Monday, October 29, 2007

Sheffield United vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

Premier League leaders Arsenal take on the Championships nineteenth placed team, Sheffield United, this Wednesday in the fourth round of the Carling Cup. The Premiership giants were lucky to avoid drawing against the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea, but the Blades will not be nearly so happy to have to face Arsenal.

Arsenal played twice against United during the Blades brief one season stint in the Premiership, and while Arsenal demolished United 3-0 at the Emirates, the Blades will take some solace in the fact that they were able to defeat Arsenal 1-0 at Bramall Lane - the locale of Wednesday's fixture.

On current form though, Arsenal are far superior. Arsenal's first team is on a run of unbeaten games dating back to last April against West Ham. This season, Arsene Wenger's young guns went on a streak of twelve straight wins which was broken on Sunday in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield. Arsenal are at the head of the Premiership table with eight wins, two draws, and no losses so far this season.

Sheffield are not faring nearly as well in their return to the Championship. The Blades have won only three of their thirteen games this season, the other ten consisting of five draws and an equal number of losses. United have conceded twenty-one goals this season, the second highest in the Championship, and will have to play extremely well to defeat Arsenal's young side.

Sheffield United will be given some encouragement by the fact that Arsene Wenger always plays young sides in the Carling Cup, but Arsenal's youngsters are as good as any team outside the top four, as seen in 3-1 and 6-3 victories over Liverpool last season.

This season, Arsenal's young players have managed to defeat Newcastle 2-0 in the Carling Cup third round, following impressive periods of dominance from the young gunners.

Wenger will most likely field a lineup completely different from the one which played against Newcastle, due to injuries to Philippe Senderos and Eduardo da Silva. Emmanuel Eboue is also unlikely to play on Wednesday, although he may be injected into Arsenal's depleted defense.

Lukasz Fabianksi will almost surely start in goal, as Arsene Wenger is keen on giving the promising youngster a few starts this season.

In front of the Pole will most likely be Justin Hoyte, Alex Song, Armand Traore, and Kolo Toure. Toure may have to feature in the place of the injured Philippe Senderos, although Arsene Wenger may choose to play Lassana Diarra in the defense as well. Because of the Senderos injury, Wenger may even choose to give promising young Norwegian Havard Nordtveit his senior Arsenal debut.

In the midfield Neves Denilson will likely play alongside Abou Diaby. Depending on how much Arsene Wenger trusts his youth, these two could be complimented by any number of their peers. I would love to see Kieran Gibbs and Fran Merida or even Henri Lansbury or Mark Randall feature, but I feel that Wenger will be keen on making it through to the next round so his young players can get some more experience. For that reason, the likes of Mathieu Flamini or even Gilberto may be brought in to add some experience to the young Arsenal side.

Up front, Arsene Wenger's obvious choice would be to start Nicklas Bendtner alongside the electric Theo Walcott. Walcott could soon break into the Arsenal first team following his impressive performance in the 7-0 drubbing of Slavia Prague. If he can play well on Wednesday he may even start against Manchester United next Saturday instead of leaving Emmanuel Adebayor as the lone striker.

With an impressive midfield and attacking lineup, I can't see Arsenal losing this game. I'm not going to predict any scores because they could vary greatly depending on the team that Arsene Wenger decides to field, but I think it is safe to say that Arsenal are heavy favorites in this fixture and it would be very disheartening to see them drop out at this stage of the competition.

I would be disappointed by anything less than a comprehensive victory.