Old Trafford, Manchester
December 14, 2010; 1:30 A.M. IST – Live on ESPN
Manchester United will take on Arsenal at Old Trafford in what could be the start of a very interesting phase in terms of the title race. Both the teams also face Chelsea in the next couple of weeks and hence both managers know how important this game could be come the end of the season. Expect nothing less than a fierce, free flowing battle where no stone will be left unturned! The war of words has already reached high levels with Evra having a go at the Gunners.
The Red Devils have been unbeaten so far in the league and also have the best home record this season. This will be the first league game for United since they demolished Blackburn a couple of weeks ago although they did suffer a humiliating loss themselves at the hands of West Ham in the League Cup as their second string side lost 4-0 at Upton Park. Sir Alex would be desperate for a win that would take his side back at the top of the standings specially with their next game at Stamford Bridge where they have not won for ages.
Arsenal, on the other hand, go into the game having the best away record in the league so far this season. Although, the Gunners have struggled at home, their performances on the road have been impeccable to say the least. Wenger’s side certainly have more steel in them and look like genuine title contenders this term and a victory at Old Trafford will take them four points clear of United. This game also comes as an acid test for Arsene Wenger and his boys as they have lost nine and drawn one of their last ten games against United and Chelsea.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Sir Alex is hopeful about his trio of Scholes, Ferdinand and Evra getting fit for the game. While Evra and Scholes missed the game against Valencia in midweek, Ferdinand was substituted just after half time with a hamstring problem. Also good news for the manager is that Jonny Evans and Wes Brown are also fit for the game after both players recovered from a virus infection. In case Ferdinand fails to recover for the game, Ferguson can call upon one of these players to play alongside Vidic. The only players unavailable for selection are Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia and Owen Hargreaves who has suffered yet another setback in his road to recovery.
The manager might be tempted to go in with a 4-5-1 formation for this game – the system which he used in big games last season including both matches against the Gunners. Anderson is likely to retain his place after good performances against Blackburn and Valencia and will probably line-up alongside Fletcher and Carrick in a three man central midfield. Nani will be patrolling the right hand side while Sir Alex’s willingness to play Park in such big games might be decisive in getting him the nod ahead of Giggs on the left side of midfield.
Arsenal could be without their captain Cesc Fabregas for this game as manager Arsene Wenger has given him only a small chance, depending upon a late fitness test, to be involved at the Theatre of Dreams. The midfielder is still suffering from the hamstring injury sustained in a 2-0 defeat at Braga. Kieran Gibbs will definitely miss the game as the young left back was ruled out for three weeks after suffering an ankle injury in midweek against Partizan Belgrade. Johan Djouru is likely to recover from the thigh injury as is Gael Clichy after recovering from a virus infection. Almunia, Diaby and Vermaelen continue to remain on the sidelines.
With Fabregas expected to miss the game, Wenger is likely to play Wilshere and Song in central midfield. They will be ably supported by Arshavin and the man of the moment – Samir Nasri from the wings. Chamakh is likely to lead the line with the manager likely to opt for Rosicky in place of Robin Van Persie in order to strengthen the midfield. Gael Clichy will be a straight forward replacement for Gibbs and will become a part of an all French back four for the Gunners. Fabianski will continue to be in goal in the absence of Almunia.
1) United have scored a goal in every five goal attempts, the ratio being the best in the league.
2) Ferdinand has committed just one foul in 1040 minutes of football in all competitions.
3) 10 of Berbatov’s 11 goals this season have come with Wayne Rooney on the pitch.
4) Arsenal have won six of the nine games in which Howard Webb was in charge.
5) The Gunners have lost nine of the last ten games against United and Chelsea in all competitions.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
He certainly has a strong liking to play against Arsenal with his first goal, first league goal for United and his 100th league goal all coming against the Gunners. The striker is also growing in confidence with every game which was lacking in the games leading up to his contract saga. His performances against Blackburn and Valencia were more like one expects from Rooney and this could well be the game where he finds his scoring touch as well.
Samir Nasri (Arsenal)
The young Frenchman has arguably been the player of the season so far alongside Gareth Bale. The emergence of Nasri has certainly helped Arsenal in coping with lack of fitness and form of Fabregas and Van Persie. He has already scored some memorable goals this season and his close control has mesmerized defenders up and down the league. United defence will certainly have a hard time dealing with this young magician.
TheHardTackle’s KEY BATTLE
Nani vs Clichy
The Portugese winger has been in tremendous form this season and is currently on top of the assists chart alongside Arshavin in the league. With Clichy just returning to the first team after missing the previous games due to a virus infection, the Frenchman will have his work cut out in keeping Nani in check. The last time these two sides met, Nani had the better of Clichy which led to a superb United victory. This time around Clichy would be keen to come out on top and this game could also very well be decided by the outcome of this battle.
Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal
These two sides have always produced a wonderful spectacle through their attacking nature of football and this will be no different. Arsenal will have a go at United and cause their defence some problems but United will edge this one by an odd goal.