By Mark Young.
The start of the 2011/12 Premier League season could not have started any differently for Manchester United and Arsenal. Two wins out of two for Sir Alex Ferguson’s youthful looking side where as Arsene Wenger has only picked up one point from a possible two games and are yet to score a goal.
Arsenal however, did score an impressive victory in the second leg of their Champions League qualifying tie against Udinese. They led the Italians one nil going into the away leg and were pegged back before half time by an impressive Antonio Di Natale header. Robin van Persie equalised in the second half after some work from the lively Gervinho. Thomas Vermaelen then gave away a penalty. Di Natale stepped up but an impressive one handed save from Wojciech Szczesny to push the ball over the bar set the Gunners up for qualification. Theo Walcott hit the winner with a good finish after a spritely run to give Arsenal the win. But is faith restored?
Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas have both left the club in recent weeks and have both claimed that the Emirates lacks atmosphere. Two arguably world class midfielders have left and with no investment in the transfer window in replacements thus far the fans are becoming restless. Wenger’s position has been questioned but in the same way that United always stick by Ferguson, Arsenal also have to do this towards the Frenchman. Arsenal have been successful in the Premier League era mainly due to the Frenchman. He has taken them to a world class stadium and the books are balanced. He has money to spend and there is still day’s left in the transfer market. It isn’t ideal but you would think he would not go into the new season with an injury prone squad which is not up to scratch.
The second half of United’s 3-0 win over Tottenham at Old Trafford was impressive. Fergie’s youngest ever Premier League eleven crushed Spurs. It was a workman like first half with the midfield of United seemingly looking to be overrun by Spurs. But then came the second half. Anderson and Cleverley took control and that is where the battle was won. Nani and Young were quick on the wings adding some superb delivery at times with Smalling and Evra flanking them. But the breakthrough came when Cleverley found Danny Welbeck with a brilliant cross matched by an equally as impressive header. Anderson added a second after a silky move from the champions and a Wayne Rooney header sealed the victory. Full steam ahead, United.
Team selection thoughts
There are some headaches for both managers when it will come to picking their sides for their Super Sunday showdown. Ferguson will be without Vidic and Ferdinand and will probably keep to the back four that served well against Spurs. Smalling, Jones, Evans and Evra should be keeping their places. Javier Hernandez is back and Ferguson has admitted that he doesn’t know what to do after Welbeck coming up trumps on Monday. Rooney has a brilliant record against the Gunners and dropping or resting the England man is even beyond recognition and thought. Nani and Young should also keep their places on the wing with Anderson and Cleverley hoping to continue their blossoming midfield partnership, proving to Ferguson that Wesley Sneijder may not be needed.
At the Emirates Stadium in May Sir Alex remained faithful to the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation that produced impressive performances against Chelsea and FC Schalke. However, this was a change from the manager’s tried and trusted method against Arsenal of employing a three man midfield and utilising Park’s (Fabio in the FA Cup last season) work rate in central and wide positions in higher areas of the pitch. The switch in formation brought about a change of fortune for the home team with Ramsey netting his only goal of the season and in the process securing Arsenal’s first victory over Man United in seven attempts.
It is very rare that Sir Alex keeps the same eleven from the previous game but it is hard to see, after Monday’s performances where that change will come. The “tried and trusted” is likely to be ditched in favour of the team that has started the season so brightly.
Wenger had headaches of another kind. No Nasri and Fabregas of course. Alex Song is banned along with Emmanuel Frimpong. Gervinho, who looked lively on Wednesday night, is also banned after raising his hands, so to speak, to Joey Barton on the opening day. The injuries have mounted up for Arsenal too with Kieran Gibbs a doubt with Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere ruled out entirely for Sunday’s clash. Carl Jenkinson would fill in at right back if Gibbs doesn’t play with Bacary Sagna moving to the left as they played on Wednesday.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of The Gunning Hawk Arsenal Forum and asked their thoughts on Fabregas, Nasri and Arsene Wenger:
Coming off of a good game against Udinese, the team will be gaining some confidence, and hope to ride some momentum into the EPL. However, Arsenal are absolutely threadbare at the moment in the domestic league. Gervinho showed that he has positive influence when he’s in the game, but he’s obviously not going to be there.
Knowing Arsene he would never switch his formation, that’s just how stubborn he is. The biggest concern right now is who is going to play in midfield? Right now the only centre midfielders available off the top of my head that have been promoted to the first team are Ramsey, Rosicky, and Lansbury. Look carefully and you might notice something: no defensive midfielders. This leaves us with I believe 2 options: promote Francis Coquelin or move Djourou in to midfield (assuming Koscielny is fit for the match as most reports are saying). Neither gives me much confidence to be honest. I would also like to see Ramsey in the Cesc role instead of the Jack role, and for Rosicky to play in Jack’s role instead. This was what happened in the second half against Udinese, and look at the results. Rosicky played like a madman, going box to box Jack style, quite the difference from the ineffective creator eh? Ramsey wasn’t particularly better once moving up, but remember last season when he demolished United in that role? That was with Jack behind him, and if Rosicky can reproduce those 45 minutes of beastliness, then suddenly I feel much better.
Fourth place is perfectly within reach, but fifth place is also very likely with Liverpool improving. Basically, it is five teams fighting for four places, as I don’t think the good ol’ Spuds are good enough (and this is without any bias). Of course, finishing fifth would be quite damaging, as what little credibility we have left with potential transfer targets pretty much disappear, meaning that even if it wakes up Arsene and the board, there would be little targets left to spend money at.
Arsenal’s transfer activity
I’m glad that we got rid of a lot of deadwood, but I remain concerned that we don’t bring in enough quality replacements to cover. We see the quality of the players coming through the academy, and Wenger got it dead nuts on Szczesny, but we really do need reinforcements. I also wish that the Fabregas and Nasri sales went through faster, so we wouldn’t we reaching for straws so late in the transfer season. With that said, it’s not over yet. I think that Wenger actually does want to buy, and he’s trying really hard to bring in the right kind of player.
Gervinho is one of my favourite buys in recent years, and Jenkinson has impressed so far. That’s about it. We desperately need a Cesc replacement right now, Ramsey needs more time and Rosicky can’t be relied on anymore. I’m intrigued at the suggestion of trying Andrey in the Cesc role, since he does play behind the striker internationally instead of on the wing, and his Euro 2008 masterpiece suggested that he could thrive there. But the fact remains, Andrey did not impress last year and we need a more reliable option. The defence is better than most make it out to be, as Koscielny and Vermaelen have looked like a good combo so far and last year this combo barely featured. I think the problem lies more with the depth. The Squid is obviously unreliable, and Djourou is a bit too inconsistent, while Miquel is untried. The emergence of the Frimpong does allow us to move Song back there in an emergency, but Song is such an important part of the team that moving him out of the midfield may not be the best choice. Right now though, if we can get a LB the defence is acceptable for now.
Gibbs is a disaster waiting to happen and it’s been clear for a long time that Arsene doesn’t trust Traore anymore. The left back market is a bit thin, especially with Jose Enrique off the board. Leighton Baines and Emilio Izaguirre are the two guys that I can think of off the top of my head, although my first choice would actually be Taye Taiwo, who unfortunately got snapped up quick by AC Milan. Of the two, I would prefer Baines. As for the Cesc role, we basically need a experienced stopgap right now, like Lucho Gonzalez(I was disappointed to learn the deal fell through) until the day Ramsey is ready, and of course pass a few tricks on to him. Mathieu Valbuena is another that I like; he’s just 26 though so that means Ramsey may need a loan spell or two to play enough to really show what he can do.
Faith in Wenger
It is not as much a case of faith waning as it is anger and frustration from the fans. It is one thing to see that we have problems but to have no clue as to what to do to fix them. But when everyone can see the problems, everyone can see what the solution is and everyone is convinced that we have the manager who is able to do it but is somehow just failing/refusing to do it, that leads to much pent up anger and frustration that will only boil to the surface with time.
It’s disappointing to see a player of the magnitude of Fabregas leave, however, I think pretty much every Arsenal supporter will tell you that it was a welcome end to a long drawn-out distraction. It’s not like when Henry left, as I don’t think there’s any lingering love for Cesc amongst the Gunner faithful. He was a wonderful player that came up in-between generations of Arsenal teams, and was put in a tough situation because of it. I wish him well at home in Barcelona, but I wouldn’t give him an ovation upon his return to the Emirates. To put it simply: Barcelona and Arsenal don’t like each other, and though it was largely due to the Fabregas saga, that hatred isn’t likely to wane. Thanks for the service, Cesc, but you’re a Barcelona player now.
Arsenal made the right decision to sell Nasri, because we aren’t the type of team that can afford to overpay a streaky, unreliable player. Nasri will have every opportunity to develop into the game-changing, go-to type player he has the talent to be at City, but until that day comes he’s still a player that has put together a total of 3 months of good football in his top-flight career. He joined for money, end of story.
I’m more disappointed that Cesc is gone, but, without question, Nasri has been the more disappointing player. Half a good season in his Arsenal career, and he demanded to be paid like Fabregas. I understand why he left, but he hasn’t done anything to show that he’s really the type of player he envisions himself to be.
Squad members capable of filling Fabregas’ and Nasri’s shoes
The party line here is Ramsey and Wilshere, and while I agree that both have tremendous potential, I’m going to say nobody. I don’t think anybody can step up and be Cesc Fabregas in this offense. He’s too talented a player, and too important to the success of that attack, to be replicated. We’ll have to play to other strengths. The club needs to change the game plan slightly to not lean so much on whoever is filling the Cesc role, and instead put greater focus on the wingers, as they are arguably our strong point now. Can Ramsey and Wilshere develop into the lynchpins of this side? Certainly, but they won’t be simple plug-and-replace guys for Samir or Cesc. Samir, hopefully, could be replaced by Eden Hazard (cough, Arsene, cough).
Three Key Battles
Wayne Rooney Vs. Thomas Vermaelen
Rooney has started the season as he finished the last, scoring goals. Two in two for the United talisman and he loves scoring against Arsenal. The Gunners’ Belgian centre back dominated Andy Carroll in the air when they met Liverpool last week but still ended up on the losing side. He gave away a penalty mid week and playing against Rooney will serve up an entirely different proposition. Rooney, in his free role is very hard to pick up but the Arsenal man is class and will show Wazza, at the very least, that he would have been in the game.
Ashley Young Vs. Carl Jenkinson
Two summer signings will come face to face on Sunday. Young has had a blistering start to his United career impressing playing on the left wing and is very quick on the counter. His whipped crosses are dangerous and it will be up to young Jenkinson to keep Young quiet, if as expected, Kieran Gibbs doesn’t make it. He is a novice at this level but has applied himself well, producing a good display away at Udinese. Young may have just a bit too much for Jenkinson at Old Trafford but he will see this is a real challenge.
Phil Jones Vs. Robin van Persie
Jones was drafted in alongside Johnny Evans on Monday night to replace the injured Ferdinand and Vidic. He was immense and it looked like he had played at Old Trafford for years. It certainly wasn’t a nervous home debut. Robin van Persie will be Wenger’s main man on Sunday. The new Arsenal captain was in electric for at the end of last season and bagged his first goal this term against Udinese on Wednesday. Jones will feel confident of handling the Dutchman and the Old Trafford crowd will be right behind him to do so.
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