Arsenal will attempt to banish the disappointment of their UEFA Champions League exit on Saturday when they travel to Old Trafford for an FA Cup quarter-final showdown with Manchester United.
After boldly stating last month that his team were ready to challenge for an unprecedented quadruple, Arsene Wenger will be left with only the Premier League to play for if they are beaten on Saturday. A shock defeat in the League Cup final to Birmingham was followed by Tuesday's chastening masterclass in the Camp Nou at the hands of Barcelona, where the Gunners lost 3-1 on the night, 4-3 on aggregate.
The rancorous aftermath of that defeat has not been able to mask the reality that Arsenal were well beaten over the two legs, and Wenger now has to pick his side up swiftly for another daunting assignment away from home. Arsenal have not beaten Manchester United for three years and in matches at Old Trafford their record is even worse, stretching back five years to 2006.
Another defeat on Saturday, against a Manchester United side who are coming off consecutive losses to Chelsea and Liverpool, and the doubts about Arsenal's ability to prevail in pressure games will resurface. Wenger has vowed to field his strongest available side, believing that Arsenal desperately need a morale-boosting win to get their season on track.
"At the moment we need that kind of big win, it would help us because we have been hurt severely recently. We are running after a win of that type," Wenger said this week. "We will try to win. I have said since the start of the season we will go for all the competitions. We have two left.
"We lost in the last minute in the League Cup final and played the super-favourites in the Champions league and lost in special circumstances. We want to change our luck a bit. We will not be overloaded with matches, that is the advantage. We have to keep our confidence levels and look at the results we have had recently. Since November this team has taken off."
Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas is ruled out through injury along with winger Theo Walcott. United manager Alex Ferguson meanwhile broke his media blackout this week by saying that he had no excuses for his side's poor performance against Liverpool on Sunday, when they were beaten 3-1. "I have no excuses for the poor performance at Liverpool, who were the better team and deserved their win," Ferguson said. "I was disappointed because we didn't perform to the level I expect and which, to be fair, we generally achieve."
Arsenal had "rearranged the pecking order" this season after emerging as genuine title challengers ahead of Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City, Ferguson said. "Arsene Wenger and his players have rearranged the pecking order somewhat to come storming through to lie in second place," Ferguson said. "Clearly they represent the main danger to us achieving our ambitions in a revival of the rivalry of a few years ago, and I am sure they regard us as the major threat to their hopes."
United's showdown with Arsenal is the standout fixture of the quarter-final line-up. League Cup winners Birmingham face Bolton at home in Saturday's early kick-off, while Stoke face resurgent West Ham at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday. The fourth quarter-final sees Manchester City face Championship giant-killers Reading at Eastlands.