United start a tough run of games with a trip to London to face Arsenal. Both teams have had cursed seasons when it comes to injuries and for Arsenal it shows no signs of letting-up. United will be hoping Spurs can take points of City whilst Arsenal are looking to recover from defeat in Wales last weekend.
Arsenal’s season has been something of a wake-up call for some of the club’s fans. The entertaining style remains but the inability to get results and the lack of quality signed has left plenty disillusioned. A year ago I was inundated with tweets from Gooners who believed they’d win a quadruple and yet now, many of the same fans have been joining in the calls for Wenger to go – his stubbornness and philosophy are failing him – his once ruthless managerial streak is way behind him but he continues to survive off the back of it despite the 7 year drought for a trophy.
With the January window upon us, Wenger will no doubt be under pressure to sign some much needed experience and quality (again). Henry has already signed for a few weeks on loan and whilst he’ll add “know-how”, he won’t necessarily have a huge impact on the pitch. Oddly, Wenger doesn’t seem to trust his squad players – Park’s yet to play in the league for them. Even more bizarre when you consider the injuries they’ve had this season and the fact he was prepared to let Frimpong leave on loan.
Even after this weekend, Arsenal cannot finish inside the top four but fourth place is still very much possible – it’ll be a battle they’re locked in with Newcastle, Liverpool and Chelsea to the end it seems. Unless the FA Cup or the Champions League are won, this may be yet another trophyless year.
Following defeats against Blackburn and Newcastle, United went to Man City in the FA Cup and won before defeating Bolton at home last weekend. Oddly, United’s away form has been somewhat reliable this season with just one loss and the fewest goals conceded in the league (6). Their last away game, against Newcastle was the only game all season in all competitions that they’ve failed to score.
Arsenal’s form is equally as shabby with just two wins in their last six in the league and no win in 2012. At home, despite their injuries, they’ve only conceded six goals but also not been that prolific, scoring 16 in 10 games. Amazingly, they’ve lost one in every three league games this season.
Rooney’s the only United player in double figures for goals scored (13) with Nani, Hernandez and Berbatov on six. Van Persie is the league’s main man with an impressive 18 goals – Gervinho and Arshavin both have four. Van Persie is also their leading assister with 6, the same number as Walcott. For United, five players have six or more assists: Young, Giggs and Rooney (6); Valencia (7); Nani (8).
United are definitely without Vidic, Cleverley, Fletcher, Anderson, Young and Owen. Fabio is a doubt but Smalling, Jones, Welbeck and Rooney are all fit after knocks.
Arsenal’s missing list is somewhat extensive: Jenkinson, Sagna, Gibbs, Santos, Arteta, Diaby, Wilshere, Coquelin, Gervinho, Chamakh. Vermaelen and Henry are huge doubts too.
United formation and starting XI prediction:
For me, there are just two debatable selection issues in this team – the goalkeeper and the right back. Lindegaard has been in goal for the past three games but it would be so Fergie for him to bring in De Gea now, particularly against a team who aren’t renowned for crossing and physical football. With Smalling fit again I think it’s him or Rafael at right back – Fergie likes the Evans/Ferdinand pairing and it’s worked well previously.
The return of Jones is a huge boost and he in midfield with Carrick has proven to be a success before. Welbeck and Rooney is the striking partnership that appears to have the best chemistry and understanding – it’ll be a surprise if that’s played around with.
Stopping Valencia – since being recalled to the starting line-up after the fiasco in Basel, Valencia has been at times, unplayable. He’s created seven goals in the past 6 weeks with classic wing-play, much-like in his first season with the club.
The thing with Valencia is that he’s not like other wingers. He’s both fast and strong, when the two are combined it makes a player so hard to stop. He may not have the tricks but he’s a clever footballer with an amazing ability to forever run.
Stopping him should be simpler than many left backs have made it seem. Valencia’s left foot is rarely used and he’ll almost always look to go outside a defender, faint a cross, then try to get a cross in from the byline. For some reason, despite the predictable nature of his style, most left backs struggle. Tasked with halting him is likely to be Ignasi Miquel, the young Spanish centre back.
Miquel has shone below Arsenal’s first team but isn’t naturally a left back. Against Swansea he struggled – rushing clearances and looking nervy in possession as he gave the ball away on various occasions whilst deep inside his own half. His positioning was poor too but one could argue he was getting minimal help/advice from his centre backs. Should he start he’ll certainly need more protection from probably Arshavin but even so, Valencia must be licking his lips.
History and last meeting:
This will be the 186th league meeting between the two sides and United have a poor history of results away to Arsenal. In the Premier League era they’ve only won 5 out of 19 games, keeping just three clean sheets. Following the 8-2 win at Old Trafford this season, United fans may be interested to know that they’ve never scored more than 5 goals in a game away to Arsenal in the league (1958).
Last year the sides met at the beginning of May at The Emirates and Aaron Ramsey’s goal sealed a win for the Gunners.
United’s away form has been dependable but Arsenal don’t concede many goals at home. Injuries at the back though may be key – United are getting players back at the right time whilst Arsenal seem to be a few weeks away from having that luxury. United will be playing after City and Spurs and tend to respond well to pressure, therefore I predict a 3-1 win for United.
Mike Dean – Arsenal haven’t won with him as the referee for 10 games now. Dean’s issued one red card this season and has been awarded more games that any other referee. He shows no clear favouritism to either side in terms of bookings but does award 70% of his yellow cards in the second half of games.
It’s the rivalry of old – for me as a young football fan it was what made the latter half of the 90s so exciting.
– No side has used more players than Arsenal this season (30)
– It’s over a year since United last were involved in a goalless draw in the league
– United have the best away record in the league
Ferguson on Henry’s return: “There was talk about him coming back last January and it didn’t happen. But to me there are no negatives, just like us bringing back Paul Scholes. When I saw them erecting the statue of Henry I thought that will be a nice lead-in to bringing him back for a short spell. You saw how the fans reacted when he scored the goal against Leeds [in the FA Cup] – it was fantastic. He’s still a great player and the players in the dressing room will be motivated to play with one of Arsenal’s greats.”
Ferguson on Hernandez: “His form in training is fantastic. He is looking really well. That is a bonus because you want variations in the striker’s position. If we get Hernandez back into the frame of things we know what an addition he can be. We know the goals he can score. It will only help us.”
Rooney on Van Persie: “There are a lot of top strikers in the league – Van Persie, Aguero and Yakubu is playing well. But Sunday is not about me and Van Persie. It is about us against Arsenal. That is what we will be focusing on.”
Wenger on how United play against Arsenal: “They sometimes have a very compact midfield to kill our passing game and get us on the counter-attack. They do that very well. I believe that sometimes it works for them, although last year we beat them 1-0 [at the Emirates] in a convincing way. It depends on how well we play on the day, how well we pass the ball through their lines – no matter how many are in there.”
For all pre-match banter, tactical discussions, team and score predictions click here.