One of the greatest Premier League rivalries will be reignited on Sunday as Manchester United travel to the Emirates, looking for a vital three points to keep their title challenge on track.
United will know if they can whittle down Manchester City’s lead at the top of the table by the time they take on the Gunners, as the Blues entertain Harry Redknapp’s Spurs earlier on in the afternoon.
Whatever the outcome of that clash, the Reds will know that victory in North London will send out a serious message to their rivals. Not only that, success on Sunday would act as a huge boost to United’s confidence, going into a difficult run of games against the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea.
Arsenal will be looking to avenge their 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford back in August, where Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young tore Arsene Wenger’s young charges to shreds. However, Sunday’s team will be much changed from that fateful day and will provide an extremely stern test to the Red Devils.
Indeed, if last season is anything to go by, United will have their work cut out. Aaron Ramsey struck early in the second half to earn Arsenal a well deserved 1-0 victory that momentarily blew the title race wide open, until the Reds disposed of Chelsea a week later to all but secure a 19th league title.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men head into Sunday’s game on the back of two impressive wins against Manchester City and Bolton, ensuring they didn’t lose three games in a row in the league.
That threat however does hang over the Gunners, after slipping to defeats away at Fulham and Swansea in their previous two league games. Sandwiched in between that was 1-0 victory over Leeds in the FA Cup, when the returning hero Thierry Henry, who had read the script, scored the only goal after coming on as a substitute.
Team Selection Thoughts
Anders Lindegaard is likely to remain between the sticks after a clean sheet against Bolton. Sir Alex has kept faith with the Danish shot stopper, starting him in the last three games, giving Lindegaard the chance to strike up an understanding with the back four. He may have started this game even if David De Gea had been the number one though, with reports in the media suggesting the young Spaniard needs an eye operation to correct his vision.
Man United’s options across the back four have been bolstered by the news that Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have recovered sufficiently to return to the match day squad. This gives Sir Alex the option of returning Phil Jones to the heart of the defence or at right, although the boss may choose to deploy Jones in central midfield. If that is the case then Rio Ferdinand will be probably be partnered by Jonny Evans, who had an impressive game against Bolton.
If Evans plays centre half, then Chris Smalling and Rafael will be vying for a starting berth at right back. Ferguson may look at Smalling’s height and power as the main reason to start the Englishman ahead of the exuberant Brazilian, despite Rafael’s skill going forward. Patrice Evra will continue at left back.
The midfield will be the key battle on Sunday and Ferguson has a big decision to make regarding the composition in the centre. In recent away matches at Arsenal, Sir Alex has opted for three in the middle with one up front, supported by two wingers who interchange. If he decides to go with that plan then Michael Carrick could be partnered by two of Paul Scholes, Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs. It is unclear whether Fergie will want experience in the middle or legs, but he will know that if he gets it wrong then Arsenal could overpower United in the centre.
United will get some joy from the wings on Sunday, especially if Antonio Valencia maintains his recent form. The Ecuadorian will be up against a make shift full back, and after receiving the man if the match award against Bolton he will be full of confidence. Ashley Young is still working back to fitness so Nani and Park will battle it out for a position on the left. Park may just get the nod for his tag of being a ‘big game player’, although Nani’s ability to create something out of nothing is worthy of note.
Up top, Rooney is likely to lead the line, and the formation will determine if anyone joins him. If it’s a 4-4-3 then Welbeck is the only other striker who would probably feature, playing on the left, although Rooney has played wide before meaning one of Welbeck, Hernandez and Berbatov could play as a lone front man. If it’s a 4-4-2, then Rooney will be partnered by the impressive Welbeck.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of GoonersWorld.co.uk and asked their thoughts on the Thierry and more:
Arsenal’s season has been similar to recent years, but a little worse. The team is feeling the effects of poor strategies in the transfer market and a board which doesn’t seem to want to give Arsene the money to spend on players worth more than £18 million. I hope we can get fourth, but I think there are too many short comings in this team and we will probably finish fifth.
Henry returning to Arsenal papers over the cracks, but his arrival has brought a feel good factor. Yes his experience is good but I would rather see us buy a 25-26 year old winger rather than re-sign someone who originally left because Wenger thought that he was maybe loosing it a bit.
Wenger is infuriating as he is pleasing. He’s a very intelligent man who appears to have lost his magic touch. I still hope he is the right man for the job and it’s something else holding him back. Wenger has been the manager for my existence as an Arsenal fan.
At the end of the day football is about results and buying the right players and that is just not happening.
Three Key Battles
Robin Van Persie vs. Rio Ferdinand
The Dutchman needs no introduction, and is probably the best striker in the league at the minute. Needless to say United will need to keep him quiet and Ferdinand will be charged with the task of stopping him. Ferdinand will have to be at the very top of his game if United are to subdue the prolific striker.
Michael Carrick vs. Aaron Ramsey
The midfield is normally where games are won and lost and this fixture has been notorious down the years for midfield duels, the most famous being Roy Keane against Patrick Vieira. Some of that spark has gone from either midfield, although Carrick against Ramsey will be an intriguing matchup. Whoever comes out on top will pull the strings for their side, allowing match winners such as Rooney and Van Persie to influence the game.
Antonio Valencia vs. Left Full Back
Arsenal have massive injury problems in defence and left full back is the worst hit. Coupled with the fact that Antonio Valencia is in fantastic form, this could prove to be an area where the game is decided. If United can win the midfield battle and get the ball wide early, Valencia can attack the full back and create chances.
It will be a very difficult game and should be extremely tight. Chances will probably be few and far between and should be nothing like the game in August. A draw is probably the most likely outcome, although United could sneak it if they utilise and effective game plan and counter attack at pace.
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