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There’s no need for a headline, you know what this is going to be about

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By Phil Gregory and Mark Butterworth

Somehow banished to Monday night football is the biggest match of the “weekend”, with top of the table Arsenal traveling away to Old Trafford for a top of the table clash. Already foolishly billed as a title decider in some parts of the media, the stakes are, however, high with the winner going top of the league.  For this match preview I’ve enlisted the help of a Mancunian, Mark, who’ll be giving his thoughts throughout the preview in italics.

For Arsenal, Cesc remains a big doubt. I personally don’t believe he’ll play; it’ll be a bit like Chelsea away again. If you remember; the word was he’d “face a test” before the Chelsea game, but never ended up appearing. Given it took another two weeks for Cesc to return after that game, I don’t think there was ever a question of him being fit for Chelsea, it was simply to give the opposition some doubt about who they would be facing.

I’m expecting a similar line of events for the United game, though I’d love to be wrong and the Spaniard to be on the team sheet. Diaby is apparently on the mend but not yet available, while Djourou is expected to be passed fit for the bench after thigh trouble. The only other significant absentee is the ongoing medical mystery of Thomas Vermaelen.

Mark: “United are missing long term absentees Owen Hargreaves, whose future was cast into doubt by Sir Alex this week, while Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen won’t be involved. Wes Brown and Jonny Evans are doubts after missing the midweek clash with Valencia through illness (although given the recent form of the two defenders you would be forgiven for questioning how serious these “illnesses” are). Other than that the Red Devils have a full squad to choose from, after they were given the triple boost of Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Patrice Evra being passed fit following Champions League scares”.

In terms of tactics, I expect to see Fergie going with both Rooney and Berbatov up front to ask questions of our Arsenal defence. That’ll give us a man advantage in midfield which we can use to keep Scholes quiet. A big weakness for this United side is a lack of players who can play those decisive forward passes in the middle of the park. In this regard, the return of Scholes is huge for them, and from our point of view it is important to close him down.

Rosicky has got a good work rate, so it’ll be up to him to close down Scholes. While the veteran is of sufficient calibre not to misplace passes when subject to a bit of pressing, closing him down from the front will prevent him from playing pinpoint long balls forward in behind the defence where they will look to exploit our high defensive line.

With the aforementioned twosome up front, it remains to be seen who’ll be the nominal centre forward, and who will look to create just off him. Traditionally Berbatov would be the creator and Rooney the spearhead but the roles have been somewhat inversed this season. Most likely the two of them will play fluidly, sharing the roles.  This means we’ll need Song to be on his guard, as he’ll be the man designated to follow the roving striker.

The hard working Park will be a great help for the inexperienced Rafael on their right flank, but I still think Arshavin will be able to get the better of the young Brazilian. Their left flank gives me more concerns, with a combination of Nani cutting in and  Evra overlapping. The Portuguese attacker is the top assists provider in the Premier League, while he’s chipped in with five goals too. One to watch out for.

Mark: “United will most likely employ a traditional 4-4-2 with Berbatov  spearheading the attack and Rooney playing off him, going wide where required. Expect a midfield consisting of Park Ji Sung on whichever side Wenger decides to use the dangerous Nasri, Nani on the opposite flank, and then 2 of Scholes, Fletcher and Anderson. For this fixture last year, “anti-football” Fletcher would have been a shoo-in, however he has been struggling for form and Anderson showed signs of delivering on the promises he made in his first season at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, so it is not a cut and dry decision. If Scholes is fit enough he will start, in his recent role of dictating the play from deep. Another who has been struggling for form recently is Michael Carrick so he will most likely be destined for the bench.

Tactically, United are very hard to call. With the kind of form Arsenal’s attackers have been showing in recent games, Ferguson would be a brave man to go all out for the win. However, there is more than enough precedent from his 24 years at Old Trafford to expect that he will do just that. This taken into account, I expect Nani and Park to play pivotal roles, both cutting inside and giving Rooney and Berbatov free rein up front. With the form he’s in, Nani could give both Sagna [not our Bacary, not a chance! Phil] and Clichy nightmares, depending which wing he is on. Fletcher or Anderson will most likely be given a more cautious role to balance this out, watching the particularly dangerous Nasri. Of course, this could be turned on its head should a certain Catalunyan be suddenly declared fit”.

Much has been made of Arsenal’s defensive weaknesses this season. For a bit of perspective, I’d like to point out that our defence is marginally worse (by two goals) than United’s having playing a game more, and having had a first choice defender out for basically the entire season. While I’m not saying we’re watertight at the back, I do feel that our defence gets a lot of unfair stick. Let’s see what the goals against column reads at the end of the season, when we’ve either got Vermaelen back or our central defensive partnership has had substantially more games together as a unit.

Mark: “In terms of coping with Arsenals potent attacking threat, I think United have reason to be confident. As I have said, Fletcher will most likely track Nasri, a job which he has excelled at in the last few seasons regardless of his opponent. Should the in-form Frenchman decide to drift wide, Park Ji Sung is more than capable of helping out young Rafael at right back. Chamakh is another man among the goals, but as so many of them come from headers, we can feel safe in the knowledge that Nemanja Vidic won’t be easily bullied; last season he won 71% of his aerial battles, the most in the Premier League. United will feel comfortable soaking up Arsenal pressure, especially on our own patch, and attack mainly on the counter, exposing the weak Arsenal centre back pairing”.

Van der Sar

Rafael Ferdinand Vidic Evra

Park Scholes Fletcher Nani

Berbatov Rooney

Interestingly, both of us were in agreement that it’d be the above line-up from United. Veteran Dutchman Van Der Sar goes between the posts, young Brazilian Rafael  plays right back with ever-present Evra the opposite fullback.

The centreback partnership should be the traditional Ferdinand-VIdic which has worked so well for United over the years. Fletcher should partner Scholes if the latter is passed fit enough to play, with Park and Nani on the flanks. Up front Berbatov comes into the game off of five goals against Blackburn, while Wayne Rooney is still looking for a  goal from open play.

Fabianksi

Sagna Squillaci Koscielny Clichy

Song Wilshere

Rosicky

Nasri Chamakh Arshavin

Fabianksi continues between the sticks for us, with our French back four in front of him in the absence of Vermaelen. Song and Wilshere take up deep midfield positions, while Tomas Rosicky plays the advanced playmaker role. There’s no place in the starting line-up for midweek goal scorer Theo Walcott, with Nasri going wide right instead. Chamakh goes through the middle despite Van Persie’s goal against Partizan and Arshavin completes the attacking trio.

Chamakh over Van Persie is a tough call, but given we’re playing away, I’ve settled for the harder-working of the two. Closing down Untied from the front will be key in restricting their possession, and Chamakh can have a big role in that defensive side of things. There’s certainly an argument for playing Theo wide right, and putting Nasri centrally. Nasri has the ability to keep an eye on Scholes, and Theo is certainly pushing for a start, but could you blame Wenger for not wanting to move Nasri further away from goal?

Mark: “Overall, I think it will be tight, fast paced, entertaining, at times feisty. With home advantage and Arsenal missing their most influential player, I would go for a United win. The centre of midfield is United’s weak spot, but without Fabregas I feel we have more than enough to cope, and the game can be won or lost on the counter attack. Prediction: 2-0 United

Can’t say I’m entirely in agreement with Mark there, but to the victor a Christmas pint. I can’t really see us keeping a clean sheet given our inconsistent defence and United possessing some potent attackers. I do however expect us to score, and am hoping for an end to our recent hoodoo against United. 2-1 to the Arsenal, and Fletcher to get booked (it just got silly at the end there, admittedly)

Enjoy the game  all, and fingers crossed I can track down a screen in the Premier League backwater that is France.

Still looking for a Christmas pressie for an Arsenal fan with everything?

Untold

The history

36 comments to There’s no need for a headline, you know what this is going to be about

  • slim

    A draw wouldn’t be a bad result, considering Chelsea dropped m ore points today. That said, have we ever played Man. United WITHOUT Webb or Dean refereeing?

  • gooner80

    I cant see us keeping a clean sheet.

    Park always plays against us, no doubt they will try to counter attack us, I hope lessons are learnt.

    I heard chesney is going to play in goal coz fabianski is unfit?

    I feel this game could be a huge confidence booster and be a catalyst for a good challenge this year. I dont think we need to win, Since they are at home we should let impetus be on them we have been playing very mature away from home this year so I hope we dont fall into the trap of playing too open, I would like us to keep tight for a half

  • Dark Prince

    I’ve read that Arsenal has never scored more than one goal in any match played at Old Trafford in the premier league. That worries me, bcoz the only way to beat them is to outscore them. I’ll be really happy if we get a draw. But hoping for a win!! 🙂

  • A Casual Observer

    I wish we could rely on ‘Home Advantage’ as much as the Mancs do! Going to be a close game I reckon.

  • Archimedes

    Predictors beware! Results in this season’s EPL have surprised more than ever so better expect the unexpected! E.g. a boring 0-0, or a big result i.e. at least 3 goal
    difference for either team…

  • durban_gun

    howard webb is gonna stuff da whole game up we are not allowed to win at old trash , u can expect to see lot of dubious decisions tonight bcoz thats the only reason why united are undefeated who watched the everton-united game the ref ended da game wen everton was on da counter and it ended 3-3 . evra needs to look at the manor of uniteds victories and realise dat a team that gets outside assistance is actually the team thats in a crisis . if football was as strict and as controlled as rugby and cricket i doubt we would even know who sir alex or man u is …mark my words

  • Mark

    Durban_gun
    That really is a ridiculous claim. You dont win 26 trophies in 24 years all because of referees.
    A team is not in crisis if theyre “winning ugly.” It tends to be the mark of potential champions if they can grind out results when not playing well.
    Dark Prince
    Im pretty sure Arsenal won 3-0 at Old Trafford the season United won the Treble in 98-99

  • DP
    Arsenal maybe never scored more than one goal at OT but I cant remember WBA scored more at Emirates/Highbury too, nor Sunderland at Smurf Bridge. Statistic is, as someone wise said, like bikini, showing a lot, but most important things remain hidden.

  • Bexxy

    Our season won’t depend on the result tonight. a draw would be an achievement, but I’m feeling lucky. I fancy we’ll sneak it 1-2.

  • alexandros

    Any bold predictions for tonight??

  • durban_gun

    mark stop talkin shit !! u see the difference between man u fans and da rest of the footballing worlds fans is THAT WE KNOW HOW TO ACCEPT DEFEAT WE DONT NEED DUBIOUS DECISIONS TO WIN THAT WHY VICTORY A !! PLS EXPLAIN WHY THE REF ENDED DA GAME AGAINST EVERTON WHEN THEY WERE ON THE COUNTER AND WHY WEN YAL WON THE TREB MAN U WAS ALLOWED TIME TILL THEY SCORED AGAINST BAYERN .. WHY U DONT PHONE DAVID MOYSE AND HARRY REDKNAPP AND ASK DEM HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT THIS SEASONS ENCOUNTERS WITH UNITED ..UNITED IS A BUBBLE GUM TEAM THATS PROTECTED BY REFS AND IS FOR CARDBOARD FANS DAT CANT STOMACH A LOSS , IM FROM THE REAL WORLD WHERE PLAYING SHIT MEANS YOU LOSE AND WHERE THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES FOR ACTIONS THATS WHY OUR PLAYERS DONT SHAG GRANNIES OR HOOKERS THATS WHY OUR PLAYERS DONT CRITISE OPPONENTS B4 A MATCH THATS WHY 2 OF OUR PLAYERS WHERE IN THE WC FINAL AND ONE OF DEM GOT THE ASSIST THAT LEAD TO THE GOAL ..THE REASON FOR ALL OF DIS IS ONE WORD… CLASS….MAN U WILL NEVER HAVE IT AND ALL THE TROPHIES IN DA WORLD WILL NEVER GIVE YAL IT COZ YAL DUNNO WHAT ITS LIKE TO WIN/LOSE LIKE MEN …AND STOP TALKN ABOUT DA PAST LEAVE THOSE STORIES FOR ROONEY SO HE CAN REMINIS WITH THE GRANNIES HE SHAGS !!

  • Manu is strong team, and no doubt they are really really tough team to beat even when they are in pore form. But they aren’t some super-serous title contenders because they are unbeaten. I would rather concentrate on number of their draws which is extremely high.
    Rooney is back, but only as name, not as player from 6 months ago. He do play good, he assists but he is far from self-confident bastard who could solve game alone.

    And no I don’t think this is crucial game, nor for us nor for them, winning it will be massive boost, loosing it will mean nothing except again as kind of psychological advantage. But in general, it wont help nor us, nor them to get where we believe we should be on May.

  • gooner80

    I think this game is important if we win or lose that is 3 points gained or lost that the other team cant get back. it is the equivalent of 6 points in effect. history shows that two teams are going to start kicking on soon and grinding out results, sooner or later a team is going to start notching up victory after victory.

    I think chelsea are seriously dangerous they have been in really poor form and they are still in contention and if they dont lose to us or manu it could be them that could kick on.

    The same applies to us winning this game would be massive it is not just 3 points, our team would get a massive dose of self belief if they win this and it give us a feel gopod factor going into the chelsea match,it is strange how in the fixture list we keep getting man u and chelsea close to each other

  • durban_gun

    IF 26 TROPHIES IN 24 YEARS DONT SOUND DODGY THEN I DUNNO WHAT DOES LMFAO

  • DogFace

    Great artice – I like the perspective from the dark side you got going there!

    Howard Webb as referee eh?! Can’t wait for the quite excellent and informative RefWatch to find out more!

    😀

  • Dark Prince

    Armin- ‘loosing it will mean nothing, just a psychological advantage’???
    Yea psychological advantage and a potential 4 point advantage…
    This is probably the most important month yet for Arsenal. This month, especially d united and chelsea match, will surely tell us whether we’re good enough to win the title. We have to win atleast one of matches between Chelsea and United. If not then atleast draw both of them. Its better to be leading and build a lead than chase around d whole season.

  • gooner80

    well said DP

    I am a big believer in sport being 80% mental 10% physical 10% talent a winning mind set is everything

  • Mark

    Howard Webb will always be deemed an interesting choice after his dodgy decision making when United beat the spuds at the end of the 08/09 season. However, he redressed he balance at Stamford Bridge last season when we played there, first granting Chelsea a free kick for a perfectly good tackle by Fletcher (that rings a bell…) and then allowing their goal despite Drogba being offside and rugby tackling Wes Brown. Not to mention CaptainLeaderLegend (TM) John Terry should have been sent off for hauling down Valencia. But I digress.
    Essentially Webb is the best qualified ref to deal with a game of this magnitude. Im opening myself up to get blasted here by supporting him, but I really hope we’re not discussing him at the end of the match.

  • lego

    In my opinion the outcome of this game will more or less come down to who has the guts/balls for the fight ? If we come out like pussycats while fletcher, ginger scholes and evra kick lumps out of us and allow shrek and nani to dive around the place like bambi on ice then we will be well and truly fcuked
    If on the other hand we fly into the tackles, be more physical and still maintain possession as we usually do then we have a chance but dainty football alone will not get the job done up there and there is nobody in the squad or coaching staff that can and will get that message across

    I really hope that evra gets fcuking done big time in a 50/50 tackle tonight and those are words that dont come easy to me

  • I really believe Chavski and Stoke should be higher priority than Manu game.
    Stoke we need to win to keep collecting points, Chavski we need to win to even our head to head clash, while for Manure, we still have them to come on Emirates.
    Two months ago Chavski was clear from us about 7 points and look where they are now. And you cant say manure have more experienced team than they and it wont happen to them at some point start leaking points.

    Tonight we play one important game, for which I would give half of my life to win, but defeat or draw tonight wont decide who of us gonna be happier once May come.

  • gooner80

    @Armin

    we need a positive result going into the chelsea game if we lose the team starts to doubt and we lose the momentum built up. chelseas bad form shows how psychological football really is, they were absolutely flying 6 weeks ago,I suspect oneor two players already cleared a space in their trophy cabinet forthe championship medal, the Chelsea game WILL be affected by what happens against ManU

    surely our team has got to be the hungriest

  • lego

    @Armin – given our home form I would not be too confident us playing anyone at home anymore. The way we have lost our confidence is mid blowing – hopefully a win tonight would do something to get that confidence back

  • Dark Prince

    I hope we completly dominate this game today…showing everyone how good we can be. Surely we haven’t played our best football till now, what better way to bring it back than whacking United at OT.
    Keep the faith Gooners!! 🙂

  • I believe in victory!!
    I believe if we are not victorious tonight, it is just lost battle but not war. As we proved many times even this season, we can always come back….

  • Paul C.

    A draw would be just fine for me. A victory would be splendiferous!!!!!!

    COME ON YOU GUNNERS!!!!

  • TommieGun

    Come on gunners ! Let’s f****n do it …

    btw whatever happens today – I’ll be smiling knowing Fat Sam got canned 🙂

  • GodWoreTen

    Szcezsny has his wish. A baptism of fire bit I’ll bet he’s loving it! Cmon gunners!

  • RedGooner

    I think ManUtd will get all the decisions at old trafford but then again whats new there ?
    My main concern is when playing 4 games “manutd and chelsea” each year you need all your first team available. We havent for many seasons had that luxury against chelsea or manutd.

    Im worried it will be deja vu again because of cesc missing.
    if we ever do field a full strength team against them I think arsenal will totaly win. BUT to get any kind of result tonight without cesc will be a BIG achievement.

  • RedGooner

    Very Jittery first half. I think Utd had the rub of the green on that goal, But the scary part is we donnt look like we will create a chance all game never mind score.
    Must say though I am impressed with our keeper nothing he could do on the goal apart from an odd rushed clearance he is doing well.
    Amazed Howard Webb hasnt booked fletcher by now though. However it is Howard Webb maybe I would be more amazed if he did book that moron.

  • walter

    If a players comes running to me like that he will be booked immediatly and if he would touch me he get a red card. Webb doing nothing is just weak.

  • walter

    Not our best game and one lucky goal decided the result. A deflected cross, a lucky bounce on a head and game over. Thats football sometimes. Still only 3 points lost today.

  • A Casual Observer

    O what is that sound that so thrills the ear… it’s the self harmers coming to tell us how shit we are.

    Chin up lads – season’s not over yet!

  • RedGooner

    Wasnt a great performance to be honest from either side. Walter would you have given that penalty ?

    Was delighted with the keepers display he may one day be extremely good , Hopefuly another Seaman.

    We did look a bit flat going forward but so did Utd to a degree.

  • WalterBroeckx

    You will find the answer in the ref review Redgooner.
    But I can give you a hint: imagine the situation the other way round. Would anything been given?

    Oh and over here in my country the commentator and the pundits all agreed that the penalty was laughable.

  • TommieGun

    What was he expecting Clichy to do ? To fall down and not use his arm to support himself ? ridiculous.

    I thought we looked very solid doing our holding and defending, Kos had a very good game, and Clichy did reasonably well with Nani. I liked the way we made Evra sorry for his big mouth, too.

    Too bad Jack went out, since he was probably the one doing stuff for us.

    We had no fluency and it was very uncharacteristic of us.

  • A Casual Observer

    This site is very slow today… almost like a DoS attack – anyone else getting that?