Manchester United faces its toughest match of the season to date, with Premier League leaders Arsenal due at Old Trafford tonight. Unbeaten in the league but with a series of damaging draws in away fixtures, Sir Alex Ferguson is seeking to impose United’s will in a match the Scot describes as intense.
Arsenal arrives with arguably the Premier League’s most in-form player, Sami Nasri, and a renewed confidence brought about by a more physical approach this season. It’s a change that is sure to impact on tonight’s match, with memories of contests that have spilled over not long in the past.
“It’s Manchester United against Arsenal and the history of both teams always guarantees a match of intensity and, a lot of the time, controversy,” said Ferguson.
“I think Monday’s game will be more or less the same because the pride and history of both clubs determines that.”
Ferguson’s major selection dilemma comes in midfield, with the Scot forced to choose two from four in central areas. Anderson, Michael Carrick or Paul Scholes will line-up with Darren Fletcher in the centre of the park.
It’s sure to be a key contest, despite the absence of the visitors’ talisman, Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard has failed to recover from injury, with youngster Jack Wilshere set to play in Fabregas’ stead.
Meanwhile in attack Wayne Rooney is still seeking his first goal from open play in almost 20 hours stretching to United’s solitary goal away in Munich last march. But the forward has often enjoyed facing Arsenal, including scoring home and away against the Londoners last season.
For the visitors Nasri poses the greatest threat, with the Frenchman excelling despite – or perhaps because of – missing out on this summer’s World Cup in South Africa. Nasri has added goals and consistency to a talent that often looked out-of-place in the Premier League when he first came to England.
“Nasri has probably been one of the best players in the Premier League this season,” says United legend Ryan Giggs, who is likely to make the bench tonight.
“He has got balance and speed, can play on either wing or off the front. He is really versatile and has scored some great goals as well.
“He really seems to have come of age this year. Arsenal deserve a lot of credit for the way they have coped with losing a quality player like Fabregas and still carried on winning.”
Indeed, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says the match is an opportunity to show how good his team is after four defeats to United in recent years, including the 2009 Champions League semi-final, and home and away in the Premier League last season. Twice United has narrowly beaten the Londoners at Old Trafford in recent years, and then caught Arsenal on the break for comprehensive victories at the Emirates.
“We have an opportunity to show how good we are – that is what you want in life,” said Wenger.
“I know that my team will be really up for it, and I always have great belief in my players. I know how hungry they are for success and am sure that will come out in the game.”
Hungry perhaps but after five years without a trophy history says it might not be enough. After all, Arsenal’s record in their last 10 games in all competitions against United and Chelsea is played 10, won none. Arsenal though, has the best record on the road this season of any Premier League side.
History also says that tonight’s result will go a long way towards deciding this season’s title.
Arsenal – 4231 – Fabianski; Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy; Song, Wilshere; Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin; Chamakh. Subs from: van Persie, Szczesny, Denilson, Gibbs, Bendtner, Djourou, Rosicky.
United – 442 – van der Sar; Rafael da Silva, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Anderson, Fletcher, Park; Rooney, Berbatov. Subs from: Carrick, Kuzszazk, Amos, Fabio da Silva, Evans, Smalling, O’Shea, Brown, Gibson, Obertan, Bébé, Giggs, Hernández, Macheda.
Referee: Howard Webb
Assistant referees: Dave Bryan & Darren Cann
Fourth official: Phil Dowd
United – DDWWLD
Arsenal – LLWWWW