Match Preview: Arsenal Vs Manchester United

Rooney celebrates the penalty he scored against Arsenal earlier this season

After that enthralling Manchester derby victory on Wednesday United get straight back into action with a Premier League clash against Arsenal.  Out of all the matches between the regular ‘big four’ I’d say United against the Gunners is probably my favourite fixture. The games are generally hard-fought, full of chances and great exhibitions and hopefully Sunday will be no different.

On Wednesday I was busy watching the Carling Cup semi-final so I missed the Arsenal game (they drew 0-0 with Aston Villa at Villa). I did see their game against Bolton at the Reebok and their FA Cup exit at Stoke, although that was a weakened team, so I’ve got a decent idea of how they’re playing at the moment. Unfortunately for United, I’ve been relatively impressed by Arsenal of late and it could be a rough ride for the players who put in so much effort on Wednesday night.

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas has been in terrific form since returning from injury last month and, as always, he’ll probably be their most dangerous player. Fabregas made some great runs from midfield against Bolton and was really orchestrating the play. Granted, United represent a very different task but Fabregas is world class and can terrorise any opposition. Andrei Arshavin can cause all sorts of problems down the flanks and whoever is marking him, probably Patrice Evra, will have to be on their game. The Arsenal attack is a formidable one and they should be up for the United game with the title race so tight at the moment but they have plenty of weaknesses as well.

The midfield might be one of the most impressive in the league but in terms of centre-forwards Arsenal lack the power of the other title chasers. Without Robin van Persie the Gunners rely on the likes of Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo to lead the line and they’re just not of the same standard. I rate Eduardo but I honestly don’t think Bendtner is good enough to play for a side challenging at the top. Chelsea have Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, Liverpool have Fernando Torres, Man City have Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez and Spurs have Jermaine Defoe, while United of course have Wayne Rooney but without Van Persie the Gunners don’t have the same power up front.

Rooney is in the form of his life and has proved vital in recent weeks for United. With four goals against Hull and that crucial strike against City the 24-year-old has been in blistering form and will cause havoc on Sunday at the Emirates. The Arsenal defence is perhaps more resolute than it was last season, but it is another area I would class as a weakness for the Gunners. I would argue their best back-four would be Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas, don’t get me wrong – breaking this unit isn’t easy but it isn’t impossible.  Bolton managed to take a 2-0 lead thanks to lapses in defence from Arsenal and United are more than capable of capitalising on mistakes.  I’m not convinced of Manuel Almunia’s abilities as a goalkeeper either and I expect United to find the net at the Emirates – it just depends whether they can keep Arsenal out.

Victory in London would be massive for Sir Alex Ferguson as United would take a four point lead over Arsenal. I don’t want to hazard a guess, there is too much at stake, but I reckon we’re in for an entertaining match with plenty of chances. After the fantastic result in the Carling Cup United should be fired up for this and Rooney’s form and goalscoring run could prove vital.  In the past, these fixtures were characterised by the rivalry not just between the two clubs but between captains Roy Keane and Patrick Viera. That particular tussle may be over in terms of this fixture but perhaps the Rooney Vs Fabregas battle takes centre-stage now. It isn’t the same sort of rivalry, but for me whoever has the better game out of Fabregas and Rooney will probably be on the winning side, and with Rooney’s current form United fans must be confident.

Written by Gareth Freeman, promoting Irish racing tips and the Grand National 2010.

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