Premier League – Arsenal v United: The fans’ view
The Arsenal view – by Aman Mahal
The feelings of most Arsenal fans could hardly be more different than 12 months ago. This time last year I was down in the dumps as we’d already crashed out of the title race and were still a few days away from clinching the signature of that sublime Russian dwarf Andrei Arshavin.
Despite being an eternal optimist when it comes to the Arsenal, this season I wasn’t entirely sure how the squad would cope with the loss of Cesc Fabregas (for a month) and Robin van Persie (for infinity), but many of our younger players have stepped up. Alex Song has been excellent, About Diaby’s finally starting to deliver and Thomas Vermaelen‘s the hot new thing. And don’t even get me started on Aaron Ramsey.
Now we’ve got our problems – not least in goal. Manuel Almunia‘s confidence has looked shot in the last couple of months, and I was all for giving Lukas Fabianski a shot. But, after watching his last frantic, bizarre performance, it seems he has fumbled that shot into his own net. With Vermaelen probably out, Sol Campbell (who looks like he’s lost a few pounds) in, and Gael Clichy only just back from injury, I’m sure Wayne Rooney‘s thinking he’s got a good chance of getting some joy.
In recent seasons United have tried to kick Arsenal out of the game (is Darren Fletcher really their best central midfielder? Really?!) And in this respect I think the return of Song is absolutely massive for us. He’s been our most consistent player this season and is much better at using the ball under pressure than Denilson. Plus he’s big fella. It should mean we dominate midfield and then it comes down to the age-old problem of cutting edge. Fortunately for us, Nicklas Bendtner‘s back from injury… [cough].
Anyway, here we are, a few points off the top with an old enemy to play. I respect United and I respect Fergie, Rooney is an absolutely wondrous talent (albeit a bit thick) and I’ve got a lot of time for how they play attacking football (most of the time), but I’ll be honest – I can’t stand them. In fact, yes, I hate them.
I’ll accept that being the perennial bridesmaid to a United wedding over the last decade has got a large part to play in that, but before Chelsea, Man City and the rest of the nouveau riche, United were the financial powerhouse of British football. Every time they won the league and forked out on a few more signings (“Ferdinand for how much?!” etc) I knew we’d struggle to maintain the pace. And all credit to Wenger for putting together a couple of talented teams down the years with not that much money. But finally our saviour has arrived! Someone to level the playing field between our two teams! Malcolm Glazer, I thank you!
Oh – and I’ll predict 2-1 to the Arsenal with Diaby to score at the right end this time
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The Manchester United view – by Adam Marshall
Confidence has been restored at Manchester United as the champions will look forward to a tough trip to Emirates Stadium with far less trepidation than had been feared.
Yes, it’s fair to say Arsenal were the better side at Old Trafford but last season’s Champions League semi-final win was a harsh lesson for Arsene Wenger and his Gunners.
The clinical nature of United’s comfortable victory must have hurt Arsenal. United might not have hit such heights since, largely due to the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo and, to a lesser extent, Carlos Tevez, but the Red Devils proved on Wednesday that they still have the appetite for big games when trophies move into touching distance.
Now Wayne Rooney has stepped into Ronaldo’s boots to emerge as a similarly talismanic influence on the team.
And Rooney loves playing against Arsenal, a team he always does well against – ever since the startling introduction to Premier League football that left David Seaman grasping at thin air.
There have been times this season when Wenger’s side look unstoppable. However, the heavy home defeat to Chelsea hurt the club and the supporters. Just witness all those empty seats as the game drew to its inevitable close.
Rooney will look to bully the Gunners’ backline in the same way that Didier Drogba did – and a high-tempo performance will also be required from Darren Fletcher.
For all Arsenal’s obvious talent, the cracks are there to be opened up if United get it right and perform anything like they did last May.
Thomas Vermaelen’s injury, finally breaking up his partnership with William Gallas, only gives more confidence to the travelling army of supporters.
The one major worry is the absence of Rio Ferdinand, just when he has returned to fitness. The defender’s charge for violent conduct is set to rule him out of action and his poise and class will be missed.
This is a defining run of games for Arsenal and the stakes are high. However, losing Robin van Persie after flogging Emmanuel Adebayor in the summer should prove costly when it comes to having a star centre-forward to finish off all the neat approach work in big games like this.
United already achieved one victory over Wenger this week when winning the race to sign Chris Smalling from Fulham. On Sunday, they can make it two if they play at the right tempo and expose those niggling doubts at the back of Arsenal minds.
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