This is a tough one. Easily the hardest fixture of the opening month. Let’s be real, if Arsenal had a full team with no injuries or suspensions and even with a couple of signings, this game would still have been the most difficult away game of the League. I am not trying to hype up United but they do have a more than respectable home record. And they have Howard Webb.
Sometimes, a good win sets expectations soaring. Some people lose track of the context and demand miracles in the next game. When reality bites, the pendulum swings to the other extreme and, along with the raucous rants of losers living off of misery, the general degree of despondency hits new heights, or is it lows. Can this be changed or is this an inescapable certainty that we must suffer through? I don’t know the answer to that but setting the right expectations can most definitely help.
Let’s not forget Arsenal have, under Wenger, rarely, if ever, scored more than one goal at Old Trafford. So can the current group, severely limited by injuries and suspension, break that trend? Doubtful. Is this side good enough to win 1-0? I promise not to utter a single criticism against the Arsenal defence all season if that result is achieved.
1-1 then? Now we are entering a more realistic, or cautiously optimistic, zone and this in my opinion is the best result Arsenal can get from this game. Other likely outcomes are not worth discussing before the match.
As I’d said prior to a couple of other games, the progress of the tactical adjustments being made will be of more interest than the final result. But does Arsene have 11 players to put together a tactically strong unit?
Starting line-up option 1 –
Szczesny – Jenkison, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Sagna – Djourou, Ramsey, Rosicky – Walcott, RvP, Arshavin.
This assumes the two centre-backs are fit to play.
Option 2 –
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny, Sagna – Ramsey, Rosicky, RvP – Walcott, Chamakh, Arshavin.
If Vermaelen fails the fitness test, Djourou will have to drop back into the back four. Van Persie seems the most experienced and feasible option for midfield. Rosicky and Ramsey will have to show a great deal of defensive discipline. A considerable improvement in form will be demanded of Arshavin and Chamakh.
There are some other options as well – Traore could play on the wing to provide better defensive cover (with Jenkinson on the left) so that Sagna can do his usual excellent job on the right. Lansbury (if he is fit) could be played in the midfield for his engine and desire. After all, he has played with Cleverly and knows the youngster’s game well. Arsene could also thrust a young gun (AOC or Miyaichi) into the starting line-up for a baptism by fire. This could allow Arshavin to come inwards and take up a position in the hole. That way both teams might end up with a 4-4-1-1. It would make this an open and entertaining game. There are a number of other combinations possible, but these seem to be the most likely ones.
I think the single biggest test for Arsenal will be the quality of the collective defence. Other teams have been able to bring the ball from defence to attack quite often but have lacked the quality in the final third. That won’t be the case with this well-oiled United side that has plenty of pace and finishing prowess. Any lack of concentration or laxity in tracking back can be calamitous.
The first goal will, as is the case in such games, make all the difference. If United get one early they will get complete control over the game and will seamlessly transition into a counter-attacking style.
Last season at Old Trafford, Arsenal started with a cautious approach but didn’t have the right shape to transition from defence to attack. That meant the ball kept coming into the defensive third every minute or so. Eventually, it led to a freakish goal and gave the tie to the hosts. In order to avoid that, Arsene has to find a way to keep the defence solid while having options to break. Walcott can certainly make a big difference in this regard but his runs have to be tactically coordinated otherwise he looks highly ineffective and one dimensional.
Ramsey and Rosicky have the quality to provide balls from deep. Even then, without a clear tactic and practice, it’s hard to expect players to figure these things out on the go. Time will tell whether the Gunners have worked on this in the build up.
If United play with two midfielders like Anderson and Cleverly, Arsenal could get some joy in the middle and opportunities to unlock their defence. I will be surprised if Ferguson leaves that crack open. But if he does, this game won’t be as tight as some of the other encounters between these teams. I expect at least three goals in that case but can’t say which net they will be in.
Szczesny will have the opportunity to put in a MotM display and he has the talent to do it. I would love to know the odds on that one.
And won’t this be a great game for Arshavin to rediscover his shooting boots. Even Rosicky, Ramsey, and RvP should chance their luck at every opportunity. United have a keeper who, in current form, can also be the MotM for the Gunners. The attacking players need to be aware of and attack the second ball from every cross or shot that goes towards De Gea.
Oddly enough, Arsenal have just one win in the last nine League games. Guess who that came against 🙂
Another little tidbit that might interest you is that Arsenal won 49 percent of the games when Nasri started and 62 percent of those he didn’t.
Hopefully, the Webb effect will not come into play and we will get a fascinating tussle between the already presumed League winners and widely predicted no-hopers that will prove the gap isn’t as big as some would have you believe.
Ending on a different note, my folks have come from India and I will be very busy over the weekend. Apologies to regular readers who prefer a quick report after the game. I won’t be able to do one till late on Monday afternoon US Central time. Till then, enjoy the rebuilding phase with reinvigorated hope and tempered expectations.