The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Man United
Arsene’s big opportunity to make amends.
- Swansea 2-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-3 Anderlecht (CL)
- Arsenal 3-0 Burnley (Prem)
- S’land 0-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal (CL)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Man City 1-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- WBA 2-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-1 Everton (Prem)
This fixture doesn’t usually do things in half measures. Over the years it’s thrown up more storylines than a particularly dramatic season of Dallas: Wenger vs Fergie, Vieira’s hand vs Keane’s face; the Battle of Old Trafford; the 8-2; Robin van Persie’s not-so-welcome form against his former club.
So what does the 2013/14 season’s edition hold for our dear sides? Welbs netting the winner at the Clock End like he did in January 2012, only this time for the other guys? Maybe, just maybe.
How Arsenal fans would cherish a victory this Saturday – and none more than Arsene Wenger, a man under increasing pressure after overseeing another timid run of Gunners’ form.
Already 12 points behind leaders Chelsea, Arsenal’s title hopes are over for another year, with a 19th consecutive top-four finish again the target.
The north Londoners have dropped more points than any other team from winning positions in the Premier League this season (9) – as many as in the whole of last term.
Their capitulation at Swansea served to expose the gaping holes in defence once again, with Calum Chambers suffering at right-back and Nacho Monreal beaten easily for Bafetimbi Gomis’ winner.
But they rarely make easy going of Manchester United. Arsenal haven’t conquered their wounded visitors since Aaron Ramsey’s winner at the Emirates in May 2011, losing four of the next six games and conceding three Van Persie goals after letting the Dutchman leave for £24 million in summer 2012. Damningly, Arsenal have won just one of their last 14 matches against this weekend’s visitors in all competitions.
But if they’re going to face the Reds it may as well be now. Louis van Gaal’s men are still finding their feet amid a raft of injuries and new signings, a point behind Arsenal and hunting their first back-to-back victories of the season after winning narrowly against Crystal Palace before the international break.
Head honcho Ed Woodward says it’s unlikely the Reds will strengthen in January, and insists they are onto something. “We have targets we are looking at for next summer,” he said. “But there's a real feeling at the club that we're at the start of something special. Fans understand the team is heading in the right direction.”
With their defensive woes finally subsiding, that’s probably not an unfair statement.
Neither side escaped the internationals completely unscatched, with Welbeck and Luke Shaw both withdrawn from Tuesday’s win over Scotland. The pair face late fitness tests, though Shaw is ‘hopeful’ of making the trip.
Elsewhere, Laurent Koscielny, David Ospina, Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Debuchy are all still sidelined. On the plus side, Olivier Giroud could return having not featured since netting against Everton on August 23.
United have lost Daley Blind to a lengthy layoff after he injured his knee playing for the Netherlands, but Van Gaal should have Angel Di Maria available despite the Argentine falling victim to a heavy challenge from Nani in midweek. In better news, Michael Carrick, Rafael, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans are all expected to return, along with Chris Smalling who's now off the naughty step.
Key battle: Danny Welbeck vs Robin van Persie
So they won’t be directly at odds with one another on Saturday, but the duo are likely to have a big say in how this match swings – if the former is fit to do so. While Van Persie is accustomed to netting in big games – see his strikes against Chelsea and Spain, not to mention those against his old employees – England striker Welbeck is still to prove he’s got what it takes to decide games regularly.
Take Arsenal’s clash against Manchester City earlier this season as a case in point. With the scores locked at 0-0, his deft debut chip thudded off the post rather than over the line, only for Sergio Aguero to open the scoring with his first shot of the game 15 minutes later. The 23-year-old’s form for club and country has been promising so far this season – but can he rise to the occasion here? Certainly, he’ll need no motivation.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 0-0 United (PL, Feb 14)
- United 1-0 Arsenal (PL, Nov 13)
- Arsenal 1-1 United (PL, Apr 13)
- United 2-1 Arsenal (PL, Nov 12)
- Arsenal 1-2 United (PL, Jan 12)
Wenger vs Van Gaal isn’t a new one, but it hasn’t happened for quite some time – over 15 years, in fact. The pair collided in the 1999/00 Champions League when Wenger’s Arsenal faced Van Gaal’s Barca.
A 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp featured an 81st-minute Gilles Grimandi red card for elbowing Pep Guardiola, only for Nwankwo Kanu to equalise within a minute of the sending off. The return (at Wembley) wasn’t so happy for Gooners; their Spanish visitors cruising to a 4-2 win with goals from Luis Enrique, Rivaldo, Luis Figo and Philip Cocu.
Barca advanced to the knockouts; Fiorentina progressed at Arsenal’s expense. But the Catalans lost in the semi-finals to Valencia and Van Gaal didn’t last much beyond the season, leaving days after losing the league title to Deportivo La Coruña and taking the reins of his nation for the first time.
Facts and figures
- Only Burnley (8) have conceded more headed goals than Arsenal this season (6).
- Danny Welbeck has scored in his last 2 appearances in this fixture, while playing for Man United.
- Van Persie has scored in 5 of the last 6 meetings between Arsenal and Man United: 2 as a Gunner.
- More FFT Stats Zone facts
Neither side can afford to let victory go without a fight. Bring on the goals! 2-2.