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EPL Match Day 17: Arsenal v Manchester United: Match Preview

Is there any better way of showing up a group of chatty women then to end their league unbeaten run? Is there any better way of stating your intent for the league than going to Old Trafford and winning? Is there any way to  remove beyond all doubt you aren’t soft in the under belly than to shut down England’s top-boy Wayne Rooney and his strike partner Dimitar Berbatov? Obviously no, there isn’t but in order for all that to happen, Arsene Wenger’s boys are going to need to come out and play the match of their lives.

In these matches against United and  Chelsea, history hasn’t been kind to the Gunners. Over the last couple of years, the squad hasn’t had its share of the rub against either of the league’s recent title holders. In fact it’s been downright abysmal. In some cases it hasn’t even been close – like the Champion’s League semis against United. In most cases the club has held their own only to give it away due to a solid counter-attack or a mindless mistake. Make mistake about it, United know this and no doubt Fergie will have them looking to be patient and get their chances.

In the Wenger and Fergie era the teams have met 43 times with Fergie winning 17 times and Wenger winning 14. There have been 11 draws. That means that prior to the latest run, Arsenal have had the better of the “biggest” club in England.   A win in Monday may put the club back on the path to getting their again.

The noise from United has been rather loud this week with both Ji Sung Park and Patrice Evra having their fair share to say about Arsenal and their ‘title aspirations.” It’s infuriating and frankly, disrespectful but is it necessarily untrue? The only way this will stop is if Wenger’s charges finally deliver on the promise that has been bandied about and discussed for the last five years. A win at OT or even a commanding draw will show that the Gunners are for real. It will shut the likes of the brain child of France’s revolt that he should be  mindful of his own team and less concerned about the other.

This is a match Arsenal can win. The match ups aren’t as glaring as they have been when the likes of Tevez and Ronaldo wore the red of United. Arsenal have an attack that go toe for toe with any team in the league and in my opinion our attacking options from the mid-field up are better than what United have. The obvious weak spot is in central defence. Squillaci and Koscielny have “potential” but for whatever reason have not been on the same page at all when it comes to playing together. With the absence of Vermaelen, the back four seems more cohesive when Djourou is playing.  Frankly, I think he could be the shut down man we need against United but I am not sure Wenger is reading my blog lately.

But that is not to say that United have it any easier in the back four. The United defence have had their own issues and they’ve let a lot of teams back into matches towards the end of matches, the most damning was being up 2-0 with 10 to play at Goodison park only to concede two quick goals in succession.  Van der Saar is a legendary keeper but he is in his swan song and can be had as can this defence if Arsenal take their chances and don’t spend too much time trying to tiki-tak the ball into the best possible shot. As I have always shouted “SHOOT THE DAMN BALL.” Test the defence and the keeper with your weapons don’t give them the chance to devleop a counter – you do that by shooting and making VDS work for each shot.

Arsenal have plenty of players who can do it. Chamakh from his headers, Van Persie (when his chocolate foot is healthy) Arshavin when he can be bothered, Fabregas from sublime runs of play and so on. But the real man of the hour will have to be Arsenal’s in form Samir Nasri. He has shown poise and balance in the box working to get shots on goal and sinking them. He is cool and collected around the box. He doesn’t seem rushed and frankly he is throwing in “neeeded” goals in the same way Henry did for us. When we played like crap Henry always was good for goal or two to lift the spirits of the faithful and carry the team. Nasri while a long way to go to the status Titi enjoys is showing a propensity for similar habits. Eventually, I would like to see a midfield of Nasri and Fabregas together. To me this could be as good as that tandem down in Barcelona, some guys named Iniesta and Xavi. Ah but Idigress.

The two other guys I am going to be interested in watching play in this match are Jack Wilshere and Alex Song. If there is any remedy for Fletcher’s antics it could very well be a player who won’t mind getting it on with him and our own English bulldog, young Jack Wilshere Esq. may just be that offsetting factor. We have been missing someone in the middle of the pitch who commands the respect of strength that Vierra did. For the last few years our players have been bowled over without fear of anyone doing anything about it. Jack has shown two things to me (besides his uncanny on the ball skills) – he may be small but he can control players bigger than he is and he is not afriad to mix it up – something we haven’t had in a while. Frankly this could be what we need to keep Fletcher in check.

For Song the assignment is simple – stay at home and give your defenders the cover they need. When Song plays the DM well, like he did against Messi in the first lef of last year’s CL tie, he can control big name players. When he roams the pitch trying to be the next Ronaldinho then we get in to trouble because our defence is uncovered. He needs to focus in on one role this match and that is making life miserable for Rooney and Berbatov.

As a whole the team has to be committed to getting the ball back when they don’t have it. One of the things that makes Barca so good is what they do when they don’t have the ball. They close down the opponent with it and get it back. They man press better than any team I have ever seen. It forces so many errors and give aways that Barca can then do what they do best hold the ball, and score. And they do it all together. The entire quad is committed to it. If Arsenal are going to play the possession game then they need to fine tune this area of play and that is a total committment to defending and getting the ball back when they don’t have it. If they have the ball the likes of Rooney and Berbatov can’t score. If they can’t score they aren’t a threat from anywhere else. And if they aren’t a threat – you can win the game.

How the Match Should Play Out:
When it comes to playing Arsenal effectively, United and Chelsea have shown the way over the last ten games. In that span the Gunners are W0 D1 L9. United will be content to let the Gunners have the ball and will try and get the advatange on the counter, most likely with a long ball through the centre. Look for both Rooney and Berba to be playing high up on a 4-4-2 to try and be available for feed. Where Arsenal stand a major chance is in the midfield and attack which to me is in much better shape than it was last year (and since the last time these matches meant something). In the middle the Gunners could simply overrun the Red Devils with the likes of Nasri and Wilshere pulling the strings. Arsenal should attack early and often to get their goals. Defensively as good as Vidic and Ferdinand can be, they’ve been leaky and can be put to the test and I think this is what the Gunners will look to do with a prolonged attack – Ferdinand only just passed a fitness test. It will be up to the defence to control the game after that – and by that I mean a whole team committed to pressing defence once they have their goals. While I can see the Gunners winning this match, I suspect either a bad call or a defencive mistake will allow United to get an equalizer just before the end of the game.

Players to Watch:
Arsenal: The CENTRAL DEFENCE. It’s not normal for me to pick a group of players but for me this will be where they earn their keep. If they can have a game like they did against a stronger Chelsea side (yes, I think they did well against Chelsea overall) then I think the match will be more towards a favorable Arsenal result. If they get wobbley kneed then there will be problems. United are not the othr teams we have played and will take care of their chances if they make mistakes. I am also hoping Wenger sees the need to start Djourou ahead of Koscielny. He’s been great in every match he has played. He wins every ball in the air and he is calm in the back when the pressure is on. He needs to start on Monday.

Manchester United: Wayne Rooney. I wish I were picking him because his form has ben blistering. No it is Dimitar Berbatov who has had the better run of form. But Wayne Rooney has been an Arsenal thorn since his Everton days when he scored his first EPL goal against us. But I am picking him moreso because the deadly combination of Howard Webb and Rooney means a likely PK call could go the home sides’ way. Rooney gets a break for some of his in “box” antics by the English press but it is clear Rooney is a master of getting the calls in the box. It is the prime reason we lost at OT last season (that and a Diaby OG)

Probable Starting XI:

Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Fabregas (thigh – D)Almunia (elbow) Vermaelen (achilles) Frimpong (knee) Diaby (ankle) Gibbs (ankle)

Man U:  Hargreaves (hamstring) Owen (hamstring), Valencia (ankle)

Last Meeting (EPL):
Arsenal: 1
Man U: 3

Last 5:
Arsenal: WWLWW


Leading Scorers:
Arsenal: Nasri12 (8 league) Chamakh 10 (7 league)   Walcott 8  (5 league)

Man U: Berbatov 12 (11 league) Hernandez 7 (4 league)

Goals For:
Arsenal: 1.9 (away)

Man U: 3 (home)

Goals Against:
Arsenal: 1 (away)

Man U: .8 (home)

Goal Difference:
Arsenal: 16

Man U: 19

Match Officials:
Referee: Howard Webb
Assistant Referees: Dave Bryan & Darren Cann
Fourth Official: Phil Dowd

Broadcast Information:
US: ESPN2 1500 ET

UK: Sky Sports 1 2000 GMT


GAMEDAY CHAT: It’s Open!!!!!!

YAMA Prediction:
Arsenal: 2

Man U:  2


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