Manchester United vs. Arsenal a view from the oppo

Patrice Evra scores against Arsenal
Patrice Evra scores against Arsenal last season at Old Trafford

Manchester United welcome league leaders Arsenal to Old Trafford today in what is a must win game for the current Champions of England. A win would close the gap to five points, whilst an away win would mean United would fall eleven points behind. Arsenal’s man of the moment Aaaron Ramsey could well have been lining up for United had he of not chosen the London club when he left Cardiff in 2008. The Welshman will no doubt be looking to add to his extremely impressive tally of 11 goals so far this season. Rafael could miss out with an ankle injury but Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans could well return following injuries. Danny Welbeck will certainly miss out this afternoon.

We have an excellent view from the oppo today, where we discuss the pursuit of Cesc Fabregas, who Arsenal need to sign in January and how David Moyes is getting on at Old Trafford. We caught up with Mark Gilbert, an Arsenal season ticket holder, who you can follow on Twitter @Gilberto82.

1) Arsenal are flying at the moment. Where will you finish in the league and in Europe?

Our early season league form suggests another top four finish is in the offing & I’m confident we will at least achieve that. It’s too early to talk about us being title favourites because we have a long way to go in the season, however, the fact so many of our rivals have already dropped points is a big plus for us. We’ve been the most consistent team in the division over the last 10 months & if we can keep that going, we will be right in the mix for the title come May.

With the Champions League, I still reckon we’re a way behind Barcelona & Bayern Munich. We need to bring in one more centre forward in January because if anything happens to Olivier Giroud, we will lose a lot of our attacking threat. I’d fancy us to get to the semi-finals though.

2) What do you say to all those fans that wanted to see the back of Wenger? Or does he still have a point to prove?

Wenger has nothing to prove – he has transformed Arsenal Football Club. Without him, we’d not have witnessed some of the greatest teams & football ever played at this club, let alone in this country. We’d not have one of the world’s best stadiums or training grounds without his foresight (or that of Danny Fiszman & David Dein).

The fans who called for his head need to remember that stuff – yes it’s been a long slog without a trophy but we’ve come closer than a lot of people remember to success. The Champions League Final in ’06 showed we could hang with Europe’s best, we were on fire in the league in ’08 until Eduardo’s leg break & William Gallas’ meltdown against Birmingham. Then there was Birmingham’s 89th minute winner in the 2011 Carling Cup Final. We’ve always been in the mix for trophies – but we’ve perhaps lacked some mental strength since our move to the Emirates & the fact a bit of belt tightening has meant we’ve had to put a hold on bringing in big name players (until this year).

3) Ramsey is shining whilst Wilshere is struggling a bit. How would you sum up their talents and season so far?

Jack Wilshere is the best central midfielder at the club but has been blighted by injuries for over two years. Wenger has admitted to over playing him in the past so hopefully now he can take a few more breaks & get himself fully match fit & sharp & get back to the level he was playing at prior to his first ankle injury. Jack will prove himself again – he is a class act on the field & Wenger will build around him.

When Ramsey initially played in the first team, he looked well worth the £5million we paid Cardiff for his services. His reading of the game is class & he was never afraid to shoot. However, the Ryan Shawcross tackle wrecked his development & set him back massively. On his return, he seemed to be very wary of tackles (as you can understand) & it took him a couple of seasons to really start showing flashes of his old form. Last season, the signs were there that he was returning to his best & I’m so pleased Wenger & the club stuck with him because he is a real box-to-box midfielder who runs all day. His work rate is superb & his goal scoring form this season is remarkable. He reminds me a bit of David Platt on current form – the way he has a habit of being in the box at the right moment & losing markers. It’s great to see.

4) Ozil is an unbelievable footballer, but has Ramsey been your player of the season so far? Giroud also looks like he has settled in now?

Ramsey has been our best player so far this season – the goals & assists prove that. However, Ozil has allowed the team to really believe in itself again – he has brought the confidence level up massively. Ozil’s technique is unbelievable & his first touch is probably the best in the league – he does not lose the ball. In 3-4 months time, once he is truly settled in England, he will be absolutely outstanding.

Giroud’s been a great worker all season. He leads the line well & scores important goals – I just wish he would not stay down & gesticulate towards match officials as much as he does when things don’t go his way.

5) What have you made of David Moyes and Manchester United this season? Where do you think United will finish?

Moyes is a good manager – what he did with limited resources at Everton was brilliant but being in charge of United is a whole new world. I’m stunned they could not secure the central midfield creator they’ve needed for at least two seasons. The pursuit of Cesc Fabregas was very unlike how United usually do their transfer business. There were too many sound bites coming out of the club & when they didn’t manage to sign him, it looked a little embarrassing given how vocal the club had been about the fact they wanted him. It would’ve been more discreet under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Aside from that, Moyes has done well reinvigorating Wayne Rooney & his partnership with Robin can Persie continues to look fearsome. Despite being 8 points behind Arsenal, I’m certainly not writing then out of the title race just yet.

6) What youngsters are coming through at Arsenal that you think will make a big impact?

Serge Gnabry will be a top player for us – he’s broken through this season. & already proven decisive in one or two matches (Crystal Palace for example). Gedion Zelalem is another one to watch out for – he’s a central midfielder being spoken of in the same esteem as Fabregas was when he broke through. The striker Chuba Akpom is another one who is worth keeping an eye on.

7) How will Arsenal line up on Sunday and what is your prediction?

It depends if Flamini starts. If he’s fit, I’d expect the formation to be 4-1-2-2-1 & the team to be: Szczesny, Sagna, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Flamini, Ramsey, Arteta, Cazorla, Ozil & Giroud.

I don’t do score predictions but here’s hoping for a really competitive game full of action & a few goals.

8) If you could pick any United and Arsenal players from history to play In Sunday’s match, who would you pick and why?

The best matches between the two clubs I’ve seen we’re between ’98 & 2005. The likes of Giggs, Keane, Rooney, Beckham, the Nevilles, Scholes, Ferdinand & the rest up against guys like Henry, Bergkamp, Adams, Campbell, Keown, Pires, Ljungberg, Vieira & Petit were a joy to watch. Highly competitive, full of goals – some games were all out war & the fans loved it. We’ve not really had that level of rivalry since those guys (bar Giggs) left each club.

9) Does Wenger need to “spend, spend, spend” or have you a side capable of winning the title?

We must sign a new striker or we run the risk of being short up front if anything bad was to happen to Giroud. I’d like us to buy two out-and-out wingers too – we don’t have a pure winger in the squad (Walcott & Chamberlain both prefer playing centrally or coming in off the flanks). I’d love to see a couple of young ‘pure’ wingers brought in as Giroud would benefit enormously as he is brilliant in the air. We don’t need any more No10s or central midfielders!

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