Manchester United v Arsenal Preview: The flanks could be key to success
Just a point separates both Arsenal and Manchester United going into Monday’s game – and even without the pizza’s, crazed captains and Martin Keown, this is sure to be a feisty affair. Indeed, Patrice Evra made sure of it with some pre-match mindgames – describing Arsenal’s lack of silverware as a ‘crisis’. Arsenal will be without their captain, Cesc Fabreags, and so will rely on the man on everybody’s lips to earn a result, the smug, snood-wearing Samir Nasri.
United’s preparation hasn’t been ideal either; still sweating over the fitness of both Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes. It has the makings of a classic tie, as all United-Arsenal games are, and, below, ManUtd24 and The Arsenal Column look ahead to the game.
The intensity of the fixture is still there. It might have mellowed a bit in the last few years, however, there is a feeling that Arsenal are genuine contenders again. As neither of the top three have been able to nail down any real consistency, it’s anyone’s bet as to who will be victorious in come May. There is a possibility of goals, goals, goals – neither team has been convincing at the back but I’d expect Arsenal to have plenty of possession, and United to attack them on the break.
‘Real men don’t wear snoods,’ Sir Alex said with his serious face in the build up to this game. Was that a cryptic swipe at the in-form Nasri, calling him, er, her a girl? But, of course, the Frenchman will be the main threat. I’ve seen plenty of him this season, and I would say that the hype is justified. He’s thrived almost as a second striker, with eight league goals to his name already. Chamakh has been a fantastic addition; finally, Arsenal have a player who is excellent in the air.
As for Manchester United, it’s difficult to predict how they’ll line up. I’d like to see a 4-3-3 at the start, with Nani and Rooney on the flanks, while Carrick, Fletcher and Giggs start in the centre. They then will have the option of reverting to the traditional 4-4-2, with Giggs moved to the left and Rooney to the centre partnering Berbatov. Realistically thinking, we will probably see Park instead of Giggs. Park is United’s big-game player, and having just been crowned November’s Player of the Month, you’d expect him to get the nod.
Actually, Fergie has something of a selection headache. He might even go for Anderson or Scholes, both of whom can provide something different. The former is in the form of his life, while the latter has the ability to change a game single-handedly. It’ll be a tight game, but being biased, I’m going for a 1-0 win.
Predicted teams: Manchester United (4-4-2) Arsenal (4-2-3-1)
(The line-up is only a prediction is subject to change. Manchester United could start with a 4-5-1 which, if it’s the case, likely to see Anderson start in instead of Berbatov and maybe even Scholes ahead of Carrick).
The Arsenal Column says…
Arsenal enter the clash at Old Trafford with greater optimism than their first place position would normally indicate. They are in impressive form away in the league and go into the match confident that their approach can being them the win. “The difference when we play away is that we defend much better,” said the in-form Samir Nasri. “Our discipline and shape is more efficient when we play away and I am quite confident because we can play our game and we know we can score at any moment.”
Much has been said about Arsenal’s tendency to allow teams in with a chance of the game; early on, it may be expected as Arsene Wenger looks to enforce the game by pressing high up the pitch, but when they are looking comfortable, a sudden inexplicable nervousness is prone to kick in which contrives to throw open a game. Luckily, Arsenal usually takes a more cautious approach away, rather looking to keep their shape and play more compact. In that respects, the work the wide men put in will be very important so they don’t allow Manchester United space to attack down the flanks.
Flanks could be key to success
Sir Alex Ferguson himself, has recently opted for containment in big matches but with Antonio Valencia injured and Ryan Giggs still yet to settle, the manager has been pressed, if anything, to play 4-4-2. Surprisingly, it’s Dimitar Berbatov who plays highest up the pitch, Ferguson hoping the Bulgarian can provide a focal point to attacks, while Wayne Rooney is expected to roam. He showed against Valencia that he is close to recapturing his form but in his absence, it has been Nani who has kept United firing. His assists and danger he causes to the opposition, whether cutting in or hugging the touchline, means a fascinating duel will forego on the left-hand side. Andrey Arshavin should be up against Rafael Da Silva and the Brazilian right-back has a tendency to rush into tackles which Arshavin will be willing to exploit with his direct running.
The 4-4-2 Manchester United play – if indeed they do because there is an option to play five across the middle – means play can be stretch and that means controlling the centre of midfield can be a tough task. It will open space down the channels and with Nasri and Bakary Sagna performing in impressive combination, Arsenal may be stronger out wide. With that in mind, Sir Alex is surely to start Park-Ji Sung who’s tireless efforts as what many call the “defensive winger” will be summoned into service.
Containment and counter
The United boss also knows, letting Arsenal play can be a suicidal tactic so the chances of a 4-5-1 is not unlikely. Anderson, who has been powerful in recent games, can provide the drive while in games such as the 1-0 win at Valencia, he was detailed to mark David Albelda and stop the defensive midfielder from passing the ball out. He may asked to do similar and in a three-man midfield, expected to harry Jack Wilshere and Alex Song. United have always been deadly on the counter they will be set-out to be no different tonight. Berbatov is a top player but will he be a hindrance to the tactic? Sir Alex will be hoping he can bring others in to play to start a quick counter-attack while Rooney may be more suited to the role as he played last season.
Wenger’s main question will be whether to start Robin van Persie and if to play him behind Marouanne Chamakh. He was not too impressed with the partnership in the 3-1 win over Partizan Belgrade saying it was too sluggish so Tomas Rosicky is likely to enter the fray. His direct impact may not be very telling but there is a calmness the Czech brings and his presence and movement seemingly gets the best of Arshavin. Wenger will be tempted to start with van Persie as his ability to drop off will be an unfamiliar threat for Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, who are all too comfortable playing against physical opponents.
The other contentious choice will be the selection of Wilshere or Denilson. Wenger has spoken glowingly about Denilson’s stability and discipline in big matches and that will be important as United are potent on the break but Wilshere has been entrusted in key matches thus far this season. Any choice is likely to be tactical rather than based on experience and for that reason, expect Wilshere to start. Cesc Fabregas will start on the bench maximum but it’s his words before the game that Arsenal need to adhere to if they are to come away with the points. “We are winning games again now but know we can defend better and attack better,” said the captain. “We know we can be more compact as a team.”