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Debate: Manchester United Will Beat Arsenal

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In Wenger We Trust

Arsene Wenger and the situation Arsenal are in is laughable

Only crazy men believe they can predict the future and it takes a special kind of crazy to attempt to predict the final scores of a football game. This Sunday’s clash between the former EPL champions Manchester United and this season’s most convincing contenders, Arsenal is a crazy football fans worst nightmare as both sides have a shot of winning it. On one hand, you have the newly invigorated Arsenal team led by the impressive duo of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil. Their form this season has been made possible because the entire squad has stepped up a level.

Goalkeeper Szczesny appears to be living up to his potential and the ever-present Mertesacker and Koscielny have provided a stability to the Gunner’s defense that United fans must surely be casting longing looks at. Comparing the current starting 11 based on their performances this season, and only De Gea, Evra and RVP outperform their Arsenal counterparts [As impressive as Rooney has been for United, Özil narrow edges him out because of the galvanizing effect his presence has had on AND off the pitch].

Even when comparing managers, it’s a forgone conclusion that Wenger is the more accomplished and gifted manager right? Surely this weekend’s match is a forgone conclusion and our energies are better spent predicting the margin of goals Wenger’s boys will plunder the fortress formally known as Old Trafford right?

The Dark Arts of Football

Interestingly, both sides’ current performances and style of play can be summed up by their most recent transfer purchases. In Özil, Wenger possesses one of the finest locksmiths in the business and like a true master of an art, watching him play is beauty personified. His short incisive passes, appreciation of space, great individual space on and off the ball, love for possession football and the combined ability to create and finish chances is all that Arsenal have been about this season.

Only Manchester City have bettered their overall goal haul of 22 by scoring 6 more goals[to provide context, United have a total goal tally of 17] and there are three Arsenal players with 4 assists in the league already; Özil, Giroud and Ramsey. Calling the Gunners a well-oiled attacking machine will not be an over exaggeration.

Marouane Fellaini
Should Marouane Fellaini start against Arsenal?

The confusion surrounding the purchase of Fellaini and his impact on the team sums up United’s season thus far. He has shown flashes of brilliance to suggest that he is at the very least, a good football player but asking if he can play at an elite level is a legitimate concern. His purchase was very much reactionary as Moyes wanted to make sure he brought someone in before the summer window closes after failing to land any of his targets. Reactionary has been the name of the game for United and other than that first half display last week where they dominated Fulham at Craven cottage, United are yet to show they can take control of a game for an entire 90 minutes.

United are joint leaders with Stoke having been issued 22 yellow cards so far and are increasingly becoming defined as a team that utilizes the long-ball. Teams such as Stoke whose play style incorporates long-ball are viewed by purists as the practitioners of the dark-arts of football. It’s right up there with parking the bus and aggressively fouling creative players to throw them off their game. Suddenly, the nickname ‘Red Devils’ seems apt as Moyes’ reactionary style of play this season which is best described as defensive and dour.

Possession vs. Counter Attack:

Sagna Arsenal

Nearly all the analysis for Sunday’s showdown between two longstanding rivals suggest that United’s best bet of securing a win against the Gunners is to ‘smash-and-grab’. That is, sit deep, allow Arsenal to have possession and hit them on the counter. That has typically been United’s approach when playing Arsenal during the Ferguson era as Wenger’s side have in recent years, lacked the cutting edge that Özil brings to the table. But as Arsenal proved this week against Dortmund, that is no longer the case. They effectively defend against a team that utilizes counter-attack [Dortmund are among the best in the business] and came out with all 3points. Moyes and United will also be weary of sitting deep as Wenger has possession happy midfielders that enjoy breaking down opposition defenses. Somehow, giving Carzola, Arteta, Ramsey and Özil all the time they want on the ball seems like a recipe for disaster.

The unasked question then is can United match Arsenal at their own game and beat them? The answer is yes. Their game last week against Fulham provides an insight into the two strategies this column expects Moyes to utilize at Old Trafford this weekend. During the first half at Craven cottage, United scored with all 3 shots they had on target.

They still possess the ability to be ruthlessly efficient and Moyes managed to coax a vintage performance out of a United side that has failed to inspire on the attacking front this season. United fans and indeed Moyes himself will be hoping for an encore performance this Sunday. Whisper this but RVP has scored 6 goals and assisted in 2 goals for United in their last nine games. SAS and Aguero might be hogging the headlines as the most prolific strike partnerships but the reigning EPL golden boot winner should not be dismissed so easily.

United are a potent attacking force and in that 2nd half during Fulham at against Real Sociedad, Moyes’ ability to organize his team defensively should come in handy. Hate it or love it, he is quite decent at it and Wenger’s side will find a defensive United difficult to break down.

The Dark Arts of Football

I fully expect this to be a game of 2 halves. Moyes will look to cede possession to the Gunners during the early stages of the game. He would be hoping that Arsenal suffer from sterile possession as they did against the Dortmund in their first leg encounter when they were unable to translate their majority possession into chances created and goals. United do not have midfielders capable of dominating their Arsenal counterparts. This is an argument no sane United fan should argue with an Arsenal fan over. The best option is to have Phil Jones reprise his role as a midfield destroyer alongside Carrick to hopefully disrupt Arsenal’s tempo and intercept passes in United final third of the pitch.

In Januzaj and Nani/Valencia, United will look to return to their traditional style of playing with width and expect the fullbacks, Rafael and Evra to be significantly involved in majority of United’s attacks. Evra in particular has been the more prolific having started more games but Rafael who was one of United’s most improved players is equally dangerous bombing forward and unlike Evra, is quite capable of finishing an attacking move all by himself if he has his sights on goal. De Gea can be relied upon to pull off a hatrick of spectacular saves.

An Evans and Vidic central defense pairing is mobile enough to deal with Arsenal’s pacy midfielders but offers the physicality needed to contain Giroud. Arsenal’s X-factor, Mesut Özil might be deployed in the midfield. Jones [or whoever partners Carrick] will be tasked with ensuring passes do not get to him, forcing him to drop deep to collect the ball, creating space for the full-backs and wingers to exploit.

Predictions Galore

We have discussed the form of both teams coming into Sunday’s game, both team’s game strategies and the recent manager playing styles. Having analyzed the key areas where the games can be won or lost and the personnel and strategies available to both teams, this is the point where I disregard my own advice and attempt to predict Sunday’s winner.

Full disclosure, anyone who chooses to write an analysis column of an upcoming football match suffers from that special kind of craziness described in the opening paragraph of this column. Arsenal have no reason to alter their game plan and especially after beating last year’s UEFA champions league finalists this week, they are confident [and rightfully so] they can force United to play their game. This strategy should play perfectly into Moyes’ plans as he is content to let Arsenal play their game.

In addition to disrupting the Carzola-Ramsey-Özil midfield trio, Moyes and United will be looking to their full-backs and wingers to jumpstart their attack when they have possession. Both RVP and Rooney will look to drop deep for service, to add to numbers for United in the midfield and stifle Arsenal’s midfield generals all round play.

Januzaj, United’s X-factor will be sharing in the attacking burden. Wenger’s dilemma should he chose to mark a United player is whether to focus on more established players [i.e. Rooney and RVP] or Januzaj, the relative unknown. This game is Arsenal’s to lose as they have a better record in the league and are playing much better football. As the underdog in their own stadium, United will be playing with a chip on their shoulder.

With players looking to prove a point and a manager keen to re-assure fans that he is a competent successor, I predict United will win this game 3-2. In Ramsey, Carzola and Özil the Gunners have too much quality to be shut out. Also, Moyes’ game plan to allow Arsenal to express themselves will result in them conceding goals. RVP, Rooney and Januzaj should combine for goals and assists. Rafael and Evra are wildcards for goal-scorers but given Moyes’ preference for attacking fullbacks, they could prove to be the difference makers and score the goal that snatches the game away from Wenger’s boys.

As stated, football prediction is an abysmal science at best and an unexplainable art at worst and we are all best served steering clear away. But where’s the fun in that.

Also read the predicted lineups for Arsenal and Manchester United