Newly crowned Premier League Champions Manchester United begin their final four games of the season with a trip to London to face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium which since its opening in 2006 hasn’t been a very happy hunting ground at all for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. Manchester United have won just two of the League fixtures played between the two sides at the Emirates since the 2006-2007 season. Unusually for an Arsenal-Manchester United fixture the sole pre-match focus is not on the potentially exceptional ninety minutes of Premier League football but rather on the matter of a guard of honour.
With this being Manchester United’s first match since securing the League title it is customary for their opponents to form a guard of honour to welcome the Champions onto the pitch with Manchester United having to do this for Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at Old Trafford in 2005, this has caused a particular stir amongst Arsenal supporters with the two clubs not only being fierce rivals but also the transfer of Robin Van Persie to Manchester United from Arsenal this past summer is still a fresh wound throughout the Emirates faithful. Arsene Wenger put a quick end to the speculation as to whether or not the guard of honour would take place in his pre-match press conference yesterday with the experienced coach being quotes as saying “This [Guard of Honour] is part of the tradition of English football and I want that to be respected,” Arsenal also urged Arsenal supporters to be respectful towards Robin Van Persie stating “I want the player [Van Persie] to be respected like everybody else.”
Whilst Manchester United have nothing bar records to play for it is a very different story for Arsenal, who since exiting the European Cup at the hands of Bayern Munich, have gone from strength to strength in the Premier League with a run of five wins in the six League games which has seen Wenger’s charges rise up to third place in the Premier League. With Chelsea and Spurs still having to play each other it is vitally important for Arsenal to take advantage of this as well as Chelsea’s mass fixture congestion as a result of their participation in the latter stages of the Europa League. With both Chelsea and Tottenham having a game in hand over Arsenal it is incredibly important that Wenger’s side picks up a result against the Champions on Sunday to keep pressure off of themselves as they head into the final three matches of the season.
After seeing his appeal rejected by the Football Association Olivier Giroud will began his three match ban as a result of his two footed tackle on Fulham’s Stanislav Manolev this Sunday. The current goalkeeping situation at Arsenal is one most clubs would be glad to avoid with Arsene Wenger appearing to have run out of patience with Wojciech Szczesny however with Lukasz Fabianski out with a rib injury which could keep the Polish goalkeeper out for the season it is expected Szczesny will return to the Arsenal goal for the visit of Manchester United on Sunday. Abou Diaby as a result of his long-term knee injury will be unavailable for selection on Sunday.
Manchester United are once again looking very strong with no fresh injuries being picked up during Monday’s clash with Aston Villa, Ashley Young will once again miss out due to his ankle injury suffered against Manchester City, Paul Scholes’ worrying knee problem which has cut the thirty-eight year olds season short will keep him out of Sunday’s trip to Arsenal. With less than a week since the fixture against Villa it is likely Jonny Evans who has just returned from injury will sit out the match against Arsenal with further deliberation to be made on whether to risk Nemanja Vidic after an injury ravaged eighteen months despite the Serbian not playing any part on Monday. It is expected Javier Hernandez will also return to the starting line-up after being an unused substitute against Aston Villa on Monday evening.
- Sunday will not be the first time a guard of honour has been given prior to a clash between Arsenal and Manchester United with the Red Devils being required to honour Arsenal twice before. The first instance coming at Highbury in 1991 and the second at Old Trafford in 2002 when a solitary Sylvain Wiltord strike secured the title for the Gunners.
- Manchester United by winning their remaining four Premier League fixtures can set a Premier League points record of 96. Manchester United’s previous highest Premier League points tally stands at 92 in the 1992-1993 campaign.
- Manchester United have lost just one of their last eleven games against Arsenal in all competitions.
It would be all too easy to look towards Robin Van Persie as the main focal point of the Manchester United team for Sunday however it is Michael Carrick who will make the difference against an Arsenal midfield who like United doesn’t heavily rely on a pressing game. This will give Carrick a lot more time on the ball than he would receive say against a team like Everton or Swansea where pressing the opposition when they are in the ball is a key element of their approach to the game.
As a result of this Carrick will be able to pick out the longer passes he has become renowned for this season and with the clever runs made by Javier Hernandez and Robin Van Persie – it could well be a tricky afternoon for Arsenal’s at times static back-line. Carrick will likely have Tom Cleverley alongside him tomorrow afternoon which will allow Carrick to remain in a more reserved almost quarter back like midfield role with the former Tottenham Hotspur man picking up the ball from the defence and moving it forwards be it over a large distance or more gradually through shorter passes.
Giving Michael Carrick time in possession of the ball could well be suicidal from an Arsenal perspective with Carrick boasting a pass completion record of 87% so far this season and the Manchester United midfielder will be looking to continue his excellent form with the prospect of a PFA Player of the Year award being a possibility following his recent nomination.
So often in his Arsenal career Per Mertesacker has been labelled ‘slow’, ‘cumbersome’ and ‘unreliable’ and a lot of the time these assessments of the German centre-half’s game are accurate however many people do forget how accomplished a central defender Mertesacker is and on his day is capable of keeping any forward line at bay for long periods in matches. The two goals conceded by Arsenal against Spurs in the recent North London derby highlighted Arsenal’s weaknesses at the back with the Gunners pushing too far up and leaving a large hole in behind them for quick opposition runners to fill which Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon gladly did and with Javier Hernandez expected to be on the field tomorrow it is imperative Per Mertesacker takes charge of the Arsenal backline and forces them to hold a deeper line to guard against the quick runs in behind. If you were to put Javier Hernandez on the ball facing up to Per Mertesacker front side on then you would expect the German to come out on top, nine times out of ten and this is what Arsenal have to look to do tomorrow with Mertesacker and his ability to co-ordinate the Arsenal defence having the potential to be exactly where the match could be won or lost.
£20 wins you:
van Persie scores: £44
van Persie scores brace: £130
van Persie scores hat-trick: £580
van Persie scores first: £120
van Persie scores last: £120
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