By Phil Gregory
A crunch tie for Arsenal’s title hopes looms in the form of Manchester United’s visit to the Emirates.
The Mancunians (not to mention the hordes from Cornwall – ed) will be no doubt buoyed from Wayne Rooney’s late winner in a heated Manchester derby, sending thgem into the final. Alex Ferguson’s side feign not to be too interested in the Carling Cup, but routinely play sides containing expensive players, in contrast to our typically youthful sides.
With the news that Thomas Vermaelen’s injury isn’t too serious we’ve avoided a serious blow to our ambitions this season. The Belgian defender is “unlikely” to play in the tie against the champions so expect Sol Campbell to fill the void. The veteran centreback put in an excellent display against a speedy Villa attack that I confess to being concerned that they would show up his lack of pace. After playing in the FA Cup tie against Stoke, the games are coming thick and fast for a player who hasn’t had much match practice since May, so lets wish him well.
Positives on the injury front are, of course the presence of Aaron Ramsey and Samir Nasri, both back earlier than the predicted three weeks. Niklas Bendtner made an eagerly awaited return from injury in the game at Villa Park, replacing Croatian Eduardo, who is for the United game with a “short-term” harmstring injury.
Manchester are expected to welcome back Vidic which offsets the blow of Rio Ferdinand’s deserved four-match ban for violent conduct. John O’Shea may or may not included in the match day squad, I’m not going to speculate as there has been plenty of contradictory news stories about the length of his absence.
The main danger man to watch is undoubtedly Wayne Rooney. The England international has been in sensational form this season and has taken it upon himself to fill the void left by Ronaldo’s departure. I myself doubted his ability to achieve this, citing his tendency to score in bursts and expecting him to be marked more heavily than previous campaigns due to Ronaldo’s absence. He has, however proved me wrong, and been a decisive factor in United’s title push.
For us, we need a big performance from Cesc Fabregas. The Catalan has added an eye for goal to his arsenal this season and is a player who seems to just get better and better. No doubt the irritating Darren Fletcher will do his best to foul and cheat to nullify Fabregas, but I fully expect the Spaniard to dominate a fairly average United midfield, especially with Alex Song hopefully reinstated to the starting line-up.
I’m going for:
Sagna Gallas Campbell Clichy
Nasri Arshavin Rosicky
The defence is fairly self-explanatory, though given Campbell’s recent workload Silvestre may well get the chance to face his former club. The forward line is very creative, but I have concerns that we lack a focal point to the attack. I’m expecting plenty of possession and chances to be created, but it may not be until later on that Arshavin or Bendtner (a likely substitute) gets on the end of one of them.
I’m feeling apprehensive in regards to this match. We rarely seem to get or just desserts from these sort of games, but I hope that will change. Expect goals at both ends, given our loss of Vermaelen and Rooney’s form, as well as United’s lack of consistency at the back.
On paper, this is a very average United team. The midfield has no stand-out star, the frontline is reliant on Rooney for inspiration and the defence and goalkeeper have been consistently shook by injuries and suspension. And yet they are still in the mixer, so we can’t underestimate them. This match is winnable: 2-1 to the Arsenal.
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