5 Things Arsenal Must Do to Beat Manchester United at Old Trafford (Videos)
Arsenal encounters at Old Trafford rarely fail to entertain.
From Arsenal's league-winning match in 2002, courtesy of a Sylvain Wiltord winner, to United's 6-1 demolition of The Gunners in 2001, Old Trafford has hosted its fair share of nail-biting encounters between the two bitter rivals.
However, after a turbulent summer, Arsenal seem set to continue the new season worse than where they left off the last one.
Ex-captain and iconic playmaker Cesc Fabregas is now plying his trade at boyhood club Barcelona, while midfield maestro Samir Nasri looks has departed for the Eastlands and Manchester City. Arsenal’s glaring defensive frailties do not seem to have been addressed either, as Arsene Wenger seems to have ignored fans’ chants pleading to 'spend some money' on seasoned professionals.
In great contrasting style, the champions have done anything but rest on their newfound record as England’s most successful domestic team, as they look to find a way past European champions Barcelona. With an experienced lineup, abetted by some recognisable signings, it seems United are on a mission to recapture their crown.
Is there any hope at all then for Wenger's depleted side? Can the Gunners find a way past Sir Alex Ferguson's champions?
Here is a video slideshow showing five things Arsenal must do to cause an upset and grab an unlikely 3-point win at the Theatre of Dreams, Old Trafford.
Change the Formation
Arsenal playing a 4-3-3 to great affect
In the last five years, Arsene Wenger has changed his formation more than any other top-flight manager in England.
His once famed 4-4-2 formation, where the CM positions were occupied by two tough-tackling, box-to-box midfielders seems to have become obsolete in the Frenchman's mind, as he now prefers to field a 4-2-3-1.
Interestingly, in between the aforementioned tactics, Wenger deployed a 4-3-3 formation often enough—a move which saw a return of Arsenal's brand of "beautiful football."
Although it really only bore fruit with Fabregas' involvement, the formation could actually be used quite effectively this Sunday, as Arsenal currently have no defensive midfielders within their immediate ranks.
Both Alex Song and Emmanuel Frimpong, the latter who defied critics and stood his own against the outfit from Anfield, are suspended for this tie, meaning employing a 4-2-3-1 would be futile as the Gunners have no actual defense-minded outlets in the midfield.
Quite simply, with players whose best attributes include lighting the field with creative passes and through balls, employing Wenger's now favored position is likely to backfire, as it would leave the backline exposed and left to fend off the likes of Wayne Rooney and Nani.
Whatever Wenger does decide to play should ultimately depend on who's available and who makes the starting lineup.
Play a High Defensive Line
Arsenal players turn defense into attack within seconds thanks to their high line
Giving Manchester United space, as we've all seen in the past, is one of the biggest mistakes an opposing team can make.
Players like Rooney, Nani, and now Ashley Young simply drool at the prospect of running at and taking on the backtracking defender. It gives them time and freedom to carve out attacks, and ultimately forces defenders into the box.
When Arsenal beat United at the Emirates Stadium in May, they did so while playing a high defensive line. It worked brilliantly, as the Red Devils love running with the ball but were effectively unable to do so since Arsenal had defenders stuck to them. Essentially, the "pocket of space" between Arsenal's midfield and defence, as is often seen in games against United and similar opposition, was nonexistent.
Some may say that playing a high defensive line is akin to suicide, as it would allow United's players to thread passes behind Arsenal's defence for their wingers and strikers to latch onto.
With all do respect to Manchester United—they are still the team to beat in England in my point of view—they are not Barcelona. Simply speaking, playing pretty penetrative through balls isn't their game, meaning Arsenal can (and should) take that gamble.
Playing a high line is also essential for Wenger's philosophy of "pretty football" to work, as it would push United's defenders back, providing Arsenal's attack-minded players with space and time on the ball.
Bench Arshavin to Use Him as an Impact Sub
An energetic Arshavin scores the all important winner against Barcelona during his 'slump' in form
It's no secret that the little Russian, while still possessing bags of talent, simply lacks the stamina to play at a high level for the entire 90 minutes.
Benching Arshavin to bring him on when the opposition is tired out, like Wenger did at the Emirates against Barcelona, would essentially help the destructive Russian to run past and at exhausted defenders, causing chaos at the tail end of the game.
Whether Arsenal is winning at that point, stagnating at a potential draw, or losing, the Gunners could use an impact sub. Arshavin proved over the course of last season that he is capable of playing that role.
And at 30 years of age, it isn't too much to ask for from one of Euro 2008's standout performers to bide his time until the 70-minute mark, after which he is released to cause havoc among the United back line.
Besides, if his last start against Liverpool (ironically enough) suggests anything, it's that the Russian is now losing that "sparkle," or at least the ability to carry it the whole 90 minutes. Despite some disgruntled views, he's one of the more experienced members of the squad, and his potential contribution cannot be underestimated.
Play Robin Van Persie in "the Hole"
Robin van Persie providing a lovely pass for Vela while playing the number 10 position against Wigan
Arsenal's lethal striker has himself admitted on occasion that he's not an "out and out" conventional striker.
And while his stats may prove otherwise, one aspect of his game that was never really in doubt was his ability to carve open opposition defences with his smart, perfectly weighted passes and through balls.
Quite simply, Robin van Persie has an eye for an assist. During an interview last season during his goal streak, the Dutchman even said he wasn't completely content since he realizes his creative ability and wanted to contribute more than he already had (he ended last season with 7 assists in the league).
And "the hole," also called "the number 10 position," may just have to be filled by van Persie for the Old Trafford outing, especially in the wake of injuries to other potential candidates (namely Jack Wilshere).
Aaron Ramsey is another contender for that role. However, given the Welshman's ability to backtrack and "get stuck in," perhaps playing him in a deeper role may be a good idea for this tie, seeing as though Arsenal have no available natural defensive midfielders.
People forget van Persie was originally brought to replace Dennis Bergkamp, who plied most of his trade at Arsenal behind more conventional goal scorers.
Besides, van Persie has already shown on a few occasions that he's more than capable of providing the killer ball!
Start Marouane Chamakh
Chamakh's bravery in the air was the main factor in Pepe Reina's OG at Anfield last year
A controversial move no doubt, but there's one real reason to warrant the Moroccan starting a game of this magnitude: David de Gea.
It's no secret that the keeper brought in to replace Edwin van der Sar is so far failing to live up to the billing, after a string of unconvincing performances between the sticks. His decision-making and handling of shots has come under fire, as he's spilled a fair share of rebounds while being caught out of position on occasion.
Maroaune Chamakh, it could be argued, is undergoing a similar sort of confidence crisis.
Having continually put on subpar performances after the return of Robin van Persie, the Moroccan looks a shadow of the player he was last season, when he valiantly and single-handedly led the line in the Dutchman's absence.
A lot has changed since then: most importantly for the Moroccan, van Persie's renewed fitness levels, as it seems to have permanently kept the aerially imposing striker on the bench (and rightly so).
However, if there's one thing no Arsenal fan can deny, it's that Chamakh possesses a skill set quite unique in this current Arsenal side—the ability to be an aerial threat.
Last season, the Moroccan latched on to and took advantage of a number of crosses, while posing as a sufficient threat in the opposition box during set pieces. If there's one player that can target and possibly unsettle de Gea, it's Chamakh.
His willingness to jump into goalkeepers (Jose Reina) could possibly prove the difference in tomorrow's encounter, as for once, Arsenal seem the squad with the more composed and assured of the two keepers.
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