One could say this is the best time for such a game because Arsenal have nothing to lose and can play without any pressure. On the other hand, it’s just as easy to say this is the worst time to play United because confidence of the players must be really low and the visitors, who don’t need anything more than a draw, thrive in a defend and counter-attack environment.
I’m am pretty sure we are going to see the United bus parked at the Emirates with Nani, Rooney, and Hernandez looking for counter-attacking opportunities while doing their defensive bit. I don’t like this approach but in fairness Arsene can learn a lot from it to bring more balance to the way his Gunners play.
Arsenal will have to show significant improvement over recent outings in order to get three points from this one. We can be certain United will be much better organized than the likes of Sunderland, Blackburn, Liverpool, or Bolton. Any real scoring chances will come only if we can move the ball faster than we have been doing in the recent games. For that to happen, Cesc, Nasri, and Song will have to do much better.
As I had said a few weeks ago, in the final games of the season, it was going to be all about the performances of the big players. So far they have been disappointing. Even Djourou and Szczesny will have to offer a lot more at the back.
Walcott hasn’t played that often against United so it will be interesting to see how they stop him. I expect Park to be deployed on their left flank with instructions to double us as an extra left-back. That will mean that Rooney will play as an extra midfielder, a role he has performed admirably in the last few weeks of the season.
If Sagna can use the space that will be created for him by Theo, Arsenal can get some joy down the right.
I believe Nasri can offer a lot from the left against someone like O’Shea. But for that to happen, the Frenchman has to be prepared to take his man on and play in a more aggressive manner. He can and should test Van der Saar at every opportunity with RvP following up.
I’d also like to see Arsenal play a bit deeper than usual. It’s important to keep the possession in the middle third of the pitch rather than taking it to the wide areas in the final third. In such a game playing the tippy-tappy game in the wide areas is an open invitation to disaster. It leaves the middle exposed and United will inevitably get enough men behind to cut out the one-twos in those areas of the pitch. Even crosses from such positions will leave the team exposed down the middle. In order to use the wide areas effectively Arsenal will have to move the ball without too many touches or passes. Fabregas can be the key in this regard but Wilshere can also do the job.
Defensively, I’d like to see Song or Wilshere stay really close to Rooney. If Arsenal can reduce his influence during counter-attacks half the battle will be won. That will leave the central defenders to deal with Hernandez while Clichy deals with Nani.
The team selection should be pretty straightforward,
Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Wilshere – Walcott, RvP, Nasri.
As with all the big games, the first goal will have a big impact on how the match unfolds. If Arsenal can get one early this could be the end of the recent United hoodoo. Things could get a lot worse in the reverse scenario. I have a feeling this will be another dull 0-0 unless someone makes a blunder in either defence.