16 February 2015

FA Cup 6th Round: Rooneys and Falcaos and van Persies, oh my!

Man U. That's who we'll face in the FA Cup quarterfinal. To go by the reactions on twitter, reddit, and other platforms, we've been handed a death-sentnence, and there's little left to do other than reprise the role we played in the 8-2 thrashing we suffered back in 2011, or, failing that, to once again succumb meekly to the hoodoo that is Old Trafford. We could have drawn Aston Villa or Reading or West Brom—thank all that is holy that we didn't draw Bradford or Blackburn—but, no, we had to face Manchester effin' United. Even against Liverpool, we might find comfort in reminding ourselves of how well we beat them last season in the fifth round. Against Man U, at Old Trafford no less, we're apparently already ousted.

C'mon, ref, he's bullying me!
Really? Is that the mindset to which we're reduced? Are Man U such a bogeyman that the mere mention of them is enough to reduce us to such mealy-mouthed wrecks? Yes, I'm well-aware of our recent history against them and how much of a Waterloo Old Trafford in particular has been, but where's your steel? Where's your sense for vengeance? If we're going to wallow around in the muck of history, let's remind ourselves of a few historical tidbits: we've won the Prem at Old Trafford. We've won not one but two FA Cup matches there as well. For those who hold up history as an ineluctable script that controls the future, let it also be know that the last time that Man U, Liverpool, and Arsenal made it to the FA Cup quarterfinals was 1979—when Arsenal won it. Against Man U.

However, for as much as history matters, it's not the same as fate. Just because we've struggled of late at Old Trafford (and against Man U generally) doesn't mean that the result of the match on 7 March is already decided. Far from it. I'd daresay that we'll have to work harder to overcome our own mentality around Man U than we will to overcome Man U itself. Yes, they currently sit above us on the table, a whole two points above us, and they boast a fair-few names of an intimidating nature, at least on paper: Rooney. Falcao. Van Persie. However, on the pitch, they're paper-tigers, and the sooner we set aside the inferiority complex that besets us, the sooner we'll best these bastards.

How, after all, has Man U gotten through to this round? All three of their goals against Preston North End came through dubious, diabolical circumstances—Rooney obstructed the keeper on the first, from an offside position to boot; on the second, Fellaini shoved a defender to head the ball down; and on the third, Rooney dove deeper than Jacques Cousteau to earn a penalty that sealed the outcome. Of course, before that, Man U needed a replay at Old Trafford to overcome League 2 Cambridge after slogging its way past League 1 Yeovil in the third round. Long story short, this is a squad that is ekeing out results by the narrowest of margins.

Yes, you might say, but we still lost to them at the Emirates, and that's the closest comparison we can make. Fair enough. Without grasping at straws, it's worth mentioning that Fellaini was again involved in a shove in the area that led to a goal; he pushed Gibbs into the onrushing Szczęsny, leading to a scramble that ended in the still-prone Gibbs deflecting an other-wise errant shot into the net. Szczęsny would have to leave the pitch as a result of the collision.

However, I'm not here to dwell on those details. I know that even mentioning them makes it looks like I'm finding excuses and loopholes. I am here to point out that we're more than capable of overcoming this Man U squad. We're not playing against the last decade's worth of results. Man U don't start the match with a bonus-goal on the basis of that. The mental block is the issue. Might it have been preferable to face Preston instead? Arguably, but look at the trouble they gave Man U. Bradford, another League 1 side we might remember, won at Stamford Bridge in stunning fashion.

Given a choice between a hungry, inspired side like Bradford, and a complacent, predictable side like Man U, I'm choosing Man U. If anything, the pressure's on them. They're the presumptive favorites. They're the ones with the so-called psychological edge. Let them content themselves to say that it's been almost ten years since we've won at Old Trafford.

As to us, I have to say I'm more than a bit disappointed. From what I gathered, many of you have already decided that we're fated to lose thanks to some kind of wizardry from van Persie as if history is doomed to repeat itself ad nauseum. Where's your bottle? If you've lost it, crawl on back to the crib and see if you can find it. Last season, we saw fit to send off the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool, and Everton on our way to winning the cup. If you thought we'd defend it by waltzing our way past lower sides, sod off and go support Bayern. 'Round these parts, last I checked, we relish a bit of actual competition. We had to know that we might have to face Liverpool or Man U in the quarterfinal if not later. I'd love nothing more than to defeat Man U on our way to winning the FA Cup one more time, allowing Arsène a chance to eclipse Fergie in the annals of Prem history.

In other words, Man U, bring it.