21 November 2014

Can Arsenal do its part to restore the lustre to this rivalry?

Going into the start of the season, this fixture stood out as a finish line of sorts, a marker against which we could measure our progress after roughly one-third of the season gone. The latter half of this still stands although for reasons a bit different from what we anticipated: instead of vying with Man U for supremacy atop the Prem, we each need a win from this match just to keep alive our hopes of finishing somewhere in the top five.  Both clubs have been decimated by injuries, but unlike Man U, it's starting to look like we're on the mend. Giroud is available, and even if Walcott has suffered a setback, it looks like Alexis and Welbeck will come through late fitness tests. Despite a few disappointing results at our end, it's starting to feel like we're about to find some form after staggering and sleepwalking through the first third of the season.

This is not the start that either squad had hoped for. At our end, invigorated by the arrival of Alexis and buoyed by the hopes that we would replicate last season’s blistering start, to sit 12 points out of first is a bit of a shock. We’ve been undone by injuries even earlier than usual but have done ourselves few favors, frittering away points we should have salted away instead. At the other end, Man U have been either parable or parody, either warning or amusing us with what can happen when a club fails to invest in its own long-term development. Man U might have the most-expensive squad in the Prem, but—wait for it—they have far too many creative, attacking types, not nearly enough gritty defenders, and are only an injury or two away from disaster.

While we might lament the absences of key players, we’re actually hale and healthy in comparison to Man U, who might have as many as eleven players unavailable come Saturday. We know with some certainty that Rojo, Rafael, and Blind are ruled out, but it’s possible that Shaw, Jones, Carrick, Di Maria, Falcao, Evans, Young, and de Gea could all miss out as well. Of them, thte most important might be de Gea, whose broken finger not only denies Man U the services of one of the best keepers in the Prem but forces them to send out Anders Lindegaard, who has made only 19 appearances for the club since coming over in 2010.

Still, injuries and form matter little in a fixture such as this; perhaps no rivalry is as steeped in history or enmity as this one (sorry, Tottenham, but you’re more like a pest than a rival…). We haven’t beaten Man U in our last six outings, and this might feel like the first time in a decade that we have a right to believe that we should win. However, any squad that features Rooney and van Persie is not to be taken lightly, and both sides will want to prove a point while claiming all three.

Speaking of points to prove, I wonder if this is the match when Welbeck shows that he can perform when the chips are down. Against his former club, the one he thought he’d play for from a young age, will he seize the opportunity to show Van Gaal and the Mancunians just what they’ll be missing?

LAST 3:
  • Arsenal 0-0 Man U (12.02.2014)
  • Man U 1-0 Arsenal (10.11.2013)
  • Arsenal 1-1 Man U (28.04.2013)
FACTFILE
  • The clubs first met on 13 October 1894, a 3-3 draw.
  • Man U have failed to win in their last seven away matches in the Prem.
  • Arsenal have never defeated Man U when Mike Dean presides (four matches).
INJURIES
Debuchy, Koscielny, Özil, Ospina, Arteta, and Diaby have all been ruled out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Szczesny; Gibbs, Monreal, Mertesacker, Chambers; Flamini, Ramsey; Cazorla, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Welbeck.

I’m going out on a limb to suggest that a certain 8-2 scoreline, while not entirely reversed, will be avenged.