When I started watching football this was the biggest game. In my mind it still is. With due respect to the North London Derby, which is always a game immersed in history, this one is more of a history-in-the-making kind of duel. There’s always something going down when these two giants of English Football meet.
Given the way the league is shaping up, this is a big match for not only Arsenal and United but Chelsea too. The Blues are sitting at the top and will be hoping for a stalemate that would give them a chance to pull away. Arsenal and United know that they have to use the present opponent as a stepping stone to reach within striking distance of Chelsea.
I am quite excited for this one. We might see Cesc, Arshavin, Rosicky and Nasri in tandem and that’s a bunch that can carve any opposition apart. It’s been a while since we beat the Mancs comprehensively and this might just be payback time.
To me, on paper, our team looks far superior to that of the visitors. Apart from Rooney, I am not sure if any United player offers a genuine threat. Giggs and Scholes can’t last the full duration anymore. Nani, Valencia, et al. are just not in the same league. Ferdinand will be missing and Vidic has been quite shaky ever since Torres taught him a lesson. Some might consider Fletcher’s persistent fouling and the Referee’s bias towards the visitors to be just as big a threat as their striker. I cannot argue with that, we just have to deal with it.
This game is about translating our superiority into a big result. Too often in the recent past we have dominated big games only to come away empty handed and at times even embarrassed. Often it has been a case of us committing hara-kiri rather than the opposition deserving a win, Diaby’s own goal in the reverse fixture being a case in point. Right now the league is just as complicated as the economy and we cannot afford expensive gifts to the opposition. If only the team could learn to be as miserly as Le Boss himself! (Be a Gooner, Be a Giver does not apply to the performance on the pitch, gentlemen.)
Tactically, this game will be a tight one. I expect Fergie will put three central midfielders all of them pre-dominantly in a defensive role. He might also put Park and Valencia, who must be quite fresh, on the wings making it a strong defensive midfield supported by two wingers capable of quick breaks. United have caught us on the break quite often. The Champions League semifinal was decided by two early counters. With Sol Campbell likely to replace the injured Vermaelen, I’d be a little worried if we played a very high line. On the other hand, I am hoping Sol will help us deal with set-pieces better.
Undoubtedly, Song will have a big role to play. If our full backs bomb forward, he will have to track the United wingers or midfielders who come forward to support Rooney. Song will also have to re-establish the link between defense and midfield that was broken in his absence.
The first few minutes will be crucial. We need to come out with purpose and establish our superiority. An early goal will do wonders as it will force United to be a tad more open. By the same measure, we can do without any early slip-ups. Conceding the advantage to a title rival in such a game due to a lapse in concentration or hesitant play would be a cardinal sin.
Another interesting tactical aspect is the striker’s role. Will the young Dane finally get his chance? Many of us want a big, strong Center Forward and I have no doubt about his abilities. However, if I was the manager, I wouldn’t start with Bendtner in this game. He is too rusty and at the moment his first touch isn’t good enough. United defenders will nick the ball off him far too easily and that might break down many of our attacks.
The team I would love to see is,
Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Campbell, Clichy; Song, Cesc, Denilson; Rosicky, Arshavin, Nasri.
Some might say we should play either Rosicky or Nasri in the middle in place of Denilson and play Bendtner up front. I think that’s a good option as well but we must not forget that as far as Arsene goes, Denilson is irreplaceable 😛
Are you with me in sensing a season defining triumph then!?