Arsenal vs Manchester United, Emirates Stadium, Premier League
Kickoff – 16:00 (21:30 IST), 22nd January 2012
Sunday, finally. Arsenal vs Manchester United. Couldn’t ask for anything more.
A week, that has been filled with turmoil for Arsenal, can end on the most positive of notes, with a win over our fiercest rivals in the Premier League era, Manchester United.
Turmoil, which was brewed due to a second successive league defeat at Swansea. The defeat sparked comments from the chairman Peter Hill-Wood, who even went to the extent of saying that not qualifying for the Champions League, would be bad, but it won’t be a disaster. Of course, being a chairman, of one of the most succesfull financial models, in terms of football, in the world, he does have a point. But, football wise it would be a disaster for the club. It could mean the £30 million we get from qualifying would be considerably reduced. And, apart from that it could mean a mass exodus. Something, that could be lead by the best player we have, Robin van Persie. van Persie has spent his best years at Arsenal. And, he has another 5-6 seasons more. A move at this point of his career would be his last. Would he follow the footsteps of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, or more evidently, Thierry Henry, who decided, and rightly so, that nothing would be won with kids for the next 3-4 years, and moved on to Barcelona, where he was met with a barrage of silverware. Theo Walcott, also, at the end of the season will be in the same situation as Samir Nasri was in the summer. Would Arsenal bank on his transfer or keep him for another season. These are all questions that would ring in your mind, while contemplating a 5th placed finish.
Arsene Wenger vehemently insists that his sole aim this season is to secure a place in next Year’s Champions League.
“For me it would be [a disaster] because I want to play with the best,We want to be in there, in the top four, and to play in the Champions League. Anything else would not be good enough.”
Does this season draw parallel to one of our past seasons? Yes, it does. Everyone remembers the last season at Highbury, where Arsenal, in 5th place all season, needed to beat Wigan 4-2 and a little help from West Ham, who obliged through none other than Yossi Benayoun, to beat Spurs and snatch 4th spot from right under their noses. That season, we made it to the final of the Champions League, beating the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal, on the way
This season seems like a rerun of that. Of course, without the enormous sums of money dropping in the blue half of Manchester. Anyways, that season, Spurs had their shortest season ever. They lost to Grimsby in the League Cup 2nd Round, while losing to Leicester City in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, meaning they had only 40 games to play that season. On the other side, an injury-riddled Arsenal side played 13 games en route to the Champions League final, plus some more as we went all the way to the semi-finals of the League Cup. At defence, we had players suffering horrendous injuries. Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Gael Clichy, Pascal Cygan, Sebastien Larssonn (who played left-back a few games) were all injured for vast majority of the season. A makeshift defence, comprising Ivorian doggedness in Eboue and Toure, a Swiss brick wall in Senderos, French tiger in Mathieu Flamini, and an angry old German Jens Lehmann,managed to keep at bay, the biggest teams in Europe.
This season, has been quite the same. While Spurs have displayed little or no interest in the Europa League, by giving their reserves a run in far-flung Europe, they have been high-flying in the league. And, Arsenal have suffered a spate of injuries to their backline. Jenkinson, Sagna, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Santos and Coquelin are all cramping for space in an over-crowded medical room. We are in the Champions League Round of 16, facing a mountain to climb against AC Milan, and in 5th place, with another peak to conquer to finish in the top 4.
And, the fight for exactly, that, starts today with the visit of Manchester United who brandished the Gunners to a humiliating 8-2 defeat in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford. A win here can really kickstart things for the club for the remainder of the season, and help wipe out memories of that horrible afternoon. It can rejuvenate the fans into believing the team again, which just goes to show how a win over your rivals can change your mentality.
Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney, both have rejected talk of ‘revenge’. He has suggested that it has probably been forgotten by Wenger, because since then the Gunners have picked up quite considerably. He is expecting a difficult trip to North London. Wayne Rooney, has stated that Arsenal can go on and win the league this year. (Fat chance, that). He has also dismissed talk saying it is a head-to head battle between him and van Persie, saying the team that plays better will come tops come Sunday.
Past encounters between the teams have been feisty, with occasional handbags. It all started in a league encounter at Old Trafford, when Dennis Irwin kicked Arsenal’s Swede Anders Limpar, and went unpunished. This sparked a brawl between the two teams, and Arsenal were subsequently docked 2 points. However, they went on to win the match and the league. With the arrival of Arsene Wenger in 1996, heralded a new rivalry. He captured the league and cup double in 1997/98, before Ferguson replied with 3 back to back titles, including a treble. Wenger went on two more league titles, in 01/02 and 03/04, with several fiery tussles with the Scot. Everyone remembers Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane having a go at each other, and Martin Keown screaming into the ears of Ruud van Nistelrooy. Who can forget the pizzagate scandal, where Fabregas supposedly threw a pizza at Ferguson, and the tunnel blowout between Vieira and Keane.
Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger has been quietly confident about Sunday’s game, stating that memories of Old Trafford won’t be lingering around. He still feels that the intensity in Arsenal-United is as strong as ever, even though, it has quite visibly calmed down in recent years. Both managers agreed, this has been the toughest season in the Premier League, so far with all the top teams having a go at the title. While it was an Arsenal-United hierarchy few years back, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham have all staked their challenges, with money being invested in refurbishment of squads.
Team news, then. Both teams are going through a rough patch with injuries. While Arsenal have Fabianski, Sagna, Jenkinson, Santos, Gibbs, Vermaelen, Coquelin, Diaby, Wilshere, Arteta, Henry all injured, and Gervinho and Chamakh at the Africa Cup of Nations; Manchester United are without Fletcher, Vidic, Young, Anderson, Owen and Cleverley. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have recovered, while Henry and Vermaelen face late fitness tests. Mikel Arteta will be sorely missed, as was shown in the Swansea match, where the Welsh team edged the Gunners in possession. Tomas Rosicky or Yossi Bennayoun could be given a starting place. Andriy Arshavin looks to continue on the left, unless Wenger decides to surprise everyone and start off with the electric Oxlade-Chamberlain. Some more injuries and soon we could have Charlie George and Frank McLintock on the roster.
Arshavin has been average in the past few games, and unless he can fashion something extraordinary before Gervinho returns from his African adventure, it could signal the end of the Russian’s spell at the club. Walcott’s excessive wage demands have come at the wrong time for the winger, as his on-pitch form has been dissapointing. Should Vermaelen return, it would be a terrific boost for Arsenal, strengthening their defence vastly. While Robin van Persie has been terrific all season, Aaron Ramsey’s season has been mixed. But, the young Welshman scored the winner last time around in the same fixture.
Manchester United, have bounced back from successive league defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle, overcoming neighbours Manchester City and Bolton in the FA Cup and league respectively. One of their most underrated players has been Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian has been scintillating on the right flank. While David de Gea has flopped, Phil Jones has been a revelation since his summer transfer from Blackburn.
The return of Paul Scholes has coincided with that of Thierry Henry, and despite the fierce rivalry between the sides, in their heyday, they have maintained the utmost respect for each other, with Henry praising the Englishman as one of the best midfielders he has ever seen.
Meanwhile, in yesterday’s fixtures, Chelsea have dropped points away to Norwich City, meaning the gap can be closed to 2 points with a win over United, making this game all the more a ‘must-win’. Fergie will have his own worries, should Manchester City beat Tottenham in the earlier game and make the gap between them 6 points. At this stage of the season, every point is decisive.
Again, I end on a positive note. Exactly, 5 years back, on January 21, 2007, Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry scored 2 late goals to seal a win over Manchester United in the league. Will it happen again? I certainly hope so!
Jai Arsenal 🙂