Martin Lipton's FA Cup quarter-final preview and predictions

The Daily Mirror's chief football writer Martin Lipton will be here every Friday lunchtime to preview and predict the outcome of the weekend's big fixtures. And come back the following Monday when Laptop will provide his expert analysis of what unfolded...

Game of the weekend: Manchester United v Arsenal (Saturday, 5.15pm)

It is one of the defining images of the FA Cup, a moment recalled in song by every Manchester United fan...

"Vieira, whoooooah. Vieira, whoooooooah. He gave Giggsy the ball. And Arsenal won f..." - you can fill in the blanks yourself, but if there was a quarter-final designed to ensure the old trophy got some attention back, it is surely a match-up between United and Arsenal.

Neither Sir Alex Ferguson nor Arsene Wenger would have put the FA Cup at the top of his priority list at the start of the season, and for Fergie it is very much third of the three remaining silverware options.

Yet Arsenal's Champions League demise, and Wenger's promise to field his strongest available side, suggests the Gunners chief is aware events at Old Trafford tomorrow could have a huge effect on the rest of the campaign.

Three points behind leaders United in the league, but with a game in hand and with Fergie's men to visit the Emirates at the start of May, Arsenal very much have the destiny of the title in their own hands.

Land a blow in United's backyard tomorrow, proving they have immediately bounced back from the anguish of Tuesday night in the Nou Camp, and Arsenal may believe they have developed title-winning momentum.

Of course, winning in the FA Cup at Old Trafford does not always bring the full reward.

Back in 2003, in a match overshadowed by the subsequent revelations that Fergie had kicked a boot at David Beckham and cut him above the eye, Arsenal won 2-0, with Wenger convinced it would be a significant moment for the title race - just as the 1999 semi-final replay at Villa Park had been pivotal for United.

In fact, Arsenal capitulated under a late physical bombardment by Bolton to hand the initiative - and effectively - the crown back to United, with their FA Cup final success over Southampton scant consolation.

After so long without any silverware, though, even lifting the FA Cup might soften the blow for the Arsenal fans who have already seen two trophies slip through their grasp in less than a fortnight. Were a third to go missing tomorrow, it might be a devastating injury.

United, with Tuesday's Champions League date with Marseille looming, might be more likely to field a shadow side - although surely much one stronger than the XI who were so lucky to clamber past non-League Crawley in round five.

You might expect no Rooney, Berbatov, Scholes or Vidic, with Nani also ruled out, although there may be a sighting of Antonio Valencia after his long recovery from a broken leg.

If so, Arsenal will have a huge opportunity - if they are good enough and mentally strong enough.

Best of the rest

Sixth-round weekend means, of course, three other ties, two of which look real either-way calls.

Birmingham already know what it takes to lift a trophy, of course, but they will have to be as good as they were against Arsenal at Wembley to overcome a Bolton side who have already won at Wigan and Fulham to get this far.

Owen Coyle's men have been a refreshing and attractive attacking force all season, with Ivan Klasnic taking up the scoring slack recently as Johan Elmander has mislaid his shooting boots.

Alex McLeish's men, too, know that the pain of relegation would more than match the joy of the Carling Cup triumph, and with the pressure now on at the bottom of the table they might prefer not to have to split their resources between two competitions.

If Birmingham are as subdued as they were in last week's defeat by West Brom, it will be hard to see them overcoming the Trotters, who are poised to match their run of 2000 and get to a Wembley semi-final.

Sunday's first game looks equally nip and tuck, despite West Ham putting three past Stoke in the league last weekend.

It will be very different at the Britannia, with the Potters - in front of the loudest set of fans in the country - seeking their first semi-final appearance since 1972.

However, Hammers boss Avram Grant does have a remarkable record of getting sides to finals - Chelsea in the Carling Cup and Champions League in 2008, Portsmouth in the FA Cup last year - and West Ham look a very different proposition now Thomas Hitzlsperger is fit to take his place alongside Scott Parker in the midfield.

Demba Ba's goal threat has certainly helped and that may just give the Hammers the edge, even if they might need an Upton Park replay date to clinch their Wembley appearance.

Manchester City, not exactly fresh after their Europa League trip to Kiev, will be the team under pressure at Eastlands against a Reading side who shocked Everton in round five and have absolutely nothing to lose.

It's hard to see the Championship side upsetting City's millionaires though, and that elusive first piece of silverware since 1976 will look tantalisingly close if they can do what boss Roberto Mancini expects them to do.

Laptop's predictions in full (all kick-offs 3pm on Sunday, unless stated):

FA Cup

Birmingham v Bolton (Sat 12.45pm) Away win

Manchester United v Arsenal (Sat 5.15pm) Away win

Stoke v West Ham (Sun 2pm) Draw

Manchester City v Reading (Sun 4.45pm) Home win

How do you think Laptop will do this week? Let us know by leaving a comment below...

Fancy winning £3,000 for FREE this month? Play Mirror Football Streak for your chance to win cash prizes! Start predicting now!

williamhill.com

Your comments

Blogs & Categories