Manchester United Loom but Arsenal's Chances at Top-Four Finish Still Intact
Arsenal will survive this week's assault by Manchester United when the two sides recap their August duel at the Emirates this Sunday despite the strong possibility that revenge for the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford might not quite happen.
Mikel Arteta, Arsenal's midfield spine, is set to miss the match with what has now gone from a calf strain to a groin injury.
It's a huge blow, a misfortune that will likely favor Manchester United. Thierry Henry is still in doubt for the encounter as of this writing. He is to undergo a scan to determine his fitness for the match.
Thomas Vermaelen is more likely than not to miss the match, which means Ignasi Miquel is likely to toil at left back with little or no cover from the defensively challenged Andrei Arshavin. Manchester United's Antonio Valencia and Nani should have a field day with Arsenal's left-back position.
In place of Arteta, Thomas Rosicky is likely to start alongside Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey. It will be interesting to see what midfield combination manager Sir Alex Ferguson fields.
Johan Djorou will not have an easy match at right back, and both Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will find any attacking combination Ferguson fields a big challenge.
In a sentence, the advantage in this match seems to point toward Manchester United. This is their match to lose.
A draw will be a good result for Arsenal under the circumstance. Although one can never rule out a victory for Arsenal, if it comes, it should be considered a bonus.
The likely scenario I can predict is a loss.
This is not being defeatist, it's only that Arsenal will be unable to field their strongest side, and although United fans can say the same about their team, I think man for man they still seem the stronger side.
While Gooners should not dispense with hope and faith, they should keep the possibility of a defeat in sight. It's a realistic expectation, and facing it beforehand should prove a wise psychological strategy.
A few, like Piers Morgan, have started whining in the face of this prospect.
"This is a very big game for [Arsene Wenger]. If we lose this one, there’s going to be a lot of people asking questions," he said, but moaning and whining seldom help. On the contrary, fans' hysteria often proves detrimental to a club rather than helpful.
Fact is surviving Manchester United in this match will be a Herculean task for Arsenal.
However, apart from the misfortune of injuries to key players, the omens look good.
All of Arsenal's rivals failed to consolidate their position on the Premiership table. Newcastle were sacked 4-1 at Fulham. As a result they missed the opportunity to supplant Arsenal for fifth place, which even a draw could have fetched them.
Liverpool slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Bolton. A win for them could have pushed Arsenal down to seventh place, if Newcastle had also won.
Chelsea gave a toothless performance at Norwich City to take a mere point from an encounter that looked dusted and done on paper. They spurned the seven-point gap that could have opened up between them and Arsenal.
What all this means is that even a loss to Manchester United this week will not affect Arsenal's prospect on the table as far as the team’s immediate rivals are concerned/ Especially considering that the priority right now is not the title but a top-four finish.
What this means is that Arsenal will survive this week with minimal damage. Put into perspective, Arsenal couldn’t have asked for a better week to play Manchester United.
After this match, Arsenal will have time to recover and regroup. The next match is an FA Cup match against Aston Villa. The pressure from this match will be different.
It will happen at the Emirates, and although Arsenal would be looking to progress beyond Villa for the trophy, its effect on next season in the event of a loss will not be as psychologically impactful as missing Champions League football.
By the time League games resume a fortnight from now, a number of Arsenal's injured players will have returned from injury—Arteta, Francis Coquelin and Thomas Vermaelen.
Here is a list of the next three matches:
01 Wed Barclays Premier League A Bolton Wanderers
04 Sat Barclays Premier League H Blackburn Rovers
11 Sat Barclays Premier League A Sunderland
These are not easy matches, but Arsenal have as good a chance of winning them as losing them. If they return to good form, they should win these matches.
The fixtures that follow these matches will determine Arsenal's fate this season.
For now, and to recap, Arsenal are fortunate to face Manchester United under what is a favorable circumstance.
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