Manchester United hosts Premier League leading Arsenal in what could be one of the most crucial games of the season for both teams. The Red Devils will look to extend their unbeaten run whereas Arsenal has to prove that they are ready to mount a serious title challenge by beating their fiercest rivals.
A win at Old Trafford would not only be three points added to the tally but it would also instill a sense of authority in the Gunners, which could go a long way in deciding whether Arsenal indeed has what it takes to win trophies.
Beating the Devils in their own backyard could just be the impetus needed for Arsenal to string a consistent run of wins under their belt.
As far as motivational factor is concerned, Arsenal should look no further than Patrice Evra's catty verbal attack. Evra's silly, pretentious talk does make you wonder whether the Manchester United camp has already thrown in the towel before the kick-off.
Despite failing miserably in his attempt to conceal the fright, Evra has conceded that Arsenal is likely to win this tie. All the awful Evra jokes aside, as I said before, this game has got more than three points in it. Plus, how many times would you get the chance to end your rival's unbeaten run?
You would also want to know why Sir Alex Ferguson has launched an unwarranted attack against the trend of players wearing snoods, declaring, "Real Men don't wear snood." You know where that snipe is coming from.
Both Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh are fans of snood. Isn't it unnecessary for a manager to interfere in the privacy of a player? Isn't it entirely up to the player as to whether he wants to wear a glove or snood or whatever he is comfortable in? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that it's just another goofy mind game by Ferguson.
Sideshows are over, it's time for the titanic screening:
Before stepping into the matchup arena, a closer look at the formations of both teams is essential.
Arsene Wenger is likely to deploy a 4-2-3-1 with Chamakh up front all of his own. Andrei Arshavin and Nasri will flank Chamakh with Robin van Persie in the hole. Alex Song and Jack Wilshere will play centrally. Gael Clichy, Laurent Koscielny, Sebastien Squillaci and Bacary Sagna will form the back four with Lukasz Fabianski in goal. Johan Djourou, if fit, should make the selection process even more tough for Wenger.
Ferguson is likely to opt for a more traditional 4-4-2 with Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov up front supported by in-from wingers Ji Sung Park and Luis Nani. Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher will support the attack from deeper midfield. Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Rafael will complete the defence with Edwin Van der Saar in goal.
Manchester United certainly has an edge in defence. That said, Arsenal has one of the best attacks in the Premiership steered by the in-form French Winger Nasri, whose sublime skills might prove to be too good for the Old Trafford side.
In the final third, Nani is the main threat that Arsenal has to deal with, but with a shaky defence, the Gunners will have to sweat it out to keep him quiet. Up front, Rooney looks to be in decent touch but not at his imperial best, so a bit of gumption in defence would be enough to keep him at bay.
Arsenal could win this game in midfield where Manchester United has an apparent weakness which is well documented this season.
Arsenal with the type of midfield weapons in their armoury should easily control the game from the middle. Aging legs of Scholes could be easily tied down with sound planning.
Ferguson, though, will have other ideas. His strength is wing play with adequate pace in Nani and Park to trouble any team. If Wenger ticks the box for his usual ultra-highline in defence, it could give Nani and Park ample time and space to get behind Arsenal's defence. And don't even remind me that Arsenal's centre-backs, akin to snails, can chase them down by completing 100 m in 2.99 seconds.
Nasri has already scored eight goals this season, and there's no reason why he can't torment Evra and add three or four more to his already sparkling tally.
Evra—very average defensively—is an offensive left-back. His propensity to maraud forward will leave gaps to exploit. Ferguson will most likely double-up on Nasri with Evra and Park, so Sagna must be at his very best to support Nasri with timely overlaps and thereby push Evra further back.
Nasri's exceptional dribbling skills will come handy to get himself out of the tight cobwebs that Ferguson is likely to knit up for trapping the diminutive French master of deception.
Wenger has slightly tweaked the right-wing position this season which is the main reason why players from that position, Nasri and Theo Walcott, have scored more goals than what would have been expected. The RW is now more like a right forward playing as an auxiliary striker; this allows Nasri to get into scoring positions more often just like how a striker does.
Evra might already be dreading the snood!
This is an intriguing battle.
Vidic is one of the best defenders in the Premier League whose agricultural style makes the life of a lone striker messy.
He's brilliant in the air and it takes some doing to beat him for high balls. Chamakh is also good in the air and is a sturdy customer who likes physical battles. Chamakh should use brains more than muscles against Vidic because that's the only way you can beat the Serbian centre-half.
Ferdinand will also provide good support to Vidic, but van Persie's threat means the England defender has to keep an eye on the Dutch striker too.
Chamakh's aerial ability, link-up play and technique will be tested and these are the type of games where you have to raise your game.
Chamakh has already wasted numerous one-on-one chances since joining Arsenal, but this is one game he simply can't afford that luxury.
Being efficient is the guide word. Chamakh may also try to create space for van Persie and co. by dropping deep or out to the wings which could cause confusion in United's defence. Having said that, United's defence is much better than the clumsy, sluggish Arsenal backline and they will be prepared to weather any storm; it will take the guile of the fox rather than the force of the storm to breach the relatively safe United defence.
We will have to wait and see whether Song's tackle emerges victorious or Scholes' passing.
Scholes is an immaculate passer of the ball with incredible vision. He's the creative force and this is the player you have to chain up from the start to finish.
Song has been incredibly lackluster in recent games, and he should be disciplined enough to mark Scholes tightly in this particular game.
It's Wenger's decision to chisel out the new Maradona out of Song, but monsieur Wenger must realize that Song doesn't have the quality, awareness or passing range to emulate Nasri or Cesc Fabregas and he should be allowed to do what he does best, which is shielding the backline.
Arsenal hasn't played a dedicated holding player this season to protect the back-line which is one of the main reasons why Wenger's team looked so vulnerable at the back.
Both Song and Wilshere play more centrally and find themselves in the opposite half most of the times. You don't need eight players in the opposite half, so it would be better if Wenger reimposed Song as a more conventional holding player.
On the other side, Fletcher will look to protect his more creative partner Scholes. Wilshere must keep Fletcher engaged otherwise Scholes has the ability to control the tempo of the play, which goes without saying, from deeper positions.
Koscielny is a decent defender but nowhere near the league of Vidic. Indecisiveness and errors are the norm of his game. On the positive side, he's a good reader of the game.
Rooney has been slowly but surely regaining his best form and looked very sharp against Valenica in the midweek Champions League tie. Rooney will fancy his chances against the calamitous Arsenal defence.
Rooney has the tendency to roam in and around the box, and Koscielny should be on his toes throughout the game because even a minor lapse could prove fatal.
Koscielny is more of an aggressive defender who likes to battle it our for the aerial balls. In this particular game, he must think on his feet as to decide whether or not to come forward for the ball.
Nani, with his pace, skill and trickery, poses a real danger for any wingback. His pinpoint crossing is another aspect that sets him out as a dangerous winger.
This season he has managed to come out of Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow and carve a unique niche for himself.
He's also leading the Premier League assist chart with 10 assists so far.
Arsenal wing-back Clichy has been highly inconsistent this season, though looked solid of late. The last time these two teams met, Nani dismantled Clichy en route to a comfortable 3-1 win.
Clichy must dispatch those disgruntled memories and concentrate on hatching plans to force Nani out wide on the wings. If Clichy fails here, Arsenal might well fail in turn.