The day has come for us to return to the very ground where we walked away last season with our heads hung low and in shame. Every game is about winning and getting the maximum 3 points or knocking the other team out of a cup competition. However, this game should mean more to the players after what happened last season. This is not dwelling on a past result but rather using that result to inspire us to a better result this time around.
Let’s take a look back at the squad list for this corresponding fixture last year. 1 starter no longer gets starts if all 3 other centre backs are fit. 1 starter has since move to QPR. 3 substitutes on that day have already been shifted out of the club. We haven’t even take into account those players that joined us after the game was played. Then how can we forget, one starter has since switched camps on and will be coming up against us on the opposite side of the pitch. Revelations (true or false) were published yesterday that recounts that said player’s summit meeting with Arsene Wenger. Revelations that could be used to inspire the boys for today’s game.
3 points are at stake but it’s more than that. Alex Ferguson considers this as a “hard-ish” game. That’s the manager of another football club who is clearly treating us as another team who poses no threat to them. If there’s any pride in the players that we have in purple today, they will all work their asses off to ensure that Ferguson eats a big chunk of humble pie, come the end of the match today. That’s how we are being looked at these day. The also-rans, team that could perhaps spring a surprise but is expected to fail. It is up to our players to prove the doubters wrong.
We will be without the services of Kieran Gibbs, Abou Diaby and Wojciech Szczesny. All 3 of whom would have started the game, had they been fit. In their stead we have Andre Santos, Jack Wilshere and Vito Mannone respectively. The first name has been suspect since his return to the starting line-up. Opposing managers have highlighted him to be one of the weak points in our side and have exposed him on numerous occasions in the 3 games that we have played with him as a starter. Not only Lukas Podolski but also Mikel Arteta, will have provide support to the Brazilian to ensure that Rafael and Antonio Valencia doesn’t get the space that they seek for down our left.
As for Mannone, United players will see a keeper that is at best a perennial back-up keeper. Some might even say that the Italian could only be in that role, a division lower. Given what we’ve seen of him, it would hard to counter that point. Let’s face it, Mannone doesn’t inspire confidence and I think that much is also obvious to the defenders in front of him. Rest assured that Ferguson will tell him men to put as much pressure on our keeper as possible and force mistakes out of him. There’s nothing much we can do in this regards, except to be tighter and protect Mannone as much as we can.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the only name that comes in that will inspire any sort of confidence, is Wilshere. On the back of his first competitive game in 14 months, he has had another full week to recover and be ready for this game. While we lose the physical presence of Diaby in midfield, we have as replacement a player who more than make up for the lack of physicality with his game maturity and ability to pick the right passes. In a game as difficult as this, it is the moments of ingenuity that could turn the game on it’s head and Wilshere is definitely capable of that.
With Shinji Kagawa not available, I think it makes the game easier for us. His position being between that of the midfielders and the defenders is one that we always seem to struggle with. Without him, United are likely to depend on Tom Cleverly to provide the creativity but he is more likely to do it coming from deeper. We need Santi Cazorla and Wilshere to defend from the front and not allow him any space to maneuver. In fact, I think we should also harry Michael Carrick and not allow him the chance to look up and spray the passes around.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is only penned in to have a late fitness test to see if he can play. With Theo Walcott having played the full 120 minutes on Tuesday, it would be hard to imagine him starting the game. In fact, even if he’s fit, I would still put him on the bench. Not because he’s not in form but because he provides more impact coming off the bench around the hour mark when opposition players are beginning to tire. On the other side, Podolski has not had the same impact that he has shown in the opening weeks. Hopefully, we’ll see that German rather than the one we’ve seen in recent games.
It is all up to the players. They know what is at stake and we can only hope for the best outcome. What we can do is support. Whether from the terraces of the away stand at Old Trafford or in front of your television screen. No game is ever won on paper.
Up The Arsenal.