Manchester United (The Emirates Stadium, London)
Premier League Fixture – Matchday 24
Sunday 31st January 2010
Kick Off: 4pm – Live on Sky Sports 1
After the Aston Villa game, things looked bleak.
The disappointing 0-0 draw and failure to keep the pressure on Chelsea was followed with news that Thomas Vermaelen’s season could be over as it was suspected he had fractured his leg, but Arsenal confirmed that there was no break and his absence from the game should be short term . He will miss the clash against Manchester United, but should be back soon after.
And that news is a massive boost. Colossal in fact.
Because the thought of Sol Campbell or Mikael Silvestre playing against United, Chelsea and Liverpool doesn’t bear thinking about. Fortunately Sol’s recently performances have looked half decent, but with Rooney in stunning form (19 goals in 22 league games) Arsenal will have to be at their defensive best.
But the more important news I believe is the return of Alex Song from the African Cup of Nations.
The last game he played was the 4-1 win over Portsmouth but since then we’ve struggled against Everton and Aston Villa. And even against Bolton at The Emirates, we contrived to give away two stupid goals before coming back to win 4-2. With Song in the side we’ve managed to get past the loss of Van Persie and kept ourselves in the title race.
And his performance against United will be vital to whether we get anything from the game. Cesc Fabregas has thrived alongside Song in midfield, and overall we’ve just looked more secure defensively. For me, Song has been one of the players of the season so far.
How will he perform after an arduous trip to Angola? Who knows, but I’m a lot happier he is back in the squad coming into this run of massive games. Especially with Vermaelen missing on Sunday.
Ideally we’d have our first choice midfield of Song, Cesc and Diaby but the big Frenchman looks to be short for Sunday but could be back for the Chelsea game. So it looks like Denilson will play in his preferred role slightly further up the pitch.
Eduardo is out with a “small, small” hamstring problem so it looks like a baptism of fire for the returning Nicklas Bendtner, although at the time of writing his is a doubt with a groin problem picked up at Villa. If he does make it, the positive news would be that Eduardo doesn’t like playing there anyway and we would get to see Arshavin play wide which is his preferred position. Having to play him down the middle would be a waste.
Then for the other attacking spots we have either Rosicky or Nasri (or both if Bendtner and Eduardo are missing). Or Wenger might opt to play Eboue instead.
So how will United play?
In recent games they have played a 5 man midfield and attempted to nullify Arsenal’s attacking threat. Earlier in the season at Old Trafford, we dominated large portions of the match but couldn’t add to our 1-0 lead. Then we collapsed in dramatic fashion and literally gifted the game to United and lost 2-1.
Last season we lost 3-1 and 1-0 in the Champions League games but managed to beat them at home with a double from Samir Nasri. Then in the away game (when United had already won the title) we played well but drew 0-0.
We all know about the form of Wayne Rooney and he has a knack of scoring against us. With the departure of Ronaldo he really has flourished and Manchester United haven’t really suffered as much as people thought they would.
Defensively, they welcome back Vidic from injury but lose Rio Ferdinand as he starts his 4 game ban for violent conduct . John O’Shea is also out and will miss the rest of the season with a leg problem. So United have one or two injury problems of their own.
I’m sure United won’t be any different and will try and rough up Fabregas in the middle of the pitch, especially with players like Carrick, Scholes and Fletcher in the side.
Overall, it’s a tough one to call. On the one hand, United have been in stunning form, but I’ve always maintained that they have their shortcomings. Yes, I realise that it is a slightly ridiculous statement considering they’re second in the league but I’ve always felt that this season, if you get at United then they can be beaten.
And their recent wins have been against Manchester City, who have a patched up defence, and Hull City, who well, are managed by Phil Brown. I don’t really need to go on do I?
The bottom line is though their biggest threat is Wayne Rooney, and our biggest threat is Cesc Fabregas. And whoever steps up and takes the game by the scruff of the neck with emerge victorious. Fortunately Alex Song is back and if he picks up from where he left off then we’ve got a great chance to stop Shrek. I do believe that our supporting cast is stronger though (Arshavin, Rosicky) but their influence depends if they can find their form. We know how special Arshavin is but his game recently has been poor.
An interesting little side note to the game is that Arsenal v Manchester United will be the first UK football match to be shown in 3D . The special 3D showings will be launched at nine public houses throughout the country, in selected pubs in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Although I don’t know much about it, the first thing that comes to mind is that it would give you a headache, but you never know, it might be completely awesome.