I’m finding it a bit difficult to make up my mind for this game. I can see Arsenal scoring three goals and I can also imagine us conceding three or four. Goes without saying that anything in between also seems quite possible. We could get a tight win, an exciting draw, or another in the string of bad losses against United.
If someone asks me “can Arsenal win at Old Trafford?” the answer would be ‘certainly, they can’. If the question is “will Arsenal win against United?” the answer would be ‘I’ve no idea’. A lot will depend on which arsenal turns up and how they play for the whole of ninety minutes.
Obviously, the ref will be a key man in such a game. My theory is that Howard Webb will allow some rough/physical tackles in the first half and will get a little strict in the second half as things heat up. Tactically Arsenal should be aware of this and must be prepared from some annoying challenges from Fletcher and Co. We should also use this to our advantage by being more aggressive initially especially against the likes of Rooney and Nani.
Another interesting tactical aspect will be the starting line-up that Fergie picks from the full squad that he has available. Recently, he’s gone with five across midfield against Arsenal and has relied on counter attacking football. That would mean no place for Berbatov in the starting line-up. Alternatively he could play Rooney in a deeper role and leave the Bulgarian up top. I hope he goes with the latter option as that is more positive and will allow for a more open game.
Similarly, and more important than any other tactical option, Arsene Wenger’s choice for the advanced midfield position will be critical. We must not play Van Persie there like we did in a couple of recent games. I don’t have anything against RvP but he just won’t have the work rate required from that position in a game of such intensity.
Another crucial factor would be the attitude with which Arsenal approach this game. I’d like to see a more sedate and patient style rather than a gung-ho approach that we have seen in the past. It’s extremely important that we don’t concede an early goal and preferably don’t concede one in the first half.
Man United have taken a lead into halftime in all their home matches so far this season and only West Brom were able to make a comeback that was largely down to a goalkeeping howler. In contrast, away from home Arsenal have gone in behind at the halfway mark only once and that was in the loss at Stamford Bridge.
Ideally we would not like to see individual mistakes or lapses in concentration but if that happens and Arsenal concede, it would be extremely important to maintain focus and continue playing in a patient, disciplined manner. This United team is a not at its best and we will undoubtedly get chances during the game. And we have to take the chances when they come. Thinking along similar lines I’m also hoping the hosts will be as wasteful against us as they were against Valencia.
Arsene has to get his starting eleven right and I’m thankful the responsibility of making the tough choices does not lie on my shoulders.
At the back I’ll go with the same five who finished the game against Fulham. I like Koscielny but in my opinion he lacks the experience to play in such a game. Djourou and Squillaci will provide a better balance. Sagna, Clichy and Fabianski are certainties anyway.
In the middle, I hope to see Wilshere and Song behind Rosicky. I’m also tempted by the thought of Nasri down the middle but it would not be a wise move to change his position once again.
Up front, Arsene is spoilt for choice and this is where he has to earn his salary. To be honest, I can’t make up my mind on the best combination. I love seeing Van Persie in a central striker position but he’s rarely played there this season. Arshavin can make a big impact but he also weakens the left side for Nani to exploit. Nasri seems like the only certainty.
I’d say we should start with the Nasri – Chamakh – Arshavin trio as they’ve played together more often. Van Persie and Walcott can come in later to make an impact if the need arises.
So the starting line-up in my mind is,
Fabianski – Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy – Song, Rosicky, Wilshere – Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin.
With two first choice midfielders missing this midfield is not as strong as the ones we have had in the past for this fixture. I don’t expect Arsenal to dominate possession or dictate play for large parts of the game unless United play with an extremely cautious style.
It will be imperative for the front six to do their defensive jobs. I’d like to see Chamakh rotate a lot with Arshavin and help out Clichy on the left when we don’t have the ball.
I’ll close by saying it’s important not to have too high expectations from this game. I’ll not be concerned by the result of the game as long as we don’t end up discussing basic mistakes or the referee. Hopefully we’ll challenge the opponents to win rather than gifting them the points. I’ll be happy with that kind of a performance irrespective of the result. At the end of the day I want to say ‘Well Played Arsenal/United’ and not ‘WTF’.