There was a time not so long ago, a Manchester United team travelling to North London only meant one thing, and that was to get one over arch rivals Arsenal for the title. Now, with Spurs knocking on everyone’s doorstep, the game this Sunday provides different meaning for both sets of managers.
For Sir Alex, it will prove a crucial three points needed, no matter what the outcome in the earlier game. For manager Arsene Wenger and especially the Arsenal fans, the game means everything, as the Gunners not only look too keep themselves in the hunt for fourth spot, but also rectify the horrendous 8-2 loss at Old Trafford not so long ago. United will have by every mean reason to be confident, as they have won 2 of their last 3 visits to the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal have gotten themselves back into a nerve wrecking position, coming off the back of two successive league defeats, they will look to put further light between themselves and Liverpool, both of whom are hunting for that prized Champions League slot. Fans at the Emirates will be hoping the return of icon Thierry Henry can upset Fergie’s title hopes, as it certainly wouldn’t be the first time Henry has troubled United. For United, everyone concerned at the club will be hoping that their convincing 3-0 result over Bolton last week was the start of another impressive title run.
It doesn’t get any easier for Wenger’s side, as injuries to key defensive areas this season have been undoubtedly the cause for much of their demise. Without any real recognizable full-backs, Djourou and young Miquel could well continue the void’s left in the Arsenal defence, however, don’t be surprised to see a shock return to the side from Thomas Vermaelen, as he could well be fit for the crucial clash. Mikel Arteta also looks set to miss out with a calf problem, and Jack Wilshere is still a few weeks away from full fitness. It will be interesting too see if Wenger goes with both Henry and Van Persie together this Sunday, as Arsenal look to change their misfortunes in the league of late. An ever-decreasing period of form from Andrey Arshavin, could well make that selection that much easier.
For United, the only new injury concern has been with Anderson, who has suffered a setback and will miss out, however, the shock return of Paul Scholes has all of a sudden left Sir Alex with midfield options. I feel as though they might crowd that area, preventing Arsenal from playing football so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rooney play the lone striker. Valencia and Nani will prove key for United this weekend, as Ferguson will certainly be looking to both to get at two very un-experienced fullbacks. Jones should continue at right back for United, with Smalling partnering Rio in the middle. The debate of who should start in goal for United continues, with Anders Lindegaard looking to keep his place as number one.
On paper, I am firmly siding with the away team this Sunday, but one can never rule an Arsenal team with their backs against the wall out. The Gunners will be looking to restore pride and belief at the Emirates this weekend, and who better to destroy United’s dreams than a returning legend, in Henry. I can see the attacking flair of United proving too much for Arsenal too handle this Sunday, but United have had defensive frailties of their own in recent times. I’m going to go for goals in this one, a 2-2 draw with plenty of entertainment at either end. Arsenal and United have thrown up some classics over the years, and while the title challenging days seem to have dried up, let’s hope the passion and desire hasn’t.