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The FA Cup fourth-round kicks off with a bang on Friday night when Manchester Utd travel to the Emirates for the tie of the round. With neither side challenging for the Premier League title, the FA Cup represents a genuine chance of silverware for both, and so while some teams may use the cup to give game time to squad players, this one could see both teams at full strength.
It has all the ingredients of a cup classic and, with United on the crest of a wave right now having won seven games on the bounce since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solkjaer, this is one the Red Devils will fancy. Arsenal though – who are just emerging from a wobble, after seeing their 22-game unbeaten run come to an end – will also be confident that their fine home form will be enough to see them through to round five.
TOP TIP! – Man Utd to win 3-2 @ +2500 / Pogba to score 2 or more goals @ +1200
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The first thing to say is we should expect goals – it’s five years since these two sides played out a goalless draw – and with the winner-takes-all nature of cup football virtually guaranteeing an attacking game between two quality sides.
In terms of team news, United expect Alexis Sanchez to be fit to return to action against his old club – having missed the last two games through injury – but it’ll be a late call on defenders Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo, with Smalling and Rojo both having returned to training after recent injuries. Shaw, meanwhile, was taken ill in the warm-up before last weekend’s 2-1 win over Brighton and was replaced by Diogo Dalot, who may deputise again this weekend. Solskjaer will, however, be without the services of Marouane Fellaini who is expected to be out for three to four weeks with a calf injury.
For their part, Arsenal were dealt a severe blow early in the week with the news that Hector Bellerin will miss the rest of the season after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament during last Saturday’s home win over Chelsea. He now joins fellow long-term absentees Rob Holding and Danny Welbeck in the Arsenal treatment room, but the good news for the Gooners is that former United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan is back in training. He won’t however be fit for this weekend.
Unai Emery’s generally look in good shape though and will be looking to tap back into the form that not only saw them beat Chelsea last time out, but which also took them on that impressive 22-game unbeaten run, which included 13 consecutive victories in all competitions. Defeats away at Southampton and West Ham and a horrible 5-1 hammering at Anfield threatened to derail their season but the ship appears to have been steadied and even through the sticky patch the home form stood up well.
Emery will point to home wins over Tottenham and Chelsea as a source of inspiration and also confirmation that at the Emirates they are a match for anyone, and the fact the Gunners have won the FA Cup in three of the last five seasons. Last season, in the final throes of the Arsene Wenger reign, they crashed out in the third round against Nottingham Forest but this time round a potential banana skin at Blackpool was comfortably overcome with an easy 3-0 win.
Solkjaer’s team talk will have a rather different tone to Emery’s and, as well as asking for more of the same from his players, he will also be pointing to United’s excellent recent record against the Gunners, having lost to them just five times in almost 11 years in all competitions – an impressive record, which includes eight Premier League wins at the Emirates
In United’s most recent visit there – back in December 2017 – goals from Antonio Valencia, Jesse Lingard (2) and some goalkeeping heroics from David De Gea, saw them win 3-1.
Key to Arsenal’s fate will be leading scorer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who with 14 Premier League goals to his name already this season has put himself up alongside Harry Kane and Mo Salah in the race for the Golden Boot. Alongside him, Alexandre Lacazette and midfielder Aaron Ramsey combine to offer an additional threat and between them, as well as chipping in with goals themselves, have assisted in 12 of Aubameyang’s goals.
For United, the load is shared more equally, especially since the arrival of Solkjaer, and as well as breathing new life into Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, the more attacking, laissez-faire approach has seen goals coming from all four quarters. In short, this new iteration of United is exciting and full of goals and we’re not sure if Arsenal’s improving but still creaky back-line will be able to contain them.
If this was a Premier League game, we’d be expecting it to be tight, with Emery asking his team to stay compact and deny Rashford, Pogba and co time and room in the open spaces of the Emirates, but with this being the FA Cup, while the Gunners will be keen not to concede early on, they will be more expansive.
As such, we can see them stretching United and it would be no surprise to see them take the lead – possibly through Aubameyang +400 to be first goalscorer – but we think that in a cup-tie, with the emphasis on going toe-to-toe, United simply have the firepower to out-score Arsenal.
We think, for this same reason, it will be end-to-end and entertaining, so we are going to stick our necks out and go for a thrilling 3-2 to United +2500 with BetVictor, with Pogba getting a double +1200 with Bet365.
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