Thursday, November 1, 2007

Arsenal vs. Manchester United: Match Preview

Match Review

The Premier League's top two title challengers are set to battle it out at the Emirates this Saturday in what is sure to be one of the most exciting fixtures of the season. Arsene Wenger's first-placed Arsenal team is even on points and goal differential with Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, and both teams are in fine veins of form.

The winner of this game (if there is one) will go clear at the top of the Premier League, and this game could be one of the biggest factors in Arsenal's title aspirations. The title is, of course, not purely dependent on top four games, as Arsenal completed the double against last season's champions.

Both teams will be confident coming into the match. Arsenal are unbeaten this season, having drawn their last Premiership game 1-1 at Anfield in an impressive performance. Arsenal have yet to drop points at the Emirates and a 3-0 midweek win over Sheffield United in the Carling Cup will also bring confidence to any Arsenal youngsters who may play on Saturday.

Manchester United started the season badly, drawing twice and losing once in their first three games of the Premier League season. However, things have picked up for the Reds, and Alex Ferguson's team have won the eight games since their loss at rivals Manchester City. Although they were dumped out of the Carling Cup, the side won last Saturday's game 4-1 against Middlesbrough.

However, United will have some injuries to deal with. While Arsenal are missing only Robin van Persie and Philippe Senderos, Manchester United will be missing a contingent of six players. Crucially, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, and Ji-Sung Park are all injured, meaning that Manchester United will be light in the midfield. Also missing are Louis Saha, Mikael Silvestre, and second goalie Ben Foster.

Arsenal will once again have Manuel Almunia in goal, with Jens Lehmann looking as though his time as Arsenal's number one is over.

In front of him will most likely be the familiar back-four of Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, and Gael Clichy.

Our defensive lineup will be quite stretched against United, with Rooney, Tevez, and Ronaldo being the main threats up front for the visiting team. Clichy and Sagna may have to limit their runs into the attacking third on account of Ronaldo's pace, and although our entire back line is fairly pacy, they may have trouble dealing with the Portuguese winger.

The most likely midfield setup (and in my opinion the best) would be Alex Hleb, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, and Tomas Rosicky. However, Arsene Wenger has been favoring Eboue in the midfield, and if we go with a 4-5-1 the Ivorian could play on the right wing, with Hleb being moved into the hole behind a lone Adebayor.

Another possibility is Gilberto's inclusion. Wenger was very complimentary of his performance against Sheffield United in the Carling Cup, and he may play despite Mathieu Flamini's impressive form.

Up front I would like to see Theo Walcott alongside Emmanuel Adebayor. The English teenager registered an incredible performance against Sheffield on Wednesday, making some amazing runs despite not managing a goal. Walcott is a good finisher, and could turn provider for Adebayor or any of the Arsenal midfielders.

Eduardo is another option, and his brace at Bramall Lane on Wednesday will make him a strong contender to start the match as well. The Croatian striker is an excellent finisher and could provide the deadly edge that Adebayor has been lacking in his past few matches.

In any case though, Adebayor is almost certain to start up front, whether it is on his own or alongside Walcott or Eduardo.

This match will be a difficult but entertaining one, with the two sides widely regarded as the best creative attacking teams in the Premiership. Arsenal's one-touch football should dominate the makeshift United midfield, but last year's champions will have dangerous chances on free kicks as many of their players are good in the air.

In the attacking third our forwards will not be winning many headers (due to the impressive presences of Ferdinand and Vidic) so we will have to do the usual ground-based passing that Arsenal is so well known for.

If we can silence Cristiano Ronaldo we should be able to scrape through with a win, so hopefully Flamini's work-rate will combine with the skill of our back four to keep the winger at bay. If we manage to do that, I think we can come out 2-1 winners in this important match.