This fixture could not have come at a better time. Both Arsenal and Manchester United are in the form of their life. Arsenal have won four of their last four away games and Manutd have won four of their last four home games. From a neutral perspective, this match has got all it takes to be a season best. This match is the definition of goals.
But, the odds seem to be slightly tilted towards the home side. Manchester United have scored the most number of goals in the Premier League even though they have played fifteen, one less than Arsenal. On the other hand, Arsenal have kept only four clean sheets out of a possible sixteen. This indeed is worrying from an Arsenal perspective. Arsenal now have to score more than the highest scoring team in their own home ground whilst providing a top defensive display. Can Arsenal do it? Only time will tell.
I am fully confident that Arsenal can dominate midfield even in the absence of Cesc Fabregas. And both of our top two strikers have enough quality to deal with the Manutd defense. But can I say with the same confidence that the Arsenal can dominate the Manutd strikers? Unfortunately the answer has to be no. The fu
llbacks can possibly handle themselves but I am really concerned with the heart of our defense. Let’s see what might happen when the defenders go head to head with the strikers:
Koscielny vs Berbatov: Having never played Manutd before, this match-up is hard to predict. Koscielny is alright with his aerial ability although I would have preferred Djourou against Berbatov. I don’t think Wenger will listen to me though. If Koscielny can keep up with Berbatov aerially, I believe Koscielny will be at an advantage. This is because Koscielny is best at anticipating and tackling. I also believe he can cope with Berbatov’s pace which is not very high. What Koscielny has to be aware of is Berba’s killer instinct near the goal. A lot of low crosses will be played from both sides with the help of Nani and Park(possibly) and Koscielny will need to man-mark the striker really well.
Squillaci vs Wayne Rooney: I am most worried about this match-up. Unless we are really lucky and/or Rooney is completely out of form, I cannot see Squillaci effectively defending against the Englishman. Squillaci is slow. His tackling is so-so and aerially he his horrifying. Moreover, his partnership with Koscielny has yet to take off. If Arsenal are to lose/draw against Manutd on Monday, Rooney might as well be the reason for it. To cope with him, Squillaci has to be at the top of his game and Wenger has to apply some major tactics. Squillaci will not get away with it if he repeats the same errors that he made against Fulham and Partizan. Their strikers were lethargic, Wayne is not. Rooney will punish Squillaci cruelly for every mistake he makes.
Clichy vs Nani: This one can go either way. It depends on which Clichy shows up on Monday. Will it be the Clichy with the awesome tackling ability or will it be the absent-minded, error prone Clichy we occasionally see? Clichy can match Nani with his speed but it will be his awareness and tackling precision that determines who wins the duel. I say tackling ‘precision’ because Nani will be up to his tricks and everytime Clichy makes a bad tackle he will give away a free kick. And, we do not want to concede free kicks to the likes of Berbatov, Rooney and Vidic, especially when Nani will be taking them. Let’s just hope the right Clichy shows up on match day.
Sagna vs Park: This is one duel I am fairly confident about. The only thing that Sagna needs to be wary of is Park’s movements off the ball. That Korean can make some deadly runs and Sagna has to make sure that the Park-Evra combination does not work. But, I think out of all the Arsenal defenders, Sagna is the most dependable and I expect him to do his job.
Manchester United will be up for the game but so will Arsenal. To hide some of our apparent frailties, we have to dominate the game well. We have to make sure the ball is on the right side of the field most of the time. Manchester is a counter attacking team and I hope our players are training accordingly. This is not a run of the mill fixture; we have to do much more than we did against the likes of Fulham and Partizan. Manchester United will be looking to take advantage of every mistake we make and we have to always be one step ahead of them to win.