Well it’s been talked about for about a week, it’s been speculated and debated, discussed and digested, but here we are folks. Arsenal entertain Manchester United at The Emirates. It’s a sunny start to the day and as I merrily tap away at my iPad in my Arsenal dressing gown, I have a few flutters of nerves that reside deep within my person. My day today revolves all around The Arsenal and I don’t want there to be anything but happiness in my heart when I lay my head down to rest come this evening.
This is not about some Dutch bloke for me. I couldn’t care less what he does (as long as he doesn’t score) and I haven’t cared one iota about him since ‘The Statement’. If he plays today, he will no doubt be a threat, but it will be up to our central defenders to nullify that threat. They know what makes him tick and how he works, so they need to avoid giving him time and space to pull away off their shoulders and tuck away any chances. I hope Koscienly finds himself up against that player more often than not, as I think he has the better of him in terms of pace.
This is not about a ‘guard of honour’. It will be 30 seconds of clapping by the players and probably some of the fans; one of which will not be me. I don’t go to watch The Arsenal for any opposition, I go to cheer on my team. I clap my team. I cheer when they do well. There is nothing in a guard of honour for me to clap for.
This IS about three points. To do that we will need to press United high up the pitch from the first minute. There needs to be the intensity for the players that they can close the spaces between midfield and attack quickly and suffocate possession from the midfield to attack and then shift the ball from back to front quickly. It will be a challenge, of that we are all sure, but it is one our team is more than capable of. I suspect the back five will remain unchanged from the victory at Craven Cottage, with the only exception in midfield being the re-introduction of Jack Wilshire. He’s looked a bit leggy since his return and has been most certainly overshadowed by Arteta and Ramsey’s good form, so I suspect that whilst it would be harsh to see Rosicky drop to the bench, Arsene will prefer Jack in the midfield. If he does, we need to see the marauding Jack, the Jack that has a quick turn of pace to beat his man in the first five yards, the Jack that is all action and willing to get stuck in as well. If we get that Jack, then up alongside the excellent Ramsey and with the master of ball retention Arteta, we should hopefully see a midfield that can dominate possession.
The real challenge for us today will be how the attacking trio performs. There may have been a few people pleased at the absence of Giroud – expecting Podolski to start instead – but whilst that would be my preferred choice, I don’t think it will be Arsene’s today. I don’t think Lukas is fit enough for 90 minutes and so my educated guess would be that we see Gervhino up top. His form of late has been better, but that’s as a winger rather than a target front man. He just doesn’t have the ability to do it but, should he start today, I hope he proves me wrong on so many ways today.
Either side of the Ivorian – if he does start – I think we’ll see Theo and Santi start. Both were pretty quiet at Old Trafford earlier in the season so we’ll need to see better and more lively presence. Theo will be up against a tough challenge of Evra, but the Frenchman loves to get forward, which is why moving the ball from back to front quickly for us could be key to get Theo running into plenty of green space. Santi will drift in field so we’ll need to have either Gibbs or Monreal providing plenty of attacking width, and we need our little Spaniard to have one of his gems of a game today. He’s one of the keys we have to unlock the United defence.
I don’t think there is any hope for us seeing a United team turn up in party mode. I think Fergie will name his strongest eleven and they’ll be going for a win. I suspect there might be a 5-10% less intensity from United, but even a United at 90% is still capable of beating every team in the Premier League so I don’t think we’ll get any favours from them today.
I fancy Aaron Ramsey to score today. Don’t ask me why because he’s hardly a Frank Lampard style goal scoring midfielder, but I just have a feeling. If we get the same result as the last time he scored against United then I’d be more than happy, as we came away from The Emirates with a 1-0 win and three points safely in the bank.
After the Spuds result yesterday, we’ve got a real opportunity to establish some daylight between us and them. We need to take these opportunities. We need that buffer to ensure that we have the points in the bag as quickly as possible. It would both motivate our team more and also de-motivate our (geographically) closest rivals. Come on Arsenal, lets make this a happy Sunday to remember.
Right, time for a shower, so brekkie, then the pilgrimage to the home of football.