Arsenal at Manchester United: Previewing a Pivotal Clash

Justin PedersenCorrespondent IIAugust 27, 2011

Only two weeks into the start of a new season, Arsenal and Manchester United face off this Sunday in what should be an entertaining affair.  Both have emerging young talent, play attractive football and are coached by two of the greatest in Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

While both teams will surely be gunning for glory, analyzing this match at first can be a bit one-sided.  Both teams are heading in different directions right now and have contrasting outlooks for the match.  While Manchester United is flying high after starting their season off with two wins, Arsenal is struggling for form and will face the reigning champs just a week after losing to Liverpool.

Wenger stated in a news conference earlier this week that Manchester United is the team to beat this season.  It makes sense considering the Red Devils took home a record 19th Premier League title just last year.  And while Arsene Wenger realizes how good United is currently playing, I don’t expect him to do anything less than prepare his team appropriately.

Arsenal comes into this crucial tie desperately needing a result.  After playing out a goalless draw vs. Newcastle in the opening weekend, the Gunners hosted Liverpool last weekend and came out on the losing end of a 2-0 score line.

Arsenal’s weaknesses were exploited during both matches.  Newcastle were able to expose the immaturity in Arsenal’s young squad, as new boy Gervinho was sent off for slapping Joey Barton in the face.  While many will say Joey Barton baited the Ivorian with his own actions, Gervinho should have maintained his professionalism and dispelled Barton’s reactions.

The match against Liverpool showcased two clubs who went different directions during this summer’s transfer period.  Liverpool went out and spent mega bucks to bring in players to fill specific voids, and they were able to prevent the Gunners from dictating the game.  Arsenal fans were left scratching their heads after this affair, and the Gunner’s lackluster performance sent a panicky message to the London supporters.

While their first two matches ended in less than desirable results, Arsenal ran into some good fortune last week as they fought their way into the Champion’s League.  Knowing they officially booked their ticket to Europe, it is now or never for the Gunners to make some moves before the transfer window closes.  Dealing with multiple injuries, a depleted first team selection and high-profile players leaving the club, Wenger needs to bring in suitable replacements if he expects his squad to have a successful season.

Unlike their league counterparts, Manchester United is flying high.  Coming off back to back wins to open the campaign, the Red Devils are brimming with confidence and look to continue their fine form against Arsenal.  Sir Alex’s team is playing free-flowing football at the moment, and has a reason to think they should win this fixture.

The biggest surprise in examining Manchester United’s early season success comes down to the play of their youngsters.  Players like Tom Cleverly, Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have all seen significant playing time, as Ferguson puts full confidence in these young players.  He is being rewarded for his trust by seeing his young players rise to the occasion and put in quality performances so far.

Wayne Rooney continues to inspire his squad, as does Nemanja Vidic.  Rooney leads the front line with passion and aggression, while Vidic calmly orchestrates his back line like a marionette.  These two appear to be peaking at the perfect time, and keeping these two injury-free will be fundamental to United’s title defense.

Javier Hernandez continues to recovery from a concussion he suffered over the summer, but other than that Manchester United is fielding one of the deepest squads they have had in recent memory.  Their midfield is playing with discipline, their defense is superb and they get plenty of goal scoring from different outlets.  When Brazilian playmaker Anderson even gets on the score sheet, all cylinders are certainly clicking.

The biggest difference between the two squads is depth.  Manchester United has options on their wings in Nani, Ashley Young, Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia, and can field almost any pairing up front without missing a stride.  Arsenal is lacking quality depth right now, and with the suspensions of Alex Song, Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong, Wenger is going to be facing a headache if another one of his players succumbs to injury or suspension.

Manchester United is predicted to run out with the victory tomorrow, and they should do so quite easily.  They are playing too well right now, and I am not sure if Arsenal comprehends the storm they will be weathering tomorrow at Old Trafford.  The Red Devils have been flawless thus far and will hope to kick Arsenal while they are down.

While Arsenal seems destined for another setback, teams coached by Arsene Wenger do not go down without fighting.  That being said, the differences between the two clubs at this moment are drastic and Arsenal can only hope to muster a draw tomorrow.  Sneaking away with three points is ideal for the Gunners, but at this moment in the season I do not see that happening.

Tomorrow’s clash is expected to be fast from the very start, and the atmosphere in Old Trafford should be exhilarating.  When two of England’s greatest clubs come together, fireworks usually ensue.  If things go horribly wrong for Arsenal tomorrow, expect fans to increase their demands for Wenger and Arsenal’s owners to open their wallets and make some key purchases before the transfer window closes.  Strengthening their squad is the only way Arsenal will succeed this term, but Arsenal are hoping to find new confidence by coming out winners on the road tomorrow.