Manchester United vs. Arsenal Match Preview

Man United Arsenal 1990

For the first time since “The Invincible’s” this fixture has a real aura surrounding it again. Long gone might be the days of the on-pitch brawls (see picture above) but the intensity remains. Arsenal are in a genuine title challenge at present and come to Old Trafford one point ahead of United. The game has has the making of a classic…

As per usual I will kick off with looking at our guests. Arsenal have considered there change in philosophy under Wenger. Long gone are the days of a physical battle, instead today Arsenal play in a Barcelona-style of pass, pass and move. Battling experienced warhorses like Vieira, Petit and Co. are long gone and in their place are elegant classy young footballers like Fabregas, Nasri and Wilshere. This once ferocious fixture seems to have mellowed.

The football seems to have followed the same path that the Ferguson-Wenger relationship has taken. The mutual respect and real friendship has seen an end to the trash-talking and the animosity between the two experienced managers has come through.

Arsenal are in a position that is somewhat unfamiliar for the current squad. Whilst they’ve never been a million miles from the title race they’ve not been in a genuine title challenge for a few years now. This year (at the time of writing, before Chelsea have played) Arsenal sit top of the table and a point ahead of United. Their form in fact matches how they did last year, they are in fact on the same number of points as I discovered. What’s true of this Arsenal side is that their away form is good whilst their home form is inexplicably poor.

They come to Old Trafford off the back of 4 straight wins in all competitions. In true Arsenal style (of late) though, their inability to keep players fit means that they have been unable to name a consistent starting XI for some time now. Their latest bout of injuries and issues means that they head into this game with doubts over the inclusion of Fabregas, Clichy and Djourou. Clichy’s inclusion might be the vital one – with Gibbs ruled out they will not want to name a player out of position to face the in-form Nani. Joining Gibbs in definitely being ruled out are Diaby, Almunia and Vermaelen. The centre back partnership will be something that United will no doubt look to exploit. A lack of a top class centre back and an ever changing partnership has seen this area look particularly fragile.

Whilst Arsenal’s defence has been dodgy at best (although it should be pointed out that Sagna has had a very solid season to date), their midfield area has looked strong. Jack Wilshere’s hype is looking accurate and the team have shown that they can cope without Fabregas when he’s been injured. Nasri is the latest player to step up and prove his class. He will be the danger that United will have to watch closely. He’s added goals galore to his clever play and excellent dribbling – his 12 goals this season in 21 appearances (all competitions) equal what he managed in his first two years at Arsenal (78 games). Curiously Arshavin has been poor this season yet despite that he still assists a goal every other game in the league. Likewise, Theo Walcott’s season has been stop-start but he similarly averages scoring a goal every other league game.

It would be wrong not to highlight Chamakh. One of the new signings at Arsenal, he had to carry the burden of playing upfront and being thrust in at the deep end early on whilst other strikers were out injured. I think he’s exceeded expectations and whilst a league return of 7 goals in 16 appearances may not match a Drogba, Torres, Van Nistelrooy, or Rooney he’s brought a new dimension to Arsenal. He provides something different for Arsenal. They can hoof the ball long if they like, they know that he’ll challenge for it, put himself about and he will always be in and around the penalty area. He’s not the best target man in the league and he’s far from the best striker in the league but for Arsenal he’s effective and a refreshing alternative. My one pet hate however is that he dives a lot and for a big striker he goes down very easily but we at United have had our own players who’ve done and continue to do that too.

So what to expect? Well Arsenal are likely to play in their 4-5-1 formation. We know they’ll come to play football, certainly sitting back is not in their nature. They shouldn’t be taken lightly, for even if man-for-man they aren’t world beaters, they work well as a unit and a team. United will have to be particularly careful to pick up runners and players moving “between the lines” – something that Van der Vaart of Spurs did, it really troubled the United defence that day. Arsenal are top for a reason, their away form, they’ve taken 17 points away from home this season, more than any other side. Anything other than a defeat will be a good result for them and if the comments of certain Arsenal players are to be taken seriously one gets the impression that there is a real belief that they can get a win.

Enough on Arsenal for now; we know what to expect…

…so onto my predicted line up(s) this week:

Football Fans Know Better

Or what I’d like to see:

Football Fans Know Better

The 4-5-1 vs. 4-4-2 debate let alone the personnel chosen to play is bugging me for this game. The head says 4-5-1, the heart says 4-4-2. In short, I think the defence picks itself regardless of formation. There is a clear first choice back four this year and that needn’t be up for debate. Ferdinand, Evra and Scholes will all almost certainly be fit having been doubts earlier this week.

What I’ll do now is make the case for both formations and selections. I thought a quick Twitter poll yesterday would help to give me a clear idea of which formation would be the most likely but responses were almost exactly split 50:50 – no help for me!

The 4-5-1 is the obvious choice. It’s the sensible or cautious formation. Based on the fact that is how Arsenal will set up, it might be important to match them in midfield to firstly control the game and secondly not be overrun. The problem this throws up is two fold – who to play in midfield and who to drop out of Rooney and Berbatov. I’ve dropped Carrick and opted for Scholes, Fletcher and Anderson. I think on recent form, Anderson is not droppable for this game and despite recent poor form I believe that Fletcher will play. Scholes or Carrick is a tough call – both have a similar game and arguably Scholes may have a bigger impact off the bench. It becomes an even harder decision due to Carrick’s recent strong form. However to control a match, there is only one player you’d want – Paul Scholes. I’d hope that a change to 4-5-1 wouldn’t inhibit Anderson. He has really relished the box-to-box role he’s had in a 4-4-2 lately and it would seem a shame to place restrictions on him.

Regardless of formation, Nani will play and I expect Park to be selected ahead of Giggs. His energy is priceless but his discipline in picking up and marking Nasri could make a huge difference. If dropping Carrick seemed harsh then dropping 5-goal-Berbatov would be a travesty. Yet, if it’s to be one up top it would take some balls to drop Rooney even if goals are still not arriving for him yet. Rooney as it happens likes Arsenal, he scored in both league fixtures last year; and he scored his first league goal, his first league goal for United and his 100th league goal against Arsenal.

What a 4-5-1 also does, is it allows for a positive move later on in the match. Should United need to find a goal or push for a win, a move to a 4-4-2 whilst opening up space for Arsenal to exploit would also allow for a more attacking style from United.

My favoured formation would be a 4-4-2 from the start. Bold and brave, this is the style that United are used to and have been playing in for most of this season. Playing at home, United are expected to go for the win, almost never do United enter into a league match at home with a change of style to accommodate the opposition. The expectation is that the opponents would change to accommodate United.

Whilst a 4-4-2 solves any selection dilemmas upfront (Rooney and Berbatov would almost certainly be the preferred partnership) – it makes the midfield issues bigger and for that reason I feel a 4-5-1 may be chosen. For starters only two central midfielders can be picked. I’ve chosen, based on form and a successful mini-partnership of late, Anderson and Carrick. However, Darren Fletcher’s tag as a ‘big game player’ would make him hard to leave out. Furthermore, Fletcher generally plays well against Arsenal and it’s known that they don’t like him. Leaving out Scholes would be a hard decision too – he is still one of the best midfielders in the league and his range of passing is second to none.

I’d still pick Nani and Park on the wings but what a 4 man midfield doesn’t do, is allow Park as much freedom to drift inside and won’t allow him to be as tight to Nasri as he’d like as Arsenal would always have a spare midfielder. This problem I feel might be the one to give a 4-5-1 the edge. A 4-4-2 does however have an advantage on the bench – there would be two excellent central midfielder to pick from to change a game and there would be little hierarchy in terms of which striker to bring on to change a game.

United’s league form is good. This is the first time that United have gone unbeaten in their opening 15 league games under Ferguson. The recent postponentment of the Blackpool game has allowed an extra bit of rest from the league for the team and they will be pumped for this game. Evra, Fletcher and Park have all had their say ahead of this game in an attempt to stoke the flames pre-match.

For the statisticians, there are some great stats and facts associated with this game. This will be the 43rd time Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have faced each other – Ferguson has won 17 times to Wenger’s 14, with 11 draws (two of which were then settled by penalties). Manchester United are unbeaten in their last five matches against Arsenal in all competitions, winning four. Arsenal have lost seven of their last nine trips to Old Trafford in league and cup and have failed to score more than one goal since 1985. One telling stat that Arsenal will look to change is their record in their last 10 games in all competitions against Man Utd and Chelsea, it reads: P10 W0 D1 L9 F5 A22!

Beyond the unbeaten run in the league, there are other stats and facts for United to be proud of – Manchester United have scored with one in five of their goal attempts, the best ratio in the Premier League; Rio Ferdinand has committed just one foul in 1040 minutes of Champions League and Premier League football this season; and if Rooney and Berbatov start together it might be a good omen – 10 of Dimitar Berbatov’s 11 Premier League goals this season have been scored with Wayne Rooney on the pitch.

This game is huge. A win for either team will provide key momentum going into the busy Christmas period as well as a chance to outright lead the league. Arsenal will not be too disappointed with a draw but make no mistake about it, United will have only the three points on their mind. I’m making a cautious prediction of 2-1 to United.

You can share with us your thoughts and your favourite moments from games at home to Arsenal on our forum.

In case anyone was wondering, I’ve not forgotten to include any history about this fixture, instead I wish to share it with you in the form of videos:

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20 Comments on Manchester United vs. Arsenal Match Preview

  1. Gooner here. Fair assement and nice to read above the more inflamatory talk we have seen in the last few days.

    I dont think united have looked especially sharp this year, but you have kept the run of results going. We also have our days where it looks like we have hardened and wised up and others where we fall asleep again.

    I think if we have one of our more focussed games we will take the points in a close game, but if we give you a chance and switch off you’ll punish us.

    Looking forward to it.

  2. Jeffers – thanks for your positive feedback. Personally I think if Arsenal play well then it’ll be a draw…think it would take a very off colour United performance or a red card for us to get beaten at home but we shall see. Enjoy the game

  3. Excellent write-up, very impressed with the objectivity. This blog has come a long way since a write-up I read here saying that if you had to choose between Anderson and Fabregas then the choice would be ‘Anderson all the way’.

  4. Really good article, I really can’t call the result. United at times have looked unstoppable but at other times have looked rather flat and the same can be said of Arsenal.

    It’s going to be a great game – my prediction 1-1

  5. Shashi; thanks for your comment.

    As author of your referred piece I’d just like to make a comment in return. Of course you will write something more favourable in response to an article that takes an assessment of how things currently stand in the table.

    I’m interested in particular with your “this blog has come a long way” which is clearly meant as a very patronising statement towards me. You wouldn’t know it – why would you – but the growth of this website over the last 12 months, while not solely down to me, has involved a lot of hard work from myself. Almost of the new features on the website, while some are brilliantly done by Doron here and Kyle elsewhere, were of my creation. If you’re wishing to question my intelligence fundamentally then that’s fair enough.

    What this website also provides is a platform for different people to voice their different opinions. It so happens that the other writers on this website have different opinions to myself but that’s what they are, opinions. My argument back in the day re: Anderson was more or less justified by the trophies we won with him in the side compared to the progress made by Arsenal with Fabregas leading it.

    My blog the other day came in for a lot of criticism yet no-one actually addressed the point that Fabregas has failed to dominate in a big game at club level since 2006. All they did was point to the fact he’d scored 19 goals in the season. Sure, people can have different opinions, but how is it fair to criticise someone for their opinion when you can’t even challenge it? I put forward an argument, with a brief but pretty strong analysis, and people get blinded by the other points irrelevant to the issue.

    I can take criticism for my opinion; it’s just a little confusing to see that dismissed as ridiculous when no-one actually provided a valid counter argument, and it’s quite insulting (but shows the narrow mindedness of some) to read something like what you’ve written, blindly criticising but not knowing the hard work I’ve put in to make this a place that you now praise.

  6. gooner here. A well written article, nicely balanced and probably the best united blog I’ve come across. I like how you praise chamakh, something people haven’t really done, and I agree with your anderson comments, he’s really coming into his own now! Enjoy the game

  7. No clip of the Henry control-turn-and-incredilob over Barthez?

    It was painful at the time as a United fan, obviously, but it’s still one of the best goals to have been scored in the fixture. I’d probably put that as the best Arsenal goal I’ve seen against United with Giggs’ as the best United goal against them.

    Either way I think it’s a finely balanced fixture that I think could end up as a draw. If Wenger really tries to go for United’s jugular then I think it’s a risk, but whatever our record suggests we’re not unbeatable (and it’d be just like us to lose after our form starts to improve slightly!) and I think they’re capable of nicking one.

    Really looking forward to it though. It’d be nice to see Rooney nab a couple!

  8. Ian – I would have included both the Henry goal and the Giggs goal but they weren’t home matches…couldn’t bring myself to include the Wiltord title winning goal though :p

  9. Nice to see a football fan who can write an article objectively and accurately….I think it is a very fair assessment of the current situation and teams…..

    As an Arsenal fan I am hoping that we can turn the tide in these big games….

    Enjoy the game….

  10. yolkie you seem to misunderstand the mechanics of football, and the logic you use to draw conclusions is so juvenile it borders on absurd.

    allow me to dismantle your argument.

    your point that anderson has won more falls down on two counts. firstly, he was not integral to the great utd side that won those trophies, so to judge him on those successes is very misleading. in addition, there is something to be said for the argument that winning the world cup and euros is a greater achievement than 2 leagues a champions league and an fa cup. (how many players in history have won the euros and world cup…how many have won the league a couple of times and the champions league?) both played similar roles in those successes (if anything fabregas’ impact was greater given he was second top scorer for spain at the euros, and made the assist for the goal which won the world cup).

    secondly, if you want to talk about fabregas doing it in a big game then re-watch extra time of the world cup final in july. or if youd rather, the euro semi finals against russia. if not look at his performance as a 19 yr old against juventus, real or villareal in the champions league. i know you say he hasnt dominated in domestic games, but before i go on to dispel that myth (which you appear to be the only person subscribing to), its worth noting that saying he hasnt done it domestically fails to negate what he has done in europe and international level.

    now… for your benefit, a list of big games in which cesc has dominated domestically off the top of my head:

    man city away this season (3-0) motm
    tottenham home last season (3-0) motm
    chelsea away 2 seasons ago (2-1)
    tottenham away 2 seasons ago (3-1) motm
    utd home 2 seasons ago (2-1) (2 assists for nasri)

    to reaffirm, these are just off the top of my head. i also remember him having some great performances against liverpool, scoring in a 1-1 draw at anfield to name but one.

    i hope you now realise how ridiculous your arguments have been, and come to the logical conclusion, which the rest of us reached long ago: cesc is among the world’s best. anderson is not.

  11. @ nameonthetrophy: Well above I said I thought it may well end up a draw… which I suppose isn’t a prediction. I can see both teams scoring but it still being a tight-ish game, so I’ll go for 2-2 with potential for a 2-1 win for either team.

    But my predo is 2-2 I guess. I’m such a wimp.

  12. Ian – I think that’s a popular score…certainly amongst the Arsenal fans I’ve spoken to on Twitter they’re all backing the 2-2. They’ve not scored more than once in the league at OT since 1985 though!!!

  13. What a refreshing, near perfectly balanced article. Of course there is a slight Utd biase as you are a Utd fan, but that is tempered with excellent research and insite. very much unlike the shyte served up by trash sites like Republik of Moancunia.

    A hearty congratulations sir!

  14. @nameonthetrophy: Well I hope I’m wrong and that that trend continues and it’ll be a comfortable 5-0 to United anyway. 😉 Obviously Arsenal have come to OT feeling good about themselves and disappointed before, and similarly they’ve come when they’re supposed to be all about the great football and nicked one off us… these games are always hard to call.

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