Who art in Holland,
Hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
At the Grove, as it was at Highbury,
Give us this Saturday, 3 points against Manchester United,
And forgive us our wastefulness and as we punish those who are wasteful around us,
Lead us to Wembley,
And deliver us a trophy,
For you are a legend, and you brought us glory,
For ever and ever.
It’s only normal to say a prayer or two when locking horns with the forces of darkness, and in this case, Arsene Wenger and his Gunners are going to the Netherrealm to play those Red Devils in Old Trafford.
The last time Arsenal visited Hades, the home ground of the Red Devils, it’s fair to say that they saw Hell. Like Midas, everything Wayne Rooney touched changed to gold—goals, Ashley Young used Wojciech Szczesny for target practice with those two exquisite goals, Nani humiliated the goalie with a brilliant chip and the scourge of Arsenal, Park Ji-Sung, joined the party as well.
Arsene Wenger has been quick to point out that the game was quickly forgotten by his side and the nervy win against Swansea paved the way for a great autumn. After a somewhat topsy-turvy season, the Gunners endured another fruitless campaign but finishing at third place was some achievement, considering their torrid start to the season.
The preview to this game has being marred by racism, as it’s believed that referee Mark Clattenburg racially abused Chelsea’s John Mikel Obi in the recent Capital One crunch clash with Chelsea. Arsene Wenger has voiced his opinion on the matter, Sir Alex Ferguson has also commented on the issue and I hope that something will be done about it.
Looking at the stats, things don’t seem too good for the Gunners: They have lost seven of the their last eight games in Old Trafford. While Didier Drogba was ranked as the most feared player the Gunners played against, his exit to China has paved the way for Rooney sit on that throne, as the striker has smashed in 10 goals against Arsenal, making him (and Robbie Fowler) the joint-highest scorers against any opponent in the history of the Premier League.
There’s also an interesting stat on penalties awarded as there have been nine penalties in the Premier League meetings between Arsenal and Manchester United in the Arsene Wenger era (seven for United, two for Arsenal); all at Old Trafford and five have been missed.
With Sir Alex Ferguson already boasting that he’s not scared of Arsenal (via Daily Mail), the Gunners can go into this game without any pressure of lighting any fireworks. To get an edge of Manchester United today, the Gunners will have to control the midfield, which is a sentiment that has been shared by Arsene Wenger.
Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla will have to step their game up and I’m tipping Jack Wilshere to make another stellar performance today. Santi Cazorla has stated that he has room for improvement, but the Gunners really need to work hard for each other because the odds are firmly stacked against them.
The Gunners will have to work twice as hard in their defending today, and it’s safe to say that the shaky back four that started against Reading won’t be on the pitch today, except Wenger has plans for Laurent Koscielny, thereby drafting Thomas Vermaelen to the left-back position in an effort to quell any threat Antonio Valencia will pose.
Is it just me or do Nani, Valencia and Rafael look like the three stages of Michael Jackson’s life?
Per Mertesacker has been a revelation for the Gunners this season, and his resolve will be tested yet again today. His massive height, coordination, composure and anticipation skills have been top-notch this season. Even though he is believed to have the pace of probably a tortoise or a snail, the BFG hasn’t really been exploited on that front this season.
Manchester United’s forward line has been very impressive this season, and the partnership between Shrek and Robin van Persie has been pretty impressive thus far. Van Persie will be in the spotlight today, and I’m hoping that he won’t run the entire length of the pitch to celebrate his goal in front of the Arsenal faithful—that’s if he scores, by the way.
Arsene Wenger is fully aware of the threat Van Persie poses, and he has urged his rearguard to do all they can to contain the Flying Dutchman,
“Van Persie has a great quality in the fraction of a second that he understands where to go.
“And you can talk and talk and talk but defenders have to read that at the same time. His speed of analysing those little pockets around the box is absolutely exceptional.
“They [my defenders] know him as well because they have played against him in training. In the game it’s a question of timing, how quickly will they read it as well as he reads it?”
Despite all the strengths Manchester United has showcased this season, they also have their fair share of weaknesses, and I’ll be quick to point out the terrible positional play of the ageing Patrice Evra. Despite being in the driving seat against Newcastle last month, the Magpies exploited Evra’s frailties through a series of counter-attacks down their right but their finishing let them down that day.
The ageing Rio Ferdinand is another player who can be exploited for pace, but he’s still a fine player on his day. With the blistering pace and clinical finishing ability Theo Walcott poses, coupled with Manchester United’s uncharacteristic high line, a defense-splitting through ball in behind the defense could be more than enough for the Gunners.
To team news, Vito Mannone will still continue in goal with Arsenal’s Polish goalkeeping duo still out of action. If I was Arsene Wenger, I’ll make one change from the defense that kept a clean sheet against Queens Park Rangers by replacing Andre Santos with Thomas Vermaelen, thereby allowing Koscielny to partner Mertesacker in the heart of Arsenal’s defense.
I expect a relatively unchanged midfield with Jack Wilshere partnering the Spanish pair of Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla. With Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out injured, Theo Walcott will be drafted back into the first team to play alongside Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.
Giroud, touted as Van Persie’s replacement, hasn’t shined the brightest at the Emirates so far this season but we need to cut the lad some slack and allow him to integrate himself fully into the squad. This is the sort of game Giroud would need to show what he’s made of because his aerial prowess will be needed defensively and, of course, offensively for the Gunners. His huge frame and brute strength will be needed to hold up play as well as keep Ferdinand at bay.
This will be one hell of a contest and I’m bracing myself for a great game of football.
As the great Spartan king Leonidas told his valiant guard of 300 men,
“Gunners, eat whole and hearty, because today, we’ll dine in Hell…or Old Trafford as the case may be.”
Enjoy the game wherever you are.
This article is also featured in Toni Okike's Arsenal blog, Gooner Daily