Usually international breaks are unwelcome in the midst of a busy season. However the recently concluded international break was welcome in more than many ways for Arsenal. Preceding the break Arsenal lost a 3 goal lead then followed it up with a demoralising defeat to Swansea that left the Gunners 12 points behind Chelsea. As Mertesacker puts it the break has helped Arsenal to regroup and refocus ahead of a key week.
Arsene Wenger’s men face Manchester United and Dortmund in a crucial week. It doesn’t get any bigger than United at home but it’s been quite some time we beat them, United haven’t lost to Arsenal in the last 6 premier league meetings. The last time Arsenal defeated United was in 2011 when Aaron Ramsey scored the goal to help Arsenal to win 1-0.
The Gunners as ever have a host of injuries to overcome however with what is surely one of the shocks of the decade Olivier Giroud is a month ahead of schedule and is in the squad to face Van Gaal’s men. Arteta is available and when the Captain is fit he usually starts. The defence looks increasingly shaky and against Rooney and Van Persie the whole team has to defend. Chambers endured a torrid game against Montero and how he copes with Di Maria will go a long way in deciding the result of the game.
I expect Arsene to go with Arteta-Flamini in midfield just to offer that extra protection to the back four. Welbeck faces a late fitness test and Walcott is ruled out of the game. If Welbeck fails then Sanogo may start. Alexis Sanchez is key and against a patched up United defence he may have a field day. But he returned from Chile only on Friday and how much fatigue plays a part in his game will have to be seen. In short if Sanchez plays well Arsenal win, after all without him we would have been flirting with relegation by now. If Arsenal keep a clean sheet and not concede a freak goal, Arsenal attack is strong enough to win the game.
United may be behind us in the league table but they are definitely leading the injuries table. At the start of the week as many as 12 players were in doubt for the game. But De Gea and Di Maria are fit and so is Michael Carrick. Blind, Rojo are long term and Radamel Falcao is two weeks away from returning to the first team. Smalling returns after serving his suspension and could slot in at centre back. He could be partnered by the young Paddy McNair. United’s strength is their attack and with Van Persie, Rooney, Di Maria, the Red Devils always have a chance and there is this psychological edge over the Gunners. Fellaini is finding his feet and could prove to be a useful weapon if United decide to go long.
The game features two talented attacking teams and is a classic case of who scores more wins. This was once a title decider but now it’s no more than a scrap for Champions league places. How times have changed.