Thursday, November 6, 2008

EPL Game 12 Preview: Arsenal v. Manchester United—Crunch Time for Someone

After being booed off the pitch against Fenerbahce on Wednesday and with fan morale at an all-time low, Arsenal take on Manchester United on Saturday in what is already a massive fixture for both sides.

Arsenal go into this match on a run of four games without a win, and with team morale at its lowest ebb for some time Arsene Wenger will have it all to do to get his team up for this match against the reigning champions.

He will be hampered by a mini-injury crisis at the Emirates as Emmanuel Adebayor and Eboue are definitely out. They are joined on the sidelines by Robin van Persie, who begins his three game suspension after he was sent off last week for a petulant foul on Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.

Walcott, Gallas, Sagna, and Silvestre are all rated as 50/50 for the game, with Gallas and Walcott the nearest to comeback as they undergo a fitness test on Friday. Sagna and Silvestre won't be tested as Wenger strives to give them all the time he has available before he names the side to face rivals United.

With Wenger waiting on four players to be declared fit and three players definitely out, mystery surrounds the Arsenal line-up going into this crunch tie. Bendtner and Carlos Vela look like certain starters up front. Although Denilson's form has dipped of late he should partner Fabregas in the middle and Nasri looks certain to claim the left berth as Wenger waits on Walcott to complete his midfield—Diaby or Ramsey could deputise should the winger miss out.

Defence is where Wenger's problems lie. Almunia looks set to start but he is being pushed by Fabianski who looks nearer than ever to claiming the goalkeeping position. Clichy is the only certain starter at the back and whoever comes in will need to hit the ground running as they will be facing any three from Berbatov, Rooney, Tevez, and Ronaldo.

After being out-played, out-fought, and out-thought by Stoke last weekend, Wenger will be aware of the massive hurdle his young side now face. And almost in preparation for this clash Wenger has come out fighting this week as he brought Stoke to task over their treatment of his players.

The method behind the madness is that Wenger is cultivating a siege type mentality within the dressing room and how his team react for this game will have a massive baring on their futures at the club.

Manchester United go into this game with Wes Brown being the only injury worry as he looks set to miss out again with a long term ankle injury.

Midweek, United travelled to Glasgow to take on Celtic. And although Ryan Giggs equalised late on, they dominated the match from start to finish, and were able to give key players a rest as they looked forward to Saturday's clash with Arsenal.

And while Arsenal are four games without a win, United are top of the current form league after going unbeaten in their last seven games. And their league form has been formidable of late.

This is a match that neither side can afford to lose. After Arsenal were beaten last week, their title aspirations were given a battering and they are almost certainly out of the race as we stand. Should they lose against United then they will be under real pressure to go the rest of the season unbeaten as they look to guarantee themselves a Champions League place.

And with United five points behind the joint leaders of Chelsea and Liverpool, a loss would leave them with a lot of ground to make up, even at this early stage.

Van der Sar should return to the starting line-up after being rested in recent games. In defence Rafael has impressed recently at right full-back, and after riding out an early storm in the volatile atmosphere at Celtic he looked assured and composed. Vidic and Ferdinand will continue with their exceptional partnership in central defence and Evra looks certain to named at left full-back.

Midfield is tricky to predict, but I think Fletcher and Carrick may get the nod ahead of Anderson and Giggs as Ferguson predicts an Arsenal backlash to Stoke's physical approach to the game.

Rooney and Berbatov changed United's penetration when they were introduced as they chased the game at Celtic and with Ronaldo putting in a below-par performance and Tevez impressing, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Portuguese star dropped to the bench as United chase a much needed win.

Arsenal haven't lost back-to-back games in 56 games and United have yet to win at the Emirates as Arsenal's record against the "Big Four" is quite good at home.

Since Ferguson took over 23 years ago, this is the 37th time that these sides have met. United have won 13, Arsenal have won 13 and they have drawn 10 times—so history shows there is not much between these two sides.

With so much on the line in this must-not-lose match I expect the teams to play out a draw, and if this happens the only real winners will be Chelsea and Liverpool—and possibly Aston Villa.


Arsenal 2/1 Draw 9/4 Manchester United 11/8

twitter / WillieGannon