PREVIEW - United eye hat-trick of cup defeats for Arsenal

LONDON Thu Mar 10, 2011 7:44am IST

Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas (front) reacts at the end of their Champions League soccer match against Barcelona at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas (front) reacts at the end of their Champions League soccer match against Barcelona at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona March 8, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Albert Gea

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LONDON (Reuters) - Two weeks ago Arsenal were dreaming of a quadruple but by Saturday evening after their FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford they could be reduced to chasing just the Premier League title.

Arsenal were surprisingly beaten in the League Cup final by Birmingham City, knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona and missed a chance to close on United in the Premier League when they drew 0-0 at home with Sunderland.

Manager Arsene Wenger, bristling with fury at the red card for Robin van Persie that he felt contributed to their 3-1 loss in the Nou Camp, must refocus his energy as he seeks his first trophy since winning the FA Cup in 2005.

With United also standing in the way of the Premier League title and the two teams due to meet in the Emirates next month, Saturday's game is a chance to gain a psychological advantage.

Arsenal have not won at Old Trafford since 2006, losing there in the league, Champions League and FA Cup, a 4-0 thrashing in 2008.

They are likely to be without Cesc Fabregas after the captain aggravated a hamstring strain against Barcelona and will definitely miss first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after he dislocated a finger.

With Theo Walcott also likely to miss out and Andrey Arshavin struggling for form, it looks a tough task for Arsenal, also beaten 1-0 at Old Trafford in December.

"We've we got to pick ourselves up, we have to go there on Saturday and get a win," midfielder Jack Wilshere said. "We are still in two competitions and we want a trophy."

MINI-SLUMP

United have also experienced a mini-slump with back-to-back league defeats at Chelsea and Liverpool but they remain a formidable force at home, where they have won 13 and drawn one of 14 league games this season.

The record 11-times Cup winners will be without winger Nani on Saturday after he suffered a cut shin in the 3-1 Liverpool defeat but Alex Ferguson's team plans are likely to remain a secret if the manager maintains a media blackout he imposed in the wake of the two league defeats.

Reading are the only remaining club from outside the Premier League in the competition after the Championship (second division) side beat Everton at Goodison Park to reach the last eight for the second successive season.

They face a tough task to go any further, however, as they visit Manchester City on Sunday.

City have probably given up any realistic hope of winning the league but the Cup offers a great opportunity for their first silverware since 1976.

After waiting 48 years for a cup success Birmingham are now eyeing two in one season as they host Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

Birmingham climbed out of the relegation zone with a 1-1 draw at Everton on Wednesday and manager Alex McLeish faces a difficult juggling act with a series of crunch games against relegation rivals on the horizon.

Two more clubs taking a break from the relegation fight are Stoke City and West Ham United, who meet in the Midlands on Sunday.

Stoke, who have never reached the final, lost to Chelsea in the quarter-finals last season but have a better chance this time to make the semis for the first time since 1972.

West Ham, who lost to Birmingham in the League Cup semi-finals, are back in the relegation zone and will have mixed views on another drain on their resources.

(Editing by Ed Osmond; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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