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Arsenal v. Manchester United FA Cup preview: a new take on a classic

The two best FA Cup sides in history meet again.

Arsenal FC v Chelsea FC - Premier League
Arsenal and Manchester United in the FA Cup is appointment viewing.
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Arsenal and Manchester United are the two most decorated, most successful teams in FA Cup history (and it’s not close). The Gunners have won the most FA Cups (13) of any team, the Reds, the second most (12). Both have appeared in 20 finals.

The Gunners beat United in the 1978-79 final and the 2004-05 final. Arsenal have eliminated Manchester United from the competition 7 times. Manchester United have eliminated Arsenal from the competition 7 times.

Friday will be latest chapter in the storied rivalry, albeit with some new faces. Tomorrow’s match at the Emirates will be the first time since 1983 that this FA Cup fixture will not have at least one of Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson on the sidelines.

New Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has snapped the Reds out of their Jose Mourinho doldrums. They have yet to lose with Solskjær at the helm (7-0) and have scored 19 while conceding only 5. Paul Pogba in particular has benefited from the managerial change - he has scored 5 goals in 7 matches after managing a paltry 3 in 18 under Mourinho.

As a football fan, it’s great to see Pogba doing Pogba things. He can be a transcendent player when he is on his game, and the combination of more freedom to create (and less defensive responsibility) and not being managed by a man who called him a “virus” in the changing room seems to have done the trick. Of course as an Arsenal fan, I was rather enjoying the Mourinho version of Pogba that was helping keep United mired in the mid-table. In case you weren’t aware, the Reds have caught Arsenal in the standings.

United may be without the services of Marcus Rashford, who left their last match with a knee problem, and likely will also be missing Chris Smalling. Marouane Fellaini and Marcos Rojo are both definitely out. Some guy named Alexis Sanchez has returned from an extended layoff due to a hamstring injury and is expected to start.

Dinos Mavropanos is available for Arsenal for the first time since September and may feature should Unai Emery decide to rest any of his centerbacks. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has returned to training following his fractured metatarsal but is not yet match-fit. Hector Bellerin tore his ACL over the weekend and is out for the season.

As alluded to earlier, this will be a different Manchester United side from the one Arsenal drew 2-2 at Old Trafford in early December. Solskjær has his side playing an open, attacking style that could create problems for Arsenal. As we know, the Gunners have struggled defensively this season and being forced into playing either Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Stephan Lichtsteiner at right back probably won’t help things. For more on how Arsenal might line up, check out 06Nole’s breakdown.

The good news is Arsenal have played their best football against better teams this season, Unai Emery’s structured press seems to work best against teams that want to be on the ball and imposing their style/will on the match as opposed to against teams that sit back and allow Arsenal to dictate the tempo.

If Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka, and/or Matteo Guendouzi are able to limit Paul Pogba’s time and space on the ball (because, frankly, they won’t eliminate it completely), Arsenal have a very good chance to come away with a win tomorrow.

WHAT: Arsenal vs. Manchester United, FA Cup 4th Round

WHERE: The Emirates

WHEN: Friday, January 25th 11:55 AM PT | 2:55 PM ET | 7:55 PM BT

US TV: Streaming on ESPN+ ($).

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