On any other weekend, Arsenal's 1-5 defeat at Anfield would certainly have been the most humiliating result of the round but under the circumstances, Manchester United's 2-2 draw with Fulham at Old Trafford was arguably just as embarrassing.
For the Gunners, their capitulation right at the start of the encounter with Liverpool was disheartening to say the least. In a game of such high stakes, they were well and truly beaten with only 20 minutes on the clock having conceded four goals without reply. The defense in particular was nonexistent and they may consider themselves fortunate not to have leaked more goals.
On the back of a disappointing result
On the other hand, United came from behind to draw the game against Fulham but were seconds away
|Arsenal's PL fixtures from March 16
|Mar 16||Tottenham Hotspur (A)|
|Mar 22||Chelsea (A)|
|Mar 29||Manchester City (H)|
|Apr 5||Everton (A)|
from claiming a win before their nervy defense gave way again. Meanwhile, the lack of invention in the opposing half was shameful as they pumped in 81 crosses on the night for lack of a better idea. Given the weakened nature of the away side’s line-up who were bottom of the table and the fact that Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata started for the hosts, the result was inexcusable.
Neither side have too much time to dwell in their misery though as they face each other on Wednesday night at the Emirates Stadium. It’s a difficult fixture for both teams purely because of the intense rivalry that has been reignited of late following Van Persie’s move to United in the summer of 2012. However, it also presents both clubs with an opportunity to respond strongly.
Arsenal will be desperate for a win in order to keep their title hopes alive. While that may seem like an exaggeration given that they are only a point behind Chelsea at the top of the table, their upcoming fixtures in the league tells a different story. With Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton to play on the bounce from March 16 onwards, the game against United is, quite bizarrely, one of their more winnable fixtures.
Van Persie's transfer rekindled an intense rivalry
For United though, even a win by itself isn’t enough to keep their hopes of a top four spot alive. That ship has seemingly sailed for the defending champions even at this stage of the season barring a colossal collapse from Liverpool. What the Red Devils will seek to salvage against Arsenal is hope, not for a Champions League spot but hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The draw against Fulham would have drained them mentally and for the first time this season, certain sections of the Old Trafford faithful visibly began to turn on David Moyes not only because of the result but the manner of it.
United need to instill hope in themselves and their fans and promote the belief that progress is just around the corner, that they can play better football and that they will be back amongst the Premier League’s elite come next season.
The managers will have plenty to prove as well as their tactical acumen has come under question lately. Arsene Wenger has been criticized for not having a plan B after they were mercilessly dismantled by Liverpool’s high-pressing and counter attacks.
Tactical acumen in doubt
Meanwhile Moyes has been guilty of stubbornly persisting with a 4-4-2 system while his decision to play Mata down the right wing has come in for plenty of flack. The obscene amount of crosses United attempted against Fulham was damning evidence of their lack of progress as far as their style of play is concerned.
It’s not all down to the managers though. Both sets of players will be keen to redeem themselves after their last outing. The character of Arsenal’s players has been in doubt over the years and as they enter the most trying period of their season yet, there’s certainly no lack of cynics around this time either.
Many believe that the Londoners are due for their annual capitulation and it’s up to the players to silence their doubters. Mesut Ozil in particular has come under heavy criticism for going missing in the big games and the German is certainly due a significant performance.
Ozil needs to show up
Confidence in the United camp is unmistakably at an all-time low. Repeated reports of a ‘massive overhaul’ of personnel in the summer can’t be helpful either. However, it’s in times like these that some teams choose to bond and pull together in adversity. That’s precisely what’s needed in the red half of Manchester at the moment and putting up a united front away to Arsenal would be the perfect start.
While Arsenal have glory in their sights, United can ill afford to sink any lower. For very different reasons, both sides need to respond and deliver a strong performance. The hosts will no doubt start as favourites but they must show the desire and initiative to go for the kill while the away side would do well to simply show signs of progress, resolve and belief.
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