclays Premier League, but the North London side have a game in hand. The Reds come into the tie off their first losing streak of the season after defeats by Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC in league play. These two sides have met once this season back in December in league play when a Park Ji-Sung 1st half header was enough to give his side a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.
As previously mentioned, injuries are a major concern for both sides. United will be without Nani as the Portuguese winger received a severe gash on his leg after a horrific challenge from Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher at Anfield last weekend. Nani will miss United's next three matches, but he's expected to return after the upcoming international break. Owen Hargreaves continues to be out and Anderson is likely to unavailable as well. Park, Rio Ferdinand, Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen, and Jonny Evans are all nearing return but their availability for this tie is unlikely.
Arsenal will be without the services of their skipper Cesc Fabregas, as the Spaniard has a recurring hamstring injury. In addition, the Gunners will be without recent No. 1 goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesney after he suffered a dislocated finger and tendon damage in the defeat to Barcelona. Defender Thomas Vermaelen and goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski continue to be out as well. Furthermore, the status of Alex Song and Theo Walcott remain uncertain.
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Guessing lineups is a difficult task because of the injury concerns for both sides and the gauging of their ambitions for the FA Cup. United face Olympique de Marseille on Tuesday evening for the return leg of their Champions League match-up and that undoubtedly will be prioritized. Arsenal have been playing two matches a week for sometime now and they may have shifted their focus to league play after their failed endeavors in Europe and in the League Cup final. However, it's also quite possible that they see a 'double' as their chance for redemption and to still make this season a glorious one. United have lost their past two matches while playing in a '4-4-2' shape and with the lack of available wide players, I fully expect manager Sir Alex Ferguson to play in a '4-3-3/4-5-1' hybrid shape. Fergie has stated that "we will play our best available team."
My guess is that Ryan Giggs gets rested and doesn't start in anticipation of the match versus Marseille, but likely will be available as a substitute. Youngsters Gabriel Obertan and Bebe have disappointed with their recent opportunities but with the lack of available wide players, it's possible that one of them could be called upon for the match. I expect either Dimitar Berbatov or Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez to lead the line in the attack and for Wayne Rooney to be tasked out on the left flank. Similar to Giggs, I would guess that Paul Scholes doesn't start this match but is available as a substitute.
For your viewing pleasure, here is Giggs tearing Arsenal apart...
Ryan Giggs Goal- FA CUP Semifinal vs Arsenal '99 (via jlo8720)
Odds: Manchester United Even, Draw 9/4, Away 11/4
Prediction: Manchester United 2-2 Arsenal (Replay forced)
SB Nation's Arsenal blog: The Short Fuse