Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted he has “not had an easy week” as he faces up to Manchester United’s FA Cup quarter-final with Arsenal at Old Trafford this evening.
Although Arsene Wenger has been centre stage following the row over Robin van Persie’s red card in Barcelona and the subsequent decision by UEFA to charge the Gunners boss with improper conduct, it only mirrors the difficulties Ferguson encountered with his observations about Martin Atkinson after Premier League defeat at Chelsea 11 days ago.
Ferguson must answer an FA charge about that himself but by imposing a media blackout around the weekend encounter with Liverpool, when United were beaten 3-1, the Scot has had to endure more negative publicity about his own club.
Little wonder, when asked whether he had any sympathy for Wenger at United’s Carrington training complex yesterday morning, Ferguson turned the question back on himself.
“I have sympathy for myself. I didn’t have an easy week myself,” he said.
Under the circumstances, Ferguson probably took a wise course of action in avoiding further discussion of any controversy.
Of far more immediate importance is ensuring his side do not suffer a third successive defeat, something the Red Devils have not endured since May 2001.
Given the feelgood factor that would be achieved by beating the side now breathing right down United’s neck in the championship race, it is no surprise Ferguson has pledged to field his strongest available side despite the counter-attraction of a Champions League tie with Marseille on Tuesday.
And no shock either to have the United boss emphasising the positives after a traumatic few days.
“You have to look forward,” he said. “You never go through a season where everything is rosy and this has happened a few times. It is just another day in the history of Manchester United.
“When you get the bad moments, you have to recover. There are a lot of challenges ahead for the rest of the season. We have big opportunities.
“It is terrific to be involved in the middle of March. Every game you play is of importance.
“There is (today), then Tuesday’s game against Marseille, after that it is Bolton in a league game. It goes on and on.”
Although Ferguson is delighted to be involved on three fronts, his problem is that too many senior players are not involved with as many as 10 possibly missing against Arsenal.
The latest absentee is Nani, who was on the wrong end of a vicious challenge by Jamie Carragher at Liverpool that left him with a deep gash to his leg and led to a public apology from the former England defender.
Nani has already been ruled out of today’s tie, although given the manner of his treatment, Ferguson is confident the winger will be fit to return immediately after the international break.
“We have managed to stitch it, which is great news,” he said.
“What we are guarding against is infection but the swelling has gone down a great deal.
“It is very difficult to say when he will be back but we do have a two-week break after next Saturday. He will be ready for the return of that, that’s for sure.”
Ferguson also confirmed neither Rio Ferdinand nor Park Ji-sung, whose recovery from calf and hamstring injuries respectively is taking longer than anticipated, are set for a comeback this weekend.
Antonio Valencia’s return is also on hold, although the Ecuador international did feature in a behind-closed-doors game earlier this week and Ferguson does not feel it will be long before he is plunged back into the fray.
“Antonio is difficult to assess because he has been out for such a long time,” said Ferguson.
“He has been training very well and is taking part in a few practice matches between the players.
“It is deciding when we can put him into the cut-and-thrust of a game. There is a question mark over the timing but at some point, we are going to have to try it.
“It won’t be (tonight). Hopefully it will be quite soon.”
Ryan Giggs is determined not to go overboard with the inquests into United’s back-to-back defeats.
He did not get carried away when the Red Devils were on their 29-game unbeaten run and he feels the key to emerging from this mini-slump is to retain the same even-handed approach.
“You try to keep a level head no matter what is happening,” he said. “If you are on a 10-game winning streak or have lost a couple of games, you need to keep the same calmness and not get too carried away.
“Criticism comes with the territory. We have had two defeats. Outside the club, people are thinking ‘what is wrong?’
“The only way to stop them saying that is to do it on the pitch. That is what we intend to do, starting against Arsenal.”
It has not been the best fortnight for Giggs to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his debut and a record-breaking 607th league appearance.
Another accolade will come his way today when he is afforded the honour of a banner hanging from the Stretford End.