The papers are going crazy with this fixture and all the focus is on Arsenal and how the mighty have fallen. How this is no longer the plum tie of the Premier League season (somehow, I think the numbers tells a different story), why there’s no pizza or pastries being thrown at each other and why there’s no more fights between the two sets of players. And of course, the biggest of them all, how they’ve all 8 2 be us since that match day.
What happened in the last fixture between us was neither easy to take nor was it easy to forget. The pain and humiliation is still there. Say what you will, but there’s a big possibility that the defeat prompted Arsene Wenger to go out and make those purchases on the final day of the transfer window. Similarities to this game and how we’re now in the transfer window is truly uncanny. Would another defeat send the manager to scour for more talents to fix the squad? Or would the team rise up to the challenge and show that they’ve come a long way since that humiliating day?
United are not exactly in the best of form themselves. They’ve lost to Blackburn and Newcastle in recent weeks, negated only by that win over Bolton. Ferguson has brought back Paul Scholes and I hope he plays. At the age of 37, Scholes will still have retain those skills that made him a revered player all around the country. However, his pace, stamina and power will not be anything like the older days.
We’ve always talked about the injury crisis at our club but it’s hard not to see and admit that United are probably going through the same problem. Nemanja Vidic is out for the rest of the season while Darren Fletcher will also not be available due to his illness. The tormentor of our team in August, Ashley Young is also out together with Tom Cleverly and Anderson. Ferguson though will be pleased to have the services of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones available again for this match.
As for the Arsenal side, I’m only basing on what’s being thrown around on Twitter (apologies if the situation is now different). That Thomas Vermaelen is back. However, with the absence of Mikel Arteta, the bigger question will be who to replace the Spaniard. Yossi Benayoun was given the chance last Sunday but struggle to impress. Tomas Rosicky looks to be the benefactor of that insipid performance last weekend.
Out of the 4 man defence, 2 are without question better than the other 2. Hence the reason why I’m not in agreement to play Johan Djourou beside Per Mertesacker. It would probably be better for Mertesacker to move to the left side of the central of defence and allow Laurent Koscielny to compensate whatever weakness of Djourou. Vermaelen to be expected to do the same on the opposite site.
In midfield, as was shown last week, we will miss the influence of Arteta. Rosicky will come in and be his busy usual self. I’m not too worried about Rosicky going forward as I’m sure whatever Arteta can in that regard, Rosicky will more than match it. It’s the defensive side that I’m more worried about.
Being the senior personnel in midfield, the Czech captain will have to ensure that Alex Song stays in position and that he is suitably supported by either himself or Aaron Ramsey. The scenario which I don’t want to see is that United go on a fast counter attack and there’s only Song standing between them and our defence.
Up front, Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott are guaranteed starts, both with differing reasons. One is one fire and virtually undroppable while the other has no competition good enough to depend on. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is one that could be sprung into action but ask yourself this. If his defensive side of the game is one that we’re still worried about, would it make sense to play AOC against United?
I’m as optimistic as I can be ahead of this match. I’m sure that the 8-2 reverse would not occur again. Don’t forget that 4 of those goals at Old Trafford went/curled straight into the top corner. That doesn’t normally happen, at least not with that high frequency is one single game. But whether or not, we will win the game, it’s a totally different matter.
Ferguson has in recent years, packed his midfield in trying to stifle our style of play. Given that the obvious weakness of United this season is in midfield, there’s more reason for him to continue to use the same tactics. He wouldn’t want his midfield to be overrun and outfought. RvP will have to make full use of the indecisive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Johnny Evans/Phil Jones. There’s a clear lack of pace in that line-up and if Walcott could find the run, through-balls behind the defence could be our outlet.
Yes, the defeat earlier in the season will have hurt the pride of the players. I’m sure each and every one of them will try their hardest to ensure that we give it a good fight this time around. While I would love to beat them by the same margin, it’s worth remembering that at the end of the day, it’s only 3 points that matters. The leaders in the team tonight will have to ensure that no dropping of heads if it goes against us early on.
More than pride is at stake here.