Breaking from top-4 tussle, Man United hosts Arsenal in cup
LONDON (AP) — The priority is returning to the Champions League for Manchester United. Winning the FA Cup, though, would provide a bonus prize at the end of a first stuttering season in England for coach Louis van Gaal.
Knock out Arsenal in the quarterfinals and the path to Wembley Stadium would become a lot smoother. Liverpool, which hosts Blackburn on Sunday, is the only other Premier League power still in the competition after a string of upsets in earlier rounds.
And United, which is a point behind third-place Arsenal in the league, overcame the London club 2-1 in November.
Now comes the Old Trafford cup meeting on Monday.
“If we beat them it is a big blow for them, but if they beat us it is a big blow for us,” Van Gaal said. “It is very important game, not only for the FA Cup, but also for the rat race.”
United, despite producing few convincing performances this season, has ground out wins and is still far better placed domestically than last season under David Moyes, when they failed to qualify for the Champions League.
“People are always going to question the biggest club in the world, but we just concentrate on ourselves,” United winger Ashley Young said. “We don’t listen to anyone else. We just listen to the manager and the staff at the club.”
While Van Gaal is yet to complete a season in England, Wenger has been at Arsenal for 19 years, despite winning only one trophy in the last nine years — the 2014 FA Cup.
“It can only be in England, I believe, where managers are so long committed with one club,” Van Gaal said.
Before United hosts Arsenal, the other three quarterfinals will have taken place. Here is a look at those games:
LIVERPOOL-BLACKBURN: Once Premier League rivals, Blackburn is spending its third season in the second tier, and sitting far from the promotion places in 10th place.
Liverpool, though, is back on the right track to qualify for the Champions League for a second successive season after going 12 games unbeaten in the league to rise to fifth.
Like United, though, finishing in the top four is a priority, but manager Brendan Rodgers is yet to win his first trophy in management.
ASTON VILLA-WEST BROM: Now out of the relegation zone, new Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood could book a trip to Wembley by repeating Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion when they meet again in the FA Cup on Saturday.
“We want to get to Wembley,” Sherwood said. “West Brom will have to improve to stop us getting there ... everyone can see we’re improving and the result (on Tuesday) is massive for us.”
BRADFORD-READING: Reading of the second tier is seeking its first FA Cup semifinal since 1927. For Bradford, the wait has been even longer, having last made the last four in 1911.
But third-tier Bradford has emerged as a cup specialist, reaching the 2013 League Cup final and advancing in the FA Cup this year by ousting Premier League leader Chelsea and then Sunderland.
“This is what being involved in football is all about, and the big teams from the Premier League will be casting very envious eyes on ourselves and Reading playing in an FA Cup quarterfinal on Saturday,” Bradford manager Phil Parkinson said.
“We are playing a team from a higher division, who have been in the Premier League twice in the last nine years, and we are enjoying testing ourselves against these types of teams.”
PREMER LEAGUE: There is just one topflight game this weekend. Tottenham and Queens Park Rangers are using early cup exits as a chance to play the game that was postponed when Spurs lost the League Cup final to Chelsea on Sunday.