The Barcodes have kept United in check. There is still a lot to play for. Wenger is also getting some players back from the treatment room. I guess we can call this a good news day.
Tactically, there won’t be any surprises in this game. I expect a lot of long, diagonal balls from the Spuds defenders and midfield directed towards their speedy wingers. Sagna and Clichy will have their work cut out but in the past both have shown they can deal with pace. Even then, Arsene should not leave the responsibility of dealing with Lennon and Bale on his full-backs alone. The wide attackers and midfielders have to provide better support in the wide areas. If the Gunners leave the wings open often enough, the hosts are definitely going to score from one or two of their chances.
Redknapp, if he stays true to his notions, is quite likely to start Crouch up front. He will be the target of some long balls out from the defence and also a million crosses from either wing. Djourou and Koscielny will have to do a good job of marking him, and along with the midfield they will have to track the runners to the second ball. Song will have to produce a big game and he must keep his priorities on defending. There are times when Arsenal do this really well and on other occasions we have seen some players switching off. At this stage of the season nothing short of unwavering concentration will suffice.
The Tiny Totts will certainly play at a higher tempo at home and the initial phases of the game will make for an interesting tussle. The Gunners will find themselves trailing if the start is sluggish. On the other hand I expect good counter attacking opportunities in the early exchanges. Should Arsenal capitalize on at least one, it will make the rest of the game even more open and exciting.
I believe Van Persie’s movement and technique can really trouble Spuds’ central defenders. The Dutchman can pick up a brace or even a hat-trick in this game if he puts away the chances that are bound to come his way. Even Nasri and Walcott can get on the score-sheet if they are alert to the gaps that will inevitably appear in and around the opposition penalty box.
In some ways, Arsenal just have to play the steady style they have been using away from home. The midfield must stay deeper and focus on supporting the defence. The opposition must be allowed to come forward with most of the pressing, tackling, and interceptions being attempted in the middle third of the pitch. Of course, a number of tackles will have to be won on the wings and the defenders will have to win some headers in the box as well.
The final point that stands out is that the players should keep their focus on the game at all times. For instance, even if they score a late goal that seems like a winner, the thoughts should not be about celebrating but on concentrating in defence.
I don’t think picking the starting eleven will be a difficult task.
Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Diaby – Walcott, RvP, Nasri.
A point can be raised about including Wilshere in the starting line-up. It’d be a fair one but I think the youngster is very close to a burnout and a mini-break will do him good. Anyway there is another game at the weekend.
With that game in mind and considering the fact that Spuds have had a week’s rest while Arsenal played a gruelling tie againt Liverpool, some might suggest the need for freshening up the side with a couple of changes. I guess there is a case for picking Arshavin to start but I’m not convinced any changes to this starting eleven will maintain the right balance. The players just have to produce the performances at the business end of the season.
These kinds of games are difficult to predict. Arsenal can stamp their authority on the neighbour’s ground once more, they can make some mistakes and concede two points, and I can also see them gifting the undeserving hosts all three points. I expect some goals in this one, at least three, and quite likely more. Hopefully, the majority will be in the right net.