Talking tactics ahead of the Arsenal clash
They say the beast is most dangerous when wounded. For Manchester United and Arsenal, both on the back of a detrimental spell that might have damaging implications on their season, this game could not have come at a worse time. Both are certainly wounded – United suffering two defeats in as many games while Arsenal are with just a single win from their last four in all competitions (and two chances of silverware blown in the process).
Yet the beasts are not nearly as intimidating to each other as they’d find Frankenstein’s Monster. Both teams will surely fancy their chances. Why so? Numbers are running low on either side with players sidelined; form, as said, is below-par and both will look to gain the mental-edge that could potentially propel the conquerors to League success in a tight two-horse race, as well as the possible cup triumph that comes with winning this game. With so much at stake but so little assured, it is guaranteed that this match is an affair worth the usual drivel that is ITV’s coverage and tactically-speaking this could be, in the words of Adrian Chiles, an “absolute corker you wouldn’t want to miss. Coming after the break.”
Pressing is key, despite what Andy Townsend tells you. Barcelona, pleasing as ever off the ball (and equally as much on it…), showed just how excellent they were doing so on Tuesday night and it is something that United have done well, in parts, this season. We shouldn’t underestimate the art of the pressing game – indeed; it was why Arsenal saw so little of the ball against Barcelona, an object they normally caress as if it were a pet or something that doesn’t sound near as just plain wrong. The Catalan outfit made nearly four times as many passes in the Nou Camp compared to their beleaguered visitors.
When these two beasts, er, teams, met in the League game at Old Trafford just before the turn of the year, United were notably strong off the ball and had pressurised the Gunners with their high pressing. Sunderland did similar when they locked horns with the North Londoners last weekend. At the Emirates on Saturday, in the absence of Nani, the Red Devils must try to do the same. If not, Arsenal’s beast can be fully unleashed; playing triangles around the park and stringing together passes to unsettle opposition.
United are still a force on the counter. The recent 4-0 win over Wigan, although so distant with two defeats following after it, was an excellent example. Granted, talking Wigan and Arsenal in the same breath is a bit like comparing Katie Price to Katie Holmes; but Arsenal have faltered in the past against United’s sheer pace on the break. Not that you’d have to remind them. *Cough* Ronaldo *cough* in the Champions League semi final, 2009, The Emirates *cough*.
United can hit The Gunners directly from the back
<figure 1> It’s ambitious, indeed. But what many teams have done this season, and quite effectively in the process, against Arsenal, is attempt to attack them back to front. In the Premier League fixture in December, van der Sar’s chalkboard above seems to give the implication that the plan was to do exactly this and play long hard balls up towards the forwards. Would be interesting to note, during play, whether this would be the case. Heurelho Gomes did the same earlier in the season – with much success.
Having suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Liverpool, it surely meant that failed tactics were reflected on and fine-tuned. For one thing, the default 4-4-2 is more suited to the weaker opposition – Arsenal do not quite fall into that category despite what the Spanish Press might say. The ‘big game’ 4-3-3 is perhaps what Sir Alex would go for, correctly so. As always, the dilemma with playing such a formation means that one or two of their star strikers miss out. One of those not wanting to miss out is the man they call ‘Chicharito’.
Javier Hernandez will surely fancy his chances for inclusion into United’s XI, a player so clinical that it would be seen as criminal that he hasn’t had more game time if he were at any other club. His shots on target to goal ratio in the Premier League stands at an astonishing 0.59/1 – that can also be interpreted with some simple mathematics as nearly two goals for every three attempts.
It’s never easy to predict the line up, especially in a Cup game. As covered, United should play the single forward, which Hernandez will certainly play as. I’d expect Rooney to play on the left with Gabriel Obertan or Darren Fletcher tucking in on the right. The latter, probably and preferably. Darron Gibson is a dead cert in the centre, and should start alongside Paul Scholes and the much-maligned Michael Carrick. It should also be noted that the three-man midfield will suit Carrick just fine. That’s where the game will be won; Arsenal should mirror United’s formation and so the central midfield, naturally, is where most responsibility will be shifted. It’ll be tough for United, but in order for the beast to scare off the other beasts (other sides) and land a mate (trophies) they’ve got to be fearless; and make Arsenal fearful.
Man Utd: Lindegaard; O’Shea, Smalling, Evans, Fabio; Fletcher, Carrick, Gibson, Scholes; Rooney; Hernandez