So many story lines converging into one match. Another chapter in the unfair battle between Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, as Arsenal try to put the ghosts of the 2-8 defeat from last season behind them. Robin van Persie playing against his former team stands above them all.
How much did that loss actually mean? Arsene Wenger didn’t lose his job, Arsenal didn’t fall apart, Manchester United didn’t win the title. It did lead Wenger to some sort of panic shopping spree and a complete overhaul of his squad, but Arsenal still finished third and reached the Champions League.
This season? Well, United seem to be going for the title along with Chelsea and Manchester City while Arsenal have already fallen behind, six points behind United & City, 7 points behind Chelsea. They’ve scored 14 goals to United’s 24 and while they offer plenty of quality and intelligent play with their unbelievable depth in central midfielders, their string of forwards is running pretty thin in terms of goal scorers.
The story couldn’t be any different for Manchester United. Alex Ferguson changes approaches in his trial & error method constatnly. After losing to Barcelona in the Champions League final (2011), Ferguson decided he needs his team to start playing more attractive, more attacking football. That experiment ended with a 1-6 thrashing at home against Manchester City, and Ferguson went back to his old tactics. Extremely potent defending, poaching goals and living on that.
This season began in that same manner, but the problems in the back and his extremely slow midfield when Tom Cleverley’s not playing forced Ferguson to change direction again. All-out-attack to secure as many goals as possible. While he doesn’t have much talent in the middle, the kind of quality he has on the wings and up front, with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia makes it a pretty obvious choice to focus on attacking football.
Arsenal haven’t won at Old Trafford since 2006, when Emmanuel Adebayor was still playing for the team. In order for Arsenal to win there again, they need to go into the toughest away fixture in England with the same mindset that Tottenham used almost one month ago to secure the victory. Counter attacking instead of possession football, something that worked for them pretty well at Anfield earlier this season, coming up with a 0-2 win.
Using quick players to man the front positions – Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla. The rest should be busy defending and holding up play, keeping the match away from United’s front men. Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey. None of them are natural defensive midfielders, but the back four is going to need all the help they can get in this one. Referees, as we all know, are a factor in these matches, usually leaning towards the United side. Not a conspiracy theory, just facts about the amount of penalties and such that go to United’s favor.
Maybe it’s because they are usually the dominant side, maybe it’s something else. For Manchester, it’s about controlling the pace of this match and whoever starts in the middle to keep pushing the pace and the direction of the match forward. To have Valencia, Rooney and Van Persie get as much as possible of the ball. Arseanl’s defense has improved this season, but not by enough.
Prediction – Arsenal showed character against Manchester City in their previous visit to Manchester this season. The forms of both sides are a bit different this time, and United, a tad tired from their double meeting with Chelsea, are packing more heat heading into the match.