February 12, 2014; 19:45 BST
Arsenal FC host rivals Manchester United at the Emirates in a highly anticipated clash as both the sides look to bounce back from disappointing performances in the last game week. This is the first time since 2008 that both these teams face each other in the Premier League after failing to win their previous games, although the similarity between these two team’s fortunes this season perhaps ends over there.
Arsenal have made a fantastic start to their campaign are in the title race along with Chelsea and Manchester City. However they did lose their lead at the top of the table as they crumbled to an embarrassing defeat against Liverpool at Anfield. Arsene Wenger will look for a quick response from his side after that shambolic performance, as they look to keep up with the teams at the top. On a positive note for the Gunners, their home form has been impressive so far this season and they are yet to lose a league match at the Emirates, since their defeat at the hands of Aston Villa in the opening game of the season. Moreover Arsene Wenger’s men have kept six clean-sheets in their last six matches on this ground and have conceded just one goal in their last 11 games in all competitions.
Like Arsenal, Manchester are also coming into this fixture on the back of disappointing result against Fulham. Despite dominating the game, they ended up conceding a late equalizer as their poor home form continued. The reigning Premier League champions are currently struggling at 7th in the league and are already out of the title race. Their best hope of salvaging this season is to grab a top-four spot in the table, but even that increasingly seems improbable with every passing game week. Worryingly for David Moyes, his side is coming into this game on the back of three consecutive defeats on the road in all competitions; in fact they are yet to win an away game this year.
This has arguably been the biggest rivalry in the Premier League era, although it did lose a bit of its edge as in recent seasons it has been a rare occasion when both these sides have competed for the title. But the results in their last games should provide an extra edge to this match.
Team News and Tactical Brief
There are no new injury concerns for the Gunners ahead of this fixture, but Arsene Wenger already has to contain with a long injury list. New signing Kim Kallstrom, Aaron Ramsey and Yaya Sanogo remain on the side-lines along with long term injury concerns Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby. Thomas Vermaelen is close to regaining full fitness, although it seems unlikely that he will feature in this game.
Few heads might roll after the Liverpool match as Arsene Wenger might bring in the changes to his starting line-up. Arsenal are expected to make two changes to the line-up they used at Anfield. Kieran Gibbs is expected to return to the starting line-up for this game in place of Nacho Monreal at left back. The Spaniard has looked shaky defensively in recent times and the Englishman has now regained his match fitness as well.
Arsenal’s midfield was virtually invisible against Liverpool, but Arsene Wenger doesn’t have too many options to choose for the pivot at the moment with Ramsey still out injured and Mathieu Flamini serving his suspension. Ergo, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere will retain their place in that role in front of the back four. In attack Arsene Wenger might look to drop his big summer signing Mesut Ozil after an awful display by the German international. Dropping him to the bench might act as a spark to ignite some fight and hunger into the former Real Madrid star. If Ozil is dropped, either Rosicky or Podolski is expected to replace him. It will also be interesting to see if Wenger persists with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain on the right wing, although he was perhaps one of the better performers against Liverpool.
Both Arsenal wingers will have to contribute a lot defensively in this game as well. With Manchester United’s eagerness to overload the wings, it is imperative that Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain helps out their full backs. Mikel Arteta also had a poor game against Liverpool and will try to make amends in this match. Along with Jack Wilshere, Arteta will have to keep an eye on Wayne Rooney, who drops deep, in between the lines, to create openings for United. Moreover, there needs to be a lot more vigour and speed in passing upfront in attack for Arsenal, something which was completely missing in their last match.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere; Ox, Rosicky, Cazorla; Giroud
Like Arsene Wenger, David Moyes also faces a lot of fitness concerns ahead of this big game, but unlike Arsenal’s worries in the midfield, United have been badly affected at the back due to this. Summer signing Marouane Fellaini and Jonny Evans remain unavailable for this clash. Nani is the only long term injury concern for United, although there are also injury concerns about Rio Ferdinand and Tom Cleverley. Ferdinand’s last appearance in a Premier League fixture was in the 2-2 draw with Cardiff City back in November and his long absence from the squad has almost turned into a mystery now. But the good news for the away side is the possible return of Phil Jones, who missed the match against Fulham after suffering a concussion against Stoke City.
David Moyes is likely to make two changes to the starting line-up that was used against Fulham at Old Trafford. Phil Jones could be deployed in the midfield alongside Michael Carrick as he would add a bit of energy and defensive cover in the midfield, which will be crucial against Arsenal. The only likely change in attack could be in inclusion of Adnan Januzaj in place of Ashley Young, although to be fair to the former Aston Villa winger, he was one of the better players for United against Fulham. Moyes could also look to play Antonio Valencia in order to add a bit more defensive cover on the wings.
Moyes’ tactics against Fulham was widely criticized as United resorted to crossing and seemed to lack a plan B in attack. It seems Moyes is struggling to get the best of out of the attacking triumvirate of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and record signing Juan Mata. United have almost played in a 4-4-2 formation with Mata out wide on the right. The Spaniard is more effective in a more central role, but in order to play him in that role Moyes will have to drop one of Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney. Moreover, without any player who can dominate in the air, United’s over reliance on crossing will hardly cause any trouble for the opposition.
It will be interesting to see if Moyes makes any tactical changes for this game. United are sure to rely more on counter-attack in this match as Arsenal are expected to have most of the possession, and this might play into the hands of United, whose attacker might experience more space upfront while counter-attacking.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): De Gea (GK); Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Jones; Januzaj, Rooney, Mata; Van Persie
- Arsenal have kept 10 clean sheets in their last 11 matches in all competitions at the Emirates Stadium and conceded just one in the other match.
- Robin van Persie has scored in each of the last five meetings between these two teams, the first two times for Arsenal and the last three for Man Utd.
- The Gunners have won six of their last eight Barclays Premier League games at home by a 2-0 scoreline.
- Man Utd have only failed to score in one of their last 24 Premier League away games, but they have only kept two clean sheets in their last 15 on the road in the competition.
- Arsene Wenger’s side have won 15 and lost just one of their last 21 Premier League home matches (D5) and in that run only two teams have managed to score more than one goals at the Emirates.
Players To Watch-out For
Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)
The German international has become a cult hero among the Arsenal fans this season. Mertesacker has not only formed a solid partnership with Koscielny at the back, but most importantly, he has been leader that Arsenal have missed for a long time. He is expected to rally his side in this game as he and the Arsenal defence looks to recover from the horror show at Liverpool. At times such as this, when questions are being raised about the title credentials of this side, Mertesacker needs to show his leadership skills as the back as they face a potent Manchester United attack.
Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
The Dutch international has a wonderful scoring record in this fixture and will once again look to make the difference at the top, as he did in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford as he headed in the winner against his former side. van Persie is sure to be at the receiving end of some special welcome by the Arsenal fans, but he can silence them if he turns around another good performance at the top. Despite struggling with his fitness for most part of this season, van Persie has still managed to score 10 goals in 13 starts for the Red Devils and remains their top scorer.
Arsenal 1-1 Manchester United
Both the sides need to improve a lot from their last outing in order to answer the questions being asked of them. It will be a tight fixture and although Arsenal go in as the favourites on paper, Manchester United almost always manage to turn up for this fixture. The home side could take a lead this game, but United will equalize and earn a point in the end.