Arsene Wenger has said that he hopes to return "positive vibes" to his Arsenal side with a good result against Manchester United this afternoon.
His team travel to Old Trafford for the FA Cup sixth round match today after enduring a difficult last fortnight. Arsenal lost the League Cup final 13 days ago and were knocked out of the Champions League in midweek. Wenger acknowledged that Arsenal had suffered "disappointing results recently", but added that the same was true of United and that today's contest would be decided by whichever team reacted best.
After a run of 11 games undefeated in all competitions, Arsenal lost the Carling Cup final 2-1 to Birmingham City on 27 February. Extra-time was imminent when a defensive mistake gifted Obafemi Martins a winning goal in the penultimate minute. This Tuesday Arsenal were knocked out of the Champions League as they lost their last-16 second leg 3-1 in Barcelona. Wenger has since been charged with improper conduct by Uefa for comments allegedly made after the game. The Arsenal manager sees this afternoon's match as a promising opportunity to win back some momentum.
"My real problem," he said when discussing the match, "is to get the team back with positive vibes. And for us the game on that front is important because it can put us in the semi-final of the Cup." Arsenal were last in an FA Cup semi-final in 2009, but should they win today they will have another good chance for their first silverware since 2005.
Their opponents are themselves recovering from two significant defeats. While United remain at the top of the Premier League, they have lost their last two games: 2-1 away at Stamford Bridge and then 3-1 away at Anfield. Wenger recognised the similarity of the teams' recent results. "I think at the moment the two teams have got a little disappointment, disappointing results recently," he said. "So it's the one who deals the best with that who can come out on top. Man United lost two games, we just lost two as well, so it is how well we deal with that, that will certainly be vital."
Arsenal have already been to Old Trafford once this season, losing 1-0 in the League in December. Samir Nasri said that Manchester United's cautious tactics that day signified that they were scared of their visitors. When asked about this, Wenger suggested instead that Sir Alex Ferguson's approach was pragmatic. "They always play against us with three tight in midfield, and try to put pressure on us from midfield," Wenger said. "They had only Rooney up front, so I think they always set up against us to defend well, I wouldn't say they are scared. They have no reason to be scared because they have enough experience. They always have a realistic approach to the game."
Wenger was keen to distance himself from any suggestion that United are much weaker since the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in the summer of 2009. "If they have everybody available they have Anderson, Valencia and Nani," he pointed out. "They are still very efficient at the back, very solid. And when Man United gets in the final third they can always score goals, after they lost Ronaldo. I personally believe that Nani this year has made very good progress and has stepped up a lot. At home they score more goals than before, they are still a dangerous side, you feel always when they get in the final third they can score."
Arsenal will go into today's game without goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who will be out for six weeks with a finger injury sustained in the Nou Camp. The 20-year-old dislocated his finger and suffered tendon damage saving a Dani Alves free-kick. His compatriot Lukasz Fabianski will be out for the rest of the season, leaving Manuel Almunia as the only available goalkeeper. Wenger said that he would seek an emergency loan option, but that Almunia would start today; he praised Almunia's attitude as "very professional" and "very dignified" since losing his first-team place. Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Alexandre Song are also injured, although Robin van Persie is fit to play.