The stage is set! Sharpen your pitch forks and light the torches! As we begin the journey to Old Trafford with last years result burning in our mind, 1 year of pent up frustration and embarrassment will be unleashed over 90 minutes plus “Fergie time” of fuel filled rivalry. Aside from the unsanctioned rape of last year this has always been a classic feature and I think it’s more of a battle between 2 men, rather than 2 teams. Wenger and Ferguson have locked horns over a decade now and both of these men know their counterpart inside out. However, sadly I must admit that in recent times Ferguson has had Wenger all figured out tactics-wise and I don’t expect to see much tactical deviation from the way these matches are usually fought. There will of course be the extra prickly situation of a certain dutchman playing against his former club but the less the players focus on this the better as it could be the distraction necessary for Arsenal to lose focus.
Traditionally Arsenal have gone all out attacking against United who generally sit back, soak up the pressure without conceding and hit hard on the counter-attack through one of their wings. Looking at United’s team I’d expect the same sort of scenario and I think one of the key battles in this will be whoever wins the lucky dip of playing Left Back and having to defend vs Valencia. The guy can be a certifiable nightmare to deal with and his accurate crosses into the box where Rooney and Van Persie will be waiting will be something Arsenal must be very wary of. I’d imagine Santos will be playing in the Left Back position and while defensively he possesses the physical strength if not the technical ability to make life difficult for Valencia it is the attacking side of things here that is far more worrying. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles the combination of Santos and Podolski on our left wing is far less potent than the combination play and chemistry that Podolski has with Gibbs playing behind him. The problem is however that the majority of Arsenal’s goals this season have come from this very partnership. So in a sense playing in our usual style of attacking down the left could see United punish us severely on the break. United may also employ the likes of Thomas Cleverly to man mark Arteta and try to pin him back deep in his own half and deny Arsenal the means to pass the ball out from defense, disrupting their flow. This is something that Chelsea did very effectively to us through Oscar and is definitely something to watch out for.
To this end I’d rather Arsenal attack United through the middle where traditionally they’ve simply clogged up the play and prevented us from playing our slick passing game so as to destroy our rhythm. Unfortunately since Walcott played 120 minutes vs Reading in that 12 goal thriller I think he’ll be to tired to start so that really only leaves Ramsey to play in Right Mid and his role is much more of a holding player designed to disrupt the opponents play on this wing rather than to create scoring opportunities so that really only leaves the center option with Ramsey drifting inwards and linking up with Cazorla, backed up by Wilshere’s runs forward from his double pivot role with the ever reliable Arteta. While I’d like to see something as radical as playing Cazorla at Right Wing and Ramsey in a Central role I don’t expect Wenger to deviate from his current setup and given this layout I’d expect us to attack through the middle rather than the suicidal option on the left. I’d also like to see Vermaelen placed at Left Back to stop Valencia in his tracks but again I don’t expect this and it will most likely be Santos that is given the nod.
The left wing coincidentally if we were to place an attacking player there, is far less of a consistent threat than the right. Ashley Young can have good games and then others where his positioning lets him down and ruins a promising United attacking move. Likewise Patrice Evra has his moments where he’s brilliant and ones he’d rather forget. This would allow us to play out the inevitable stalemate in the center and focus our attack on a single point. Once more this is unlikely but it’s worth considering and could make for a very unpredictable Arsenal attack. Manchester United have also been conceding plenty of goals with a defence that seems to be leaking despite looking quite solid on the face of it. I contribute most of this to the ongoing injury saga of their best defender Vidic and the fact that over the last year or so United have been going through a transition of very slowly phasing out the old veterans which have been stalwarts of the club for so many years and gradually introducing fresh young talents who are bound to make the odd mistake as they cement their positions in the team. Hopefully Giroud’s physical presence up front will add to these errors.
Manchester United Danger Men: They’re all dangerous but in particular we should watch Valencia, Van Persie and Rafael very closely. Van Persie is leading goal scorer and a huge threat regardless of how we feel about him. Cleverly in midfield can also be a suprise package and source of scoring opportunities for United.
Predicted Result: I think this will be quite close, both teams have strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited by the opposing team’s usual playing style. United have a great offense but lack a little defensively whereas Arsenal have a solid midfield but are lacking some offensive power and are having to rely on a 3rd choice keeper yet again. I’d say if United score first they have a strong chance of winning but otherwise I’d say a 2-2 draw with either team capable of a late 3-2 winner through impact subs like Arshavin,Walcott for Arsenal and Hernandez,Nani for United.
Expected Lineup: 4-4-2 formation – Mannone, Santos, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Sagna, Podolski, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Giroud
Conclusion: On paper, a mouth watering match which has the potential to swing either way. I’d be a lot more confident if Gibbs were playing at Left Back not because Santos is a bad player but because of Gibb’s understanding with Podolski. I’d also feel much more comfortable if Szczesny were in goal. This is a game that Arsenal can win but they will need luck on their side and to turn up at Old Trafford playing their best. Amid the hostility of United’s fans, the Van Persie situation and the memories of last year, I think a lot of the Arsenal players will be up for this game in the sense of unfinished business and professional pride and this may just help tip the balance in our favour. Come On You Gunners!