|< Prev||Next >|
With the haunting memory of their 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Manchester United still fresh in the minds of most, and the prospect of lining up against the Premier League's Golden Boot winner and their former skipper Robin van Persie to contend with additionally, one would excuse Arsenal for feeling that the chips are more than a little stacked against them when they travel to Old Trafford on Saturday to take on the 19-time Champions. Throw in the fact that United have already hammered in 24 goals in just 9 games so far this year, making them the League's top scorers, most pundits would have you believe another thrashing could well be on the cards.
The good news for Arsenal is that United's defence has been leaking goals this year, giving the Gunners every reason to believe they will be able to score more than a few themselves. For once in their lives, Arsenal fans would not relish the prospect of being in Arsene Wenger's shoes as he goes about making what is a very tough decision on playing style, formations and team selection. However, Wenger's biggest concern will no doubt be how to tackle the huge mismatch between Antonio Valencia and Andre Santos, given the former's impeccable showing against Chelsea last week, and the absence of natural defensive skills in the latter.
1. Playing Style: The Arsenal-way or Opt to defend
The first dilemma that Wenger is faced with is whether he should play his own game, and not worry about United. He chose to do that last year, with a depleted squad and it backfired miserably. Should he take the gamble and opt to play Arsenal football, he could be left with no specialist defensive midfielder shielding the back four in addition, giving United's forward line the freedom of Old Trafford to express themselves. With all due respect to Mikel Arteta, who is not just a fabulous footballer, but a highly intelligent player with exceptional positional sense, he is not going to be able to be everywhere on the park. He just doesn't possess the legs of a Patrick Vieira or a Gilberto Silva.
There are way too many perspectives on whether Arsene should play 4-2-3-1 or go back to an old fashioned 4-4-2 on a weekly basis to even open that Pandora's Box on the eve of this huge game. However, tweaking his playing formation is something that Wenger usually only does when he is chasing a game, throwing on an extra striker and going into all out attack mode.
While no one expects Wenger to go out and park the bus in-front of goal at Old Trafford tomorrow, it may not hurt the Gunners' boss to consider the option of playing three center-halves in tomorrow's game. That would mean sacrificing one of the midfielders, but it could make the Gunners a lot more solid defensively, and should they manage to stay close for 60-75 minutes, they could have the option of giving it a real go towards the end of the contest.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that left-back is the most troublesome area of the pitch for the Gunners at present, and while Wenger may wish to continue to show faith in Andre Santos, it is hard to see the flamboyant Brazilian capable of keeping Antonio Valencia in check for 90 minutes, and the right wing could become a source of tremendous concern for the Gunners. While Lukas Podolski has shown great willingness to come back and provide support early in the season, his effectiveness itself tends to peter out after the hour mark, leaving Arsenal badly exposed.
Arsene though is not shy of options...
a) He can move Thomas Vermaelen to left-back a position he has played in many times for Ajax and Belgium.
b) He can play Carl Jenkinson at right-back and Bacary Sagna at left-back. Wenger has been reluctant though to use Sagna on the opposite wing, despite the player having been described as a versatile defender when he was signed from Auxerre in 2007.
c) He can use Francis Coquelin at left back. The young Frenchman has a terrific work rate, and was the only Arsenal player who showed up in the first half against Reading in midweek. Wenger though is extremely unlikely to opt for this option, but there is a possibility he could deploy the youngster in midfield once again this year to provide some defensive cover.
d) Call up Jernade Meade! The 20-year old Englishman made his debut against Reading in midweek and was incredibly impressive, but United at Old Trafford for his League debut, surely not (incidentally, Wenger did hand Coquelin his debut at OT last season!).
The rest of the team largely picks itself. Having played 120 minutes on Tuesday, none of Arsenal's League Cup heroes are realistically in contention for a start, despite having had an extra day to recover in comparison to United's second stringers. As much as people might want Theo Walcott to start, chances are he'll probably be on the bench as will Coquelin and Koscielny. With the injury to Gervinho, Olivier Giroud is certain to return to lead the line. Aaron Ramsey played out of position on the right wing looks like a duck out of water, but if Wenger wants to use Santi Cazorla down the middle, the Welshman will just have to make it work.
Arsenal fans are more likely than not prepared for the worst this weekend, and should they manage to walk away from Old Trafford with a point, it will surely feel like a win.
- 03/11/2012 20:31 - Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal: Player Ratings
- 03/11/2012 20:01 - Manchester United ease past poor Arsenal to return to the top of the table
- 03/11/2012 19:40 - Gritty Swansea hold Chelsea to 1-1 draw as Blues drop to second place