Old Trafford, Manchester
August 28, 2011; 16:00 GMT
The big game of the weekend takes us to Manchester, Old Trafford where one of the oldest football rivalries is rekindled as Arsene Wenger’s Gunners visit the champions Manchester United on Super Sunday. These two teams dominated English football in the late nineties and the first half of the noughties, however lately things have changed.
Although Ferguson’s Manchester United have gone from strength to strength in recent times, Arsenal have steadily fallen behind. The two managers have coexisted rather amicably hence reducing the aura of tension surrounding the games, still none of the two teams would like to be on the losing side as the new season gets set to hot up.
The North London club have lately been under widespread media scrutiny after the departures of club captain Cesc Fabregas and star midfielder Samir Nasri, coupled with their rather unflattering start to the new campaign. However, the Gunners eased some pressure off their manager as they produced a valiant display under pressure to beat Udinese in midweek and secure their place in the Champions League in the process. The manager would be hoping for much of the same from his players as they try to recover from a stuttering start to their season.
United, on the other hand have stared quite well, with new signings Phil Jones and Ashley Young settling in well contributing to a near perfect start. There have been few concerns regarding injuries to central defensive duo Vidic and Ferdinand but the more pressing concern seems to be the shaky start made by new Man United number 1, David De Gea. The Spaniard has looked rather nervy in his first few appearances and the British media has made the most of the opportunity.
Whatever the circumstances be, Manchester United v Arsenal is one of the marquee duels in modern day English football considering the history surrounding both these illustrious clubs. Arsenal might be hurting at the moment, but United would be well served not to let off their guard as the wounded animal can very well turn into a tenacious ferret.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The injury concerns seem to be easing for Sir Alex since the last week, but there are still several players missing from the game. Rio Ferdinand and Antonio Valencia were reported to be “training well” and might be fit for this game which comes as a good sign for the manager given Ferdinand’s injury problems in the past and the fact that Valencia has not played at all since the start of the season. Darren Fletcher is also fit for the game after playing the full ninety minutes for the reserves in midweek. The Scot had missed the latter part of last season and the whole pre-season due to ill-health. Sir Alex would surely relish his return given his ability to bring out his ‘A’ game in big matches, however, the manager is unlikely to name him from the start. Chicharito is also fit to start the game after making his return as a substitute against Spurs last week.
The bad news for the manager is that Vidic might be out for a month while Rafael will be missing for even longer. However, with the new boys at the back impressing in the last two games, the manager will not rush them back.
The manager is facing a selection headache ahead of the game, but one which he would rather welcome every weekend. Despite being successful with a 4-5-1 formation against Arsenal in the recent past, Fergie is likely to go with a 4-4-1-1 formation with Rooney playing in the hole and dropping deep to take part in the build-up play.
Up-front, Welbeck has been impressive in the last few games, but he might only have to contend with a place on the bench with United’s ‘Fans’ player of last season’ – Chicharito returning from injury. The Mexican took the league by storm last season and his link-up play with Rooney and ability to score goals could get him the nod ahead of the young Englishman. In the middle, Cleverley and Anderson have done very well in the last few games, yet Sir Alex might go for the experience of Michael Carrick to play in front of the back four while Anderson will be given the freedom to move and build-up the attacks for his team. Nani would once again start on the right wing, however, the manager might be tempted to play Park-Ji-Sung ahead of Ashley Young on the left side given the special liking of the Korean for the Gunners.
At the back, the manager is unlikely to risk Rio Ferdinand, with games against Liverpool and Chelsea along with the Champions League games on the fixture list in September and October. This means that United could play with the same back four of Smalling, Evans, Jones and Evra that did rather well against Spurs on Monday night. Behind them would once again be David De Gea who, despite another shaky performance in the last game, is certain to start the game.
Probable Starting XI: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Nani, Anderson, Carrick, Park, Rooney, Berbatov
Arsene Wenger could not have chosen a worse time for his team to make a trip to Old Trafford. The team has not scored a league goal in the opening two games and now face a daunting trip to one of the toughest places in England with several players missing the game due to injury and suspensions. Gervinho and Song are into the second game of their three match bans while Frimpong is also suspended for picking up two yellows in the game against Liverpool last weekend. However, there is slight good news on the injury front for the manager as Djourou and Rosicky are both fit to play while Laurent Koscielny also had a positive test on his back injury and is likely to start on Sunday. Thomas Vermaelen also faces a fitness test but is likely to make the first XI.
Squillaci, Gibbs and Bendtner are missing for the Gunners due to injury, but the biggest setback for the manager is the recurrence of Wilshere’s ankle injury which keeps him out for at least another three weeks. With Song and Frimpong also missing, this might be a telling blow to Arsenal’s chances at the weekend.
Arsene Wenger, like his counterpart, is facing a selection headache but it is more to do with lack of resources than an abundance in talent. The Frenchmen is likely to go with a 4-1-4-1 formation with Johan Djourou playing as a defensive midfielder in the absence of Alex Song. He would have huge responsibility on his shoulders as his main task would be to deal with the threat posed by Wayne Rooney who likes to drop deep and act as a play-maker for his team. Behind him would be a familiar back-line with the exception of Traore who is likely to play at left-back in the absence of Gibbs.
Wenger does not have too many options in the midfield and hence is almost certain to play Ramsey and Rosicky in central midfield who will be ably supported by Arshavin and Walcott from the wings. Robin Van Persie will lead the line for the Gunners who is certain to start ahead of Chamakh. Arsenal’s higher percentage of the attacks would be from the right hand side as they will try and use the pace of Walcott to hit United on the break. This game might also witness Arsenal new boy Oxlade-Chamberlain who might be involved as a substitute.
Probable Starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Traore, Djourou, Arshavin, Ramsey, Rosicky, Walcott, Van Persie
Key Match Facts
1) Average age of the United’s line-up against Tottenham was 23 yrs 191 days – It was their 2nd youngest ever in a EPL game.
2) This is the first time since 1969/70 season that Arsenal have not scored in the first two league games.
3) Arsenal have won only 1 out of last 9 league games – against United at the Emirates last season.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Robin Van Persie (Arsenal)
The Dutchman showed in the latter stages of last season that when fully fit, he is one of the best in the business. With Fabregas and Nasri leaving and several players missing due to injury and suspensions, the onus rests upon Van Persie to carry the Gunners this season. The young and inexperienced back line will be under pressure from the striker who will be ready to pounce on the smallest of mistakes by the defenders.
Manchester United 3-1 Arsenal
The Gunners will get their first goal of the season against an inexperienced defence and a low on confidence goalkeeper. However, the Red Devils will prove to be strong enough at fortress Old Trafford to overcome a depleted Arsenal side.