Arsenal will have to overcome their biggest rivals if they are to create history and reach the FA Cup final for a fourth consecutive time after Arsène Wenger's side were yesterday drawn to play Manchester United in the semi-final on 4 April.
The Nationwide League clubs in the draw, therefore, avoided the Premiership teams and will be represented at the Millennium Stadium on 22 May. In all likelihood either Millwall or Tranmere Rovers, who have to replay their quarter-final, or Sunderland will also be playing in the Uefa Cup next season as United and Arsenal will be featuring in the Champions' League, leaving a route to Europe via the runners-up spot at Cardiff.
The Arsenal v United tie is set to be staged at Villa Park with the other semi-final probably being played at Old Trafford although the venues have not been officially announced as yet. "I thought we would get Arsenal," said Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, yesterday. "You can smell these things, but at Villa Park, that's OK."
Ferguson has never lost an FA Cup semi-final during his time as United manager since 1986, with three of his five wins coming at Villa Park. "There's a closeness between the two sides that has been emphasised in the last few matches," Ferguson said of United and Arsenal. "Their form has been better than Manchester United this year, but Villa Park is a good venue for us."
The last time Arsenal and United met in the last four Ferguson's side were victorious when a spectacular Ryan Giggs goal in extra-time won the day and put United on course for the treble in 1999. Arsenal's Dennis Bergkamp will be eager to play in the forthcoming semi-final and make amends for his penalty miss in the closing stages against United that allowed the game to go to extra-time.
The last time the teams met in the competition came at the fifth-round stage last season. Arsenal won 2-0 at Old Trafford - a result which led to Ferguson kicking a boot accidentally into David Beckham's face in frustration in the dressing room.
Sunderland were the last team from outside the top flight to reach the FA Cup final when Malcolm Crosby's side were beaten 2-0 by Liverpool at Wembley in 1992.
This time, Mick McCarthy's side will face either Millwall or Tranmere - and Millwall's assistant manager, Ray Wilkins, believes his players will need no motivation at Prenton Park. "It's a breath-taking draw. We have an opportunity to play a team from our own division with the added carrot of the Millennium Stadium at the end of it," he said.
"It's going to be tough against Tranmere - they have an excellent cup pedigree. I felt we had done enough to win [at the New Den, which ended goalless on Sunday] and now we have to make sure we do come up with the goods."
McCarthy said: "We wanted to play one of the Nationwide League clubs and I'm sure Millwall and Tranmere wanted to play us."
FA CUP SEMI-FINALS
Sunderland v Millwall or Tranmere Rovers
Arsenal v Manchester United
Ties to be played Sunday, 4 April
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