Old Trafford, Manchester
Saturday, November 3, 12:45 GMT
Manchester United have yet another big game coming up as Arsenal visit Old Trafford for this weekend’s showcase event. This fixture will always remain deeply steeped in history with the two legendary mangers Ferguson and Wenger in charge of their respective clubs. No reminders are needed for this generation of Gooners and Red Devils, those titanic clashes of the last two decades between the two proud clubs are forever imprinted on every football fan’s psyche. Yet, the fire has diminished somewhat with the two wise men now on amicable terms, perhaps owing to Arsenal’s lack of sustained title challenge. But the hostilities will be resumed once again this weekend as the high profile Robin Van Perise transfer has once again reignited the simmering feud. Arsenal faithful haven’t forgiven their one time favorite son who has committed the cardinal sin by choosing the United scarlet over the Arsenal red and RVP will surely be in the eye of the storm.
Formbook looks impressive for Manchester United as the Red Devils have already gathered full points from tough encounters against Newcastle United, Liverpool and Chelsea and that too away from the comforts of Old Trafford. Despite the midweek reversal in the Capital One Cup, United will be buoyed, especially with the form of their strike force with the former Arsenal captain looking like a man possessed. After clawing their way to within one point of early pace setters Chelsea, Fergie would be looking to drive home the advantage and go on a sustained run. United’s form against Arsenal in recent times has been exemplary but United’s shaky defence could prove to be their undoing as already proved by the other team from North London.
Wenger must have feared the worst as Gunners fired blanks against Norwich in the league and Schalke in Europe. Nonetheless, back to back wins including the memorable comeback victory at Reading must have surely reinvigorated the side. Arsenal must carry that momentum against United and look to play to impose their game just like they did at Anfield. Last season’s epic demolition at the Theatre of Dreams must surely fuel Wenger’s men to deliver the coup de grace.
Team News & Tactical Brief
The manager’s injury worries are on the brink of being solved as both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are expected to return to action in the near future. In fact, Smalling could return to the squad as early as the midweek game against Braga in the Champions League, however, this game comes too early to mark his return after being out since the end of last season. With the two Englishmen’s return to fitness, Vidic will be left as the only defender to be unavailable for selection – a welcome relief for the manager considering the injury list he had dealt with so far this season. Apart from Vidic, Shinji Kagawa will be the only outfield player out with injury as the Japanese is not expected to return until the end of this month.
The depth of the squad has helped the manager enormously during the tough fixture list in the past few weeks. Fergie made as many as ten changes in midweek from the eleven that started in the league game at the Bridge on Sunday. However, the usual suspects are expected to return for this key fixture with only a few players that played on Wednesday expected to be involved. None of Giggs, Fletcher and Anderson is expected to start while Chicharito is also expected to be used only as an impact sub as he was last Sunday.
The first choice defence is also set to be restored with Evans and Ferdinand returning as center-backs. Evra will also take up his left-back responsibilities while Rafael, who played in both games at the Bridge, playing as the right-back. The manager will be hoping for the defence to get their act together as his team has conceded more than two goals per game on an average so far this season. Although they have been baled out by the strike force on most occasions so far, Fergie knows it won’t be long before they are punished for their frivolities.
It will be interesting to see the formation deployed by the manager against the Gunners. Having played his wingers last Sunday to take advantage of Chelsea’s weakness, it wont be a surprise if the manager opts for a diamond or even a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation to stifle Arsenal’s passing and movement. United have been very successful in recent times against Wenger’s men by overloading the midfield and playing a lone striker up front and there is a distinct possibility for Sir Alex to continue that trend.
Carrick will return to the starting line-up in the holding midfielder’s role while Cleverley and Scholes could play alongside him to complete the midfield trio. Scholes, who has been used rather sparingly in recent weeks by the manager, is expected to return as his ability to dictate the tempo of the game could prove vital against the Gunners. Up front, Rooney and van Persie are certain to start with Welbeck playing as the third man up-front. All the three forwards will be swapping their positions from time-to-time as they did against Stoke, thus creating confusion for the opposition defence. While defending, Rooney and Welbeck will join in midfield, making it a five in the middle of the park for the home side.
However, if the manager wishes to play his wingers, Valencia and Young will be deployed on the flanks with Welbeck and one of Scholes or Cleverley giving way. In that case, Rooney will play in a lot more withdrawn role as he did against Chelsea.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Lindegaard; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Carrick, Scholes, Cleverley; Rooney, van Persie, Welbeck
Arsene Wenger has a handful of injury worries to deal with going into this game. Gervinho has been ruled out for three weeks following the ankle injury suffered by him during the match against QPR. The manager has also confirmed that Kieran Gibbs, Wojciech Szczesny and Abou Diaby have no chance of playing on Saturday due to injuries which is a major blow for the manager as all would have definitely been part of the starting eleven for a game of this magnitude. However, the good news for Wenger is the return of Jack Wilshere who looked in fine form against QPR which was his first game for the senior team after being out for more than a year.
Gibbs’ injury means that Andre Santos will once again start on the left side of defence. The Brazilian has suffered a lot of criticism for his inept displays so far this season but the manager has no choice but to go for the former Fenerbahce man. Mertesacker and Vermaelen will also return to the starting line-up after being rested in midweek while Bacary Sagna’s return to fitness will mean that the in-form Carl Jenkinson will be kept out of the first eleven. While the French right-back is expected to make his trademark runs down the flank into United’s half, Wenger might instruct Santos to play a much subdued role and concentrate on his defensive duties.
With Wilshere back, Cazorla will have less burden on his shoulders as the creative player in the team. While Arteta will continue in his role as the defensive midfielder, Wilshere will be looking to share the attacking responsibilities with the new signing from Malaga. Although the young Englishman will be playing in a much deeper role than Cazorla, his passing abilities will be helpful for the team in building up the attacks. They will also be helped by the ever so hard-working Giroud who will be dropping back from time to time and connecting with the two play-makers.
Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott will be deployed on the wings to keep United full-backs as pushed back as possible. While Podolski will also be expected to help out Santos in defence, Arsenal’s main attacking threat comes from the other flank where Walcott and Sagna will be looking to give a hard time to Patrice Evra. Walcott, who was exceptional in his side’s amazing comeback win in midweek, will be providing the much needed width and pace down the right hand side which has been missing in their play so far this season.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Mannone; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos; Arteta, Wilshere; Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud
- Manchester United have won eight and lost just once in their last ten games against Arsenal.
- United have scored at least one goal in their last 53 league games at Old Trafford.
- Arsenal have scored more than one goal only once at Old Trafford in the Premier League (8-2 last season).
- Robin van Persie scored in both meetings between these two teams last season.
Players To Watch Out For
Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
The Dutchman is bound to be in the thick of things as these two clubs meet for the first time since his multi-million move to Old Trafford. While Arsene Wenger has called for the fans to show respect for the man who served their club for eight years, there is no sympathy expected from the Gooners for van Persie. What is worse for them is that the striker has continued his rich vein of form at his new club as he has already scored seven league goals and assisted a further three in just nine games thus making himself an integral part in the United setup. Van Persie, on the other hand, will be looking to ignore the negative chants from the away end and help his team to gain three valuable points.
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
Cazorla has been a revelation of sorts for Arsenal since joining them at the start of the season. He has been a focal point of most of the Gunners’ attacks and his defence splitting abilities have helped some fans to even forget a certain Cesc Fabregas. One of the signings of the season so far, the Spaniard has adapted to life in the Premier League like a duck to water and there is no surprise that the opposition managers are looking to subdue him in order to minimize Arsenal’s attacking threat. Sir Alex Ferguson could very well be looking to do the same on Saturday as well or the United defenders will be in for a hard time from the diminutive midfielder.
Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal
It’s the battle of the best defence against the best attack in the league so far. While Arsenal seem to have ironed out their defensive flaws that have pinned them back on numerous occasions during the past few seasons, Old Trafford could prove to be too tough a test as they will be up against a strike force firing on all cylinders. Although Wenger’s men will cause some concern to the shaky United defence themselves, in the end it will not prove to be enough.
Blast From The Past