FA Cup exit could be blessing for United

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LONDON - Manchester United can capitalise on their absence from the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time in 26 years by going back to the top of the Premier League on Saturday.

While most of the Premier League are playing in the FA Cup, the champions meet relegation-threatened Hull City at Old Trafford in the weekend's only scheduled Premier League game with United eyeing first place for the first time since mid-October.

Victory for United, knocked out of the Cup by Leeds United three weeks ago, will also end Arsenal's short-lived reign at the top after the Gunners dislodged Chelsea on Wednesday following their 4-2 win over Bolton Wanderers.

Arsenal lead with 48 points from 22 matches, ahead of Chelsea (48 pts) on goals scored. United are third with 47 points from their 22 games.

Hull meanwhile, despite the heroics of their goalkeeper Boaz Myhill who almost-singlehandedly won them a point in a goalless draw at Tottenham Hotspur last week, are in trouble in the relegation zone and will need another inspired performance to take anything away from Old Trafford.

For United, Saturday's game is sandwiched between the two legs of their League Cup semi-final against Manchester City.

Having lost the first leg 2-1 at City on Tuesday, United are gearing up for Wednesday's second leg at Old Trafford and manager Alex Ferguson could refresh his team for Hull's visit.

Mame Biram Diouf, 22, who has made two substitute appearances for United, scoring once, could be in contention to face Hull after hitting a hat-trick in the reserves' 4-0 win over Sunderland on Thursday.

The Senegal-born striker, signed from Norwegian side Molde, also scored in United's 3-0 win over Burnley last week.

Hull have signed Egyptian striker Amr Zaki on a loan move from Zamalek until the end of the season but he will not feature at United as he is short of match fitness.

Hull were training at a warm weather camp in Tenerife this week but because Saturday's match has been brought forward three days, winger Jimmy Bullard will probably miss the game because his knee injury needs more time to heal.