Saturday, 9 November 2013

United vs Arsenal: Match Preview

Do not. Underestimate. Manchester United.

True, Alex Ferguson has left and put David Moyes, a mid table manager, in charge. True, Moyes has had a bit of a rocky start to his United career. And it's also true that they seem considerably weaker than last season. (the Premier League table does not lie!)

But it's also true that they are still Manchester United. This is a team that gave Real Madrid a real run for their money last year. This is a team that has stars like Rooney and van Persie to showcase in their lineup. And let's not forget, this is the same Manchester United that won the Premier League as early as last year. They might arguably be stronger than last season, due to the arrival of Fellaini and the brilliance of Adnan Januzaj. And for those who think that Januzaj got famous only because he scored two against a relegation threatened side, think again.

I'm not saying that we are destined to lose this match. We're actually the favourites to defeat United at Old Trafford for the first time since 2006, and end that dismal Old Trafford record. On current form, we certainly have the better players than Moyes' team. To add to that, there couldn't be a better time to play them, on the back of morale boosting victories against Liverpool and Dortmund, so confidence should be high to defeat a "weak" United team.

And that's my worry. Moyes' shaky start and Man Utd's current position in the league has led many to believe that United's class has considerably fallen and that they are just a mediocre team with a few starlets. Rumours of van Persie being unhappy at Manchester and Fellaini's horrible form simply adds to the burden on Moyes.

But they are still Manchester United. A club who are on an 8 match unbeaten run, a team that seem to be finding their feet and a team that can defeat us if we take this fixture lightly. I still believe that they are title contenders this season, and I am certain that they will attain a Champions League spot at the end of the season. 

The last time we won was in 2011. Guess who scored?
Which is why Arsenal can't afford to take Man Utd lightly. It's true that this is one of the best Arsenal sides that we have seen for almost half a decade, and it is also true that this is one of the worst United sides in recent history, but that doesn't mean that we should treat them like Crystal Palace or Sunderland. I can't shake off this sneaky suspicion that over-confidence and complacency will play a part in getting 3 points at Old Trafford.

When you look mathematically, a loss won't be the end of the world for Arsenal. We'll still be on the top of the table comfortably, and it will only be our second loss in the Premier League. However, a loss at OT will be a huge psychological letdown. To let the same team who destroyed our 49 match unbeaten run to destroy our fantastic away record might be a catalyst in a collapse we've seen far too often (although I think that's unlikely to happen to THIS Arsenal side). The gap narrowing to 2 points from 5 will undoubtedly bring nervousness and leave hardly any margin for error. Not to mention the glory hunters looking to "shut us up" will get a reason to cheer about.

Wenger highlights the fact that our defence, rather than our attack, needs to be focused. He says:

"Rooney and Van Persie are a very dangerous partnership because both can score, both are complete players and both can give assists. Certainly one of the keys for us on Sunday will be to keep this partnership quiet. First in stopping others feeding them but, as well, we will need our back five to be very efficient.”

We have a boost in team news, with Flamini certain to start and Wilshere and Walcott possibly providing options on the bench. I think that Wenger won't use Wilshere at all in this match, so that he doesn't play with England and thus gets a two week rest. I suspect we shall see a lineup of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Rosicky and Giroud, with a powerful option like Ramsey (and maybe Theo) on the bench. It's a side that is definitely strong enough to win at OT (we need to, after Liverpool won) and keep out the likes of Rooney and van Persie.

It's surprising how little I have thought of van Persie this year. While many Gooners teased and jeered him for having a tough time at Manchester so far, I have been completely indifferent towards him so far. For me, this match carries much more significance than showing a traitor how wrong he was to turn his back on us. For me, this game is about avenging the humiliation our reserves suffered 2 years ago on this pitch. It's about turning the tables on Manchester United in less than a year and going 11 points above them. It's about making a statement to the whole of England that we are the team to beat this season.

Most of all, it's about showing the world in 90 minutes that the old Arsenal is back.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )