Manchester United (Old Trafford, Manchester)
Premier League Fixture – Matchday 17
Monday 13th December 2010
Kick Off: 8pm – Live on Sky Sports 1
Let’s look at the different areas we usually take into consideration when previewing a game:
Depending where you look, Manchester United are roughly evens, Arsenal are 3/1 and a draw is around 2/1. 3/1 is pretty high for Arsenal and on their day I believe we can beat anyone, with the possible exception of Barcelona.
The Form Book:
This is an interesting one.
In the last 5 games (home and away) it is Arsenal that have the best record overall in the league with 4 wins and a defeat, giving us a total of 12 points from a possible 15. Manchester United are a close second, with 3 wins and 2 draws, giving them 11 points from a possible 15.
But when you look specifically at home and away form, then you are dealing with the two home and away records in the league. Manchester have the best home record this season, with 7 wins and a draw from 8 games. They are undefeated in all games this season but away from home they have struggled, with only 1 win and 6 draws.
Arsenal on the other had have struggled at home (with defeats to Newcastle, West Brom and Tottenham) but have the best away record in the Premier League, with 5 wins, 2 draws and only the 1 defeat. So this game is a match-up between the best home team and the best away team.
As the old clichÃ© goes, something has got to give!
The referee assigned to officiate this match is Howard Webb. I’m not sure what his record is for Manchester United, but at least he is a referee that doesn’t shirk the big decisions. At Old Trafford the main concern I have is over the big decisions, such as penalty incidents and whether they will be awarded to us if they are a blatant foul.
The good, and bad news, with Howard Webb is that from the last 9 Arsenal games he has refereed we have won 6 and drawn 3. The last game we lost with Howard Webb as the referee? Manchester United at Old Trafford in April 2008…
The Top Four Hoodoo:
Our very poor record against Chelsea and Manchester United over the last few seasons has been well-documented and the fact is that in the last 10 games against those sides we’ve failed to win any, losing 9 of them. And in the last 9 games we’ve played at Manchester United we’ve lost 7 of them. Arsenal are going to have to break a trend if they want to get anything from Old Trafford. Both Manchester United and Chelsea aren’t as strong as they were in previous seasons so if Arsenal are ever going to beat them, the time is now.
This is the main concern for Arsenal. Going forward we are as good as anyone and with Samir Nasri playing the best football of his career so far we are always a threat. So don’t be surprised if Manchester United single him out for some “rough” treatment.
But at the back, it is a really worry. If United are on form and sharp then it’s going to give us all sorts of problems. I never thought I’d be saying this, but Fabianski has pretty much kept us in a few games this season with some vital saves. Against Wolves was a prime example, and even against Fulham last week we needed to call upon his services far too much for my liking. And when you consider that was against players like Kamara then somehow I don’t think Rooney, Berbatov or Nani will be quite so accommodating.
Although I feel that he had a good start to the season, I think Koscielny has struggled recently. Squillaci is also hit and miss and personally I would be more comfortable with Djourou at the back. Whenever I’ve seen him (the away games against Wolves and Everton come to mind) he has been excellent. He makes good recovery challenges, is strong in the air and has good positional play. Even more importantly he makes vital interceptions. If we start with a defensive partnership of Squillaci and Koscielny then I will be concerned. The form of Nasri has masked the deficiencies at the back and I just hope that Arsene has noticed this and comes up with a way of sorting this problem out.
My solution would be to play Djourou alongside the lesser of two evils, Squillaci.
The Gut Feeling:
Call it blind optimism or plain stupidly, but I think we can do a job at Old Trafford. Of course, I realise that it is one hell of an ask and it will take some luck but if Arsenal are focused and give 110% then anything is possible. As so often with these big encounters, the first goal really is crucial. If we get it, then we will need the second but if United score first then it will be a massive uphill battle.
We’ve been hanging onto games recently (and just about come away unscathed) and in a weird way that might have prepared us better for any possibly onslaught United might throw at us. Our problems this season haven’t been from collapsing at the end of matches, but conceding stupid goals and having to chase the match. And hopefully the lesson against Tottenham will finally be learnt.
Although he hasn’t scored for a while and his form isn’t great, my biggest worry is Wayne Rooney.
He always seems to do it against us. He scored his first ever Premier League goal against us (that stunner into the top corner against David Seaman), his first Premier League goal for Manchester United against us and his 100th league goal against us! And just when you think he hasn’t battered us enough he scored in both Premier League games against us last season.
If you’re a betting man, a Wayne Rooney goal might be worth backing.