United preview – a game of huge importance

Morning all,

and let’s start with some good news, for a change. Word is Thomas Vermaelen could be in line to play against United later on. He trained with the first team yesterday and assuming all went well it means he’ll start the game at left back. It’ll certainly add some solidity to a back four which could really do with it at the moment, but we ought not to forget that our defensive issues aren’t simply the domain of that group of players.

As a team we need to be ultra-focused today and if we put in the effort, as well as cutting out the individual errors that have cost us goals in recent games, we’ll make life a lot more difficult for United. In midfield I think Tomas Rosicky will come in to replace Arteta. It’s clearly not a like for like swap but he’s the best option we’ve got and despite not scoring for over two years in the Premier League can still offer a bit of forward drive from midfield.

Up top I guess it all depends on the fitness of Thierry Henry. If he’s fit enough, he’ll start. The manager might talk up the efficiency of Andrei Arshavin but those of us with functioning eyes know what he’s at there. A couple of recent assists are welcome but not enough. When you play United you know they’re going to work hard all over the pitch and we can’t really afford to carry a player whose workrate has been suspect for the majority of his Arsenal career. He really did put in a shift against Leeds but you just can’t be sure he’d do the same again.

The other options available to the manager include putting Benayoun out left, or, if he’s feeling really brave, letting loose Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Part of me would love to see that. The unpredictability of a talented youngster could cause United problems they haven’t prepared for, but equally a game this big could be too much too soon for him. And it would also deny us a weapon from a bench which doesn’t have much depth in terms of attacking options.

Alex Ferguson says this morning that if you stop Robin van Persie you stop Arsenal. Which is true, in a way. We come back to the problem of not spreading goals out around the team, but the obvious flaw in that from our perspective is that even if you don’t stop Robin van Persie Arsenal are vulnerable. He scored against Swansea, should have scored another, yet that big old self-destruct button was there waiting to be pushed.

As we’ve said even small mistakes at this level get punished. And look, if a good Swansea team can take advantage then you can be quite sure United will. This goes back to focus, to the need to do the simple things right, not over-complicate matters and above all else real energy in our own performance. We know well where their threats come from, but equally we have players who can hurt them.

Last time the two sides met Arsenal ended up humiliated. There’s no other word for it. Arsene has played down talk of revenge but Robin van Persie has said that what happened at Old Trafford is a motivating factor for him. And so it should be for the rest of the team. I know you can look at it with a cold, analytical head, view it as just one game (and a freakish one at that) and move on, but that’s not how people look at football, least of all players. If they’re not even slightly pumped up to try and bury those ghosts then I’d be very worried indeed.

Aside from that, however, the more pressing issue is the league table. Chelsea’s draw against Norwich was disappointing for them, I’m sure, but it still means there’s now a 5 point gap between us in 5th and them in 4th. The importance of this game is not simply because it’s Arsenal v Man United, or Arsenal looking for revenge for the 8-2 debacle, it’s because we badly need three points today.

We’ve been here before with United. When Cashmir Na$ri scored two goals back in 2008 it came after that sickening 4-4 against Sp*rs and a defeat away at Stoke. Last season, when Ramsey scored the only goal of the game, it was a momentary bright spot in what was a truly horrendous run of form. Today we go into the game on the back of a disappointing festive period and two league defeats which we’ve lost from winning positions.

It’d be fair to say we need something to lift the spirits as well as lifting us up the league table. This time though, if we do get a result, we need to use it as a platform to embark on another good run of form, like the one we showed from September to December. The one that lifted us from 17th to 4th (briefly). United will provide a serious, serious test to a team that is struggling for form and confidence, but hopefully with our good home record, a crowd that really gets behind the team, and a good performance it’s one we can pass.

In other news there’s a good piece in the Observer from Amy Lawrence on Wojciech Szczesny. I know he’s made a couple of dodgy decisions recently but criticism of him seems to me like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There’s no doubt whatsoever that’s he significant upgrade on those who came before him in recent seasons, and while he might do well to pay attention to Liam Brady’s words (in the article), we shouldn’t forget he’s still a very young keeper and still learning the game.

People often draw comparisons with Joe Hart but fail to mention that Hart had a full season out on loan, where he could develop and make mistakes without the pressure of being a big club. Szczesny has been thrust into our first team, which is not a bad thing, but a little understanding that players have to make errors to learn from them would be welcome. To me it’s very much short-term pain for long-term gain for Arsenal.

And finally, exactly five years and 1 day ago, Arsenal played United at the Emirates. We won 2-1 that day, the goalscorers Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry. What odds, eh?

If you can’t see the game, or even if you can see the game and you want to follow it with other Arsenal fans, we’ll be live blogging later on. Check back later on for a post with all the info or bookmark our default live blog page. Updates are posted automatically and it works on your computer, laptop, phone etc.

And if you fancy betting on today’s game Paddy Power will give you up to a £50 free bet – click here to register. And there is a money back special today – If there are four or more goals scored in either of the above games, Paddy Power will refund all losing 1st Goalscorer, Last Goalscorer, Correct Score and Scorecast singles on that match.

Right then, time for breakfast, then nail biting. Come on you reds!

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