09 November 2013

Man U, a wounded beast [Match Preview]

Ahead of Sunday's clash with Man U, there's a great deal of history to discuss, and rightly so. After all, these are two of English football's most-storied clubs, and the battles were once epic. Playing at Old Trafford is always something special; sadly, we've gone winless there in our last nine visits, including eight losses and the infamous 8-2 drubbing last season in 2011. However, history tells us little about where things currently stand. That loss feels positively ancient, but the lesson lingers. Despite their early-season struggles, the squad that takes to the pitch tomorrow will look much the same as last year's, and they've now won four of their last five matches, including wins over Real Sociedad (in the UCL), Stoke, Norwich, and Fulham. While few of those clubs inspire fear in our hearts, the results are enough to suggest that Man U's early-season struggles are a thing of the past. As up-and-down as they were to start the season, they've taken 13 points from their last five Prem matches. Having fattened up a bit in recent weeks, they're sure to see Sunday as a chance to signal their revival.

We go in, of course, on as fine a run of form as I've seen any club ever be on. Just as impressive as the results have been the manner with which we've claimed some of them. Sure, we've swashbuckled our way past Norwich, say, and had our way with Liverpool, but the win at Dortmund embodies the spirit of this squad. There's a grit, a tenacity, a belief that simply radiates from them, a faith in and understanding of each other. They just seem to know where the next man is, whether they're looking to make a pass or going in for a tackle; they know that a team-mate is ready for what's next. The confidence that this knowledge inspires is palpable. Of course, it only takes a setback to cause the whole kit to unravel, but, then again, we've seen those setbacks, whether it was an out-an-out loss to Aston Villa or Dortmund, or a tougher-than-expected-but-positive result against West Brom. In seasons past, such stumbles might have seen us come undone. This time through, so far at least, we rebound; we double down; we win.

That's not to say we'll do so on Sunday, much as we might all hope. One does not simply walk into Old Trafford and so on. However, we can show up feeling confident, having completely shut down two of the world's most-prolific scoring sides in the last week and having gone undefeated in our last 15 away-matches. Going into Old Trafford, then, feels much less intimidating than in years past, especially coming on the heels of having become the first English club to have won at San Siro, the Bernabeu, Allianz Arena, and Westfalenstadion and when we look at Man U's home-record, a middling record of 2W, 2D, 1L and a goal differential of +2. At some point, they're more than likely to shake off whatever the malaise is; this post-Ferguson drop-off can only last so long. Sure, we can crow all we want of being eight points above them as they languish in 8th place, but there are still 84 points in the kitty and plenty of time for Man U to scratch and claw back into things. It's up to us then to push them down and to open up as wide a gap as we can.

In previous years, we've had to hoard precious points against lesser opposition and hope to nick a point or two from Chelsea and Man City and Man U, worrying about clinging to fourth place. For now, that nervousness is gone, and instead of worrying if we can keep a point, instead of asking whether we can beat the big clubs, we've done so twice and in fine fashion. It's too early to invert the question—yet—but winning on Sunday would allow us to turn to the critics and nay-sayers and ask them, "can the big clubs beat us?" Man U has too much quality and pride to roll over for us, but we have such confidence, momentum, and spirit that we should be able to shove them further back into that corner, if only for another week. I'm looking forward to a famous result, but an end to clean sheets, in a 2-1 win with goals from Cazorla and Giroud.

Before we part ways, I'm proud to say that Woolwich 1886 is of six finalists in the Football Blogging Awards' "Best New Blogs" category. I want to hoist a flag for Arsenal by beating out the other nominees, who cover a little bit of everything—rumors, La Liga, Bundesliga, transfer-gossip, etc. I'm banking on the support of fellow Gooners to see this site through. Here's how:
Thanks, as always for your visit. 'Til tomorrow...