Lee Dixon: Today's match might be in the FA Cup – but it could go a long way to deciding the title

The Weekend Dossier

Although the FA Cup is not the priority for either Manchester United or Arsenal, today's game at Old Trafford is of tremendous importance to both sides, given what has happened recently.

Arsenal travel north on the back of their deflating defeat to Barcelona, having gone out of two competitions in just over a week. Manchester United, however, have lost three of their last five games in the league, and what's more were comprehensively beaten by Liverpool in their last outing.

Sir Alex Ferguson might have other things on his mind right now, such as next week's Champions League second leg with Marseilles, but the form United have been in makes today's game a massive one for his team.

If they were coming off a run of 10 wins, then things might be different. But they have lost their last two games, to Chelsea and Liverpool, and need to get a result. They will be hugely disappointed at the moment. They had played so well in the first half at Chelsea, one of the best performances from them all season, but after halftime Chelsea got back into the game and went on to win it.

Then they were comprehensively outplayed by Liverpool in one of the biggest games of the season. I think Ferguson got the tactics completely wrong against Liverpool. He played 4-4-2 with two wingers, and Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick in midfield, and they were completely over-run in the middle. I lost count of the number of times Raul Meireles ran through from deep. I heard that Darren Fletcher was ill, but it was the formation that was wrong. I thought they got murdered out there.

Maybe Ferguson thought it was a key game, and after seeing Arsenal drop points to Sunderland he felt it could be a chance to put one hand on the Premier League trophy. You do get a feeling sometimes before a game that it could be a huge moment, and perhaps he felt he needed to go for it, with Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney up front, and Ryan Giggs and Nani on the wings, instead of putting three across the centre of midfield. Whatever the thinking behind it, it didn't work. They are on a poor run of form, that's for sure, but I don't think it's quite like it was in 1998, when I was part of the Arsenal team that came from 12 points back to win the title. In that season we won 13 games on the trot to win the league. I can't see the current Arsenal side doing that. They don't have that kind of mentality. I think 13 years ago the United players were looking at what we were doing and were worried. This season it is different – they will not be looking at anyone else but themselves. They have won it before and the players will be able to call on that experience in the coming weeks.

Arsène Wenger will pick the strongest side available today. Arsenal need to get some positive energy into their season, after what has been a miserable two weeks in which they have lost the Carling Cup final to Birmingham City and been put out of the Champions League by Barcelona. After all that, going out of the FA Cup to United would be another huge blow.

We must not forget this is a huge game in its own right – for a place in an FA Cup semi-final. But it could also have a big impact on the remainder of the season for both teams.

In some ways it reminds me of 1999, when United beat Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final replay thanks to Ryan Giggs' amazing goal, on their way to winning the treble. We were great rivals at the time and the title race was really tight. I honestly believe that if Dennis Bergkamp had managed to score that penalty at the end of the game, which would have won the tie, then we would have won the title that season. After we lost that game there were two or three days of disappointment, and then we rallied and said we needed to bounce back and win the league. But then things started to go against us a bit, we lost at Leeds in the penultimate game and although it came down to the last game of the season, United managed to beat Tottenham to win.

I'm sure the reverse was true at Old Trafford – when they were in trouble, like in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich – they had the memory of that FA Cup semi-final to draw on. I am a big believer in the importance of winning every game.

The two teams might not be playing for Premier League points today, but there is still an enormous amount at stake.

Five Asides

1. Redknapp need not fear Barcelona – Spurs are as good as anyone

Tottenham have done brilliantly to knock Milan out of the Champions League and it is thoroughly deserved for all the hard work the club have put in after being in the doldrums for a few years. Upstairs has sorted itself out, the manager has created a squad of attacking players who are good to watch – this does not happen overnight. The foundations were put in place and it has all come together reasonably quickly under Harry Redknapp. But it is part of a process that has taken the board years to get right. Spurs have been criticised for their defensive game on Wednesday night but when you have 180 minutes to beat the team that is top of Serie A it really doesn't matter how you do it. We already know that on their day they are capable of beating absolutely anyone, even possibly Barcelona.

2. United and Chelsea should ensure Arsenal are the odd ones out

I expect both Manchester United and Chelsea to come through their respective games with Marseilles and Copenhagen to make it three English teams in the Champions League quarter-finals. I want them all to get through, so I hope they don't draw each other in the next round. The best scenario would be for one of the three to make the final at Wembley, where they play Barcelona.

3. FA Cup final is proudest day for any footballer, regardless of club policy

The proof that teams don't place such priority on the FA Cup any more can be seen in the make-up of the four quarter-finals this weekend. The tournament is wide open this year, which is good news for supporters of those clubs still in it. The fact that the top teams rest some players has opened it up for the rest of the Premier League. I can only say that playing in the FA Cup final is one of the greatest days in the life of any footballer.

4. Turkish match-fixing looks more like good refereeing to me

I read the story about the alleged match-fixing so I checked out some footage on the internet of the recent games in Turkey. I saw a video of the 2-2 draw between Estonia and Bulgaria, and they all looked like penalties to me. One might just have been outside the penalty area but the others looked like good decisions.

5. Balotelli's grass allergy is unlucky, maybe he should take up surfing

I've heard a few excuses in my time but never anything like Mario Balotelli being allergic to grass. That's not an ideal situation for a professional footballer. It's like a surfer being allergic to salt.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried