And we are back in action with yet another big game involving Manchester United, who host the inconsistent Gunners in a crunch tie. Arsenal go into the fixture on the back of a victory, courtesy an amazing comeback from 4-0 to win 5-7 against Reading in the Capital One Cup, but will be wary of their poor defending especially coming up against the deadliest strike force in the Premier league. United will hold the edge due to their home advantage and the fantastic combination play of Rooney, Van Persie and Valencia.
A victory will see United go top of the table and this should prove inspiration enough for them to seize the initiative. All eyes will be on Robin Van Persie though, as he prepares to take on Arsenal for the first time since his departure in summer. Theo Walcott will also be raring to show United his full arsenal of tricks, as he tries to convince Wenger that he is not an impact player. Moreover, United could be one of his destinations in January and he will be fired up to take on the challenge to prove himself a worthy transfer target.
Arsenal head into the game without Gervinho, who will be out for three weeks alongside other long-term absentees Abou Diaby, Lukasz Fabianski and Tomas Rosicky. Wenger has ruled out a comeback for Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny, but will give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a late test to prove his fitness. It is unlikely that Wenger would start Wilshere in a high tempo fixture so soon after his return to football, but will be forced to start Bacary Sagna to provide some stability in the back.
Mannone, Santos, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Sagna, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski, Walcott, Giroud.
United head in to the fixture with no fresh injury concerns and may welcome back Phil Jones and Chris Smalling with a spot on the bench, as they have resumed first team training. Midfielder Shinji Kagawa and captain Nemanja Vidic will play no part in the game due to injuries. However, it will be the conundrum of strikers that Alex Ferguson has to resolve with all their strikers in top form.
De Gea, Evra, Evans, Ferdinand, Rafael, Carrick, Cleverley, Valencia, Rooney, Chicharito, Van Persie.
Santos – the weak link: Wenger will be forced to start Andre Santos in the left back position due to prolonging injury of Kieran Gibbs. Coincidentally, most of United’s attacks come from the right flank, where the combination of Valencia and Rafael is developing into a focal point of United’s counter attacks. Unless, there is some cover for the left flank, we may as well see an 8-2 repeat result of last year’s.Antonio Valencia will be the key man for United going forward
Rooney-RvP-Hernandez: The arrival of Van Persie from Arsenal this summer has seen Rooney being pushed back into a deeper role. This has benefited the Red Devils greatly as it has solved the problem of United’s lack of creativity in the middle and has injected a sense of urgency to their play which has been missing since Ronaldo’s era. Van Persie has already scored 9 goals and has been able to slot in seamlessly alongside both Welbeck and Chicharito.
United’s back four: The young Brazilian Rafael will be charged with tracking one of Europe’s deadliest counter attacking players in Podolski and will surely have his task cut out. Though the United defence has been poor, the Arsenal attack has not found their feet yet and Ferguson will be hoping that Ferdinand can seize the initiative and ward of Giroud’s physical presence.
The Cazorla factor: Cazorla has been the main creative outlet for the Gunners this season, but there is undue expectation on him to create chances out of nothing. His time on the ball may well be cut out against United as his team mates will look to provide more defensive cover to the fullbacks. If supported properly, he could be United’s undoing as the 19-time English champions boast of an equally awful defensive form.
Key Battles:The Gunners will be heavily relying on this pair
Battle of the midfield: Arsenal clearly boast of a superior midfield and have no lack of creativity with Wilshere and Cazorla in their ranks, but will surely miss the physical presence of Abou Diaby. United’s midfield of Carrick and Cleverley pale in comparision and are very inconsistent, depending upon their forwards for creativity and trickery. If United manage to contain the Arsenal midfield, the match will be in their pocket.
Valencia v/s Santos: The left back position has always been a problem for Arsenal since Ashley Cole’s departure and they are currently left with the attack-minded Andre Santos, who has proved himself a big liability in both attack and defence. Valencia will be relishing to exploit the empty spaces left behind by Santos and his combination play with Rafael reminds me of the Neville-Beckham partnership, which left opposition defences crying for cover.
Rooney v/s Arteta: Arteta will be given the job of tracking Rooney, even if it limits their creative outlets as Rooney remains the focal point of United’s attacks. If Arteta can limit his distribution and track his off the ball runs, Arsenal can hope to get a positive result. Else, consider Arsenal done!