Arsenal make the trip to Manchester tomorrow to play last season's Premier League champions United. It's a venue where Arsenal have had their fair share of good results over the years, but it has been a very tough venue for them on other occasions. The team will have give all they have if they are to emerge with any sort of result from this game.
In team news Arsenal will be without the suspended Alex Song, Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong, as well as the injured Abu Diaby, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Sebastien Squillaci. There is a possibility that Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny will be both be available, but there will be more information on them closer to the game. Tomas Rosicky and Johan Djourou should be available too after coming through Wednesday night's victory over Udinese unscathed.
Added to all of those injury worries Arsenal are also in need of reinforcements to their squad, with Arsene Wenger admitting yesterday that he needed three new players. The transfer window closes in five days time, and it gives him very little opportunity to bring those players in. The players head off on international duty after tomorrow's game, and the last few days of the transfer window could be very busy.
Trying to predict a starting lineup for Arsenal is no easy task with all of those players unavailable, but I'll do my best to give it a go. It should be a similar team to Wednesday night with the obvious exception of replacing the three suspended players.
Wojciech Szczesny will of course continue in goal, as he has now made the position his own, and he showed again on Wednesday night how good he is. His penalty save was absolutely fantastic, and it makes a pleasant change for Arsenal to have a goalkeeper I have real confidence in. He's still only 21 years old, and when he reaches the peak of his career he will be one of the best goalkeepers in the world in my opinion.
I would imagine the defence will be pretty similar to Wednesday night with Koscielny possibly returning in place of Djourou. Both full backs should keep their places, and it will be a tough game for both of them I'm sure. United have players in wide positions who like to run at the opposition, and Sagna will be playing out of position and Jenkinson making only his second Premier League start ever.
As long as Thomas Vermaelen is passed fit I will have a lot of confidence in the ability of the defence to cope with whatever United throw their way. He has been quite magnificent already this season, and I cannot help wondering what might have been if he hadn't missed almost all of last season injured. In my opinion he's the best candidate for the captain's armband, but I'm happy enough to see Robin Van Persie with it too.
The real problems arise for Arsenal in midfield with so many players sold, injured or suspended, and it's difficult to know who will play. I think both Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey are certain to start, but the holding role is where the real problem is. I know Djourou has played there in his younger days and I wonder will he get the nod, or will it go to Henri Lansbury.
Besides those two players I just can't see who Arsenal have to deploy in that role, and it's very worrying. It's a role Lansbury is not at all suited to, but neither is Djourou and Arsenal's real hope for the day is that Arsene Wenger pulls a rabbit out of his proverbial hat. It's crazy that Arsenal are going into a Premier League game away to the current champions with so few options in midfield.
Wenger spoke yesterday of his desire to add a defender, a midfielder and a forward to the squad before the transfer window closes. I hate to bring it up yet again, but they are issues which should have been dealt with a long time ago. Arsenal are now playing their fifth game of the new season, and still their preparations are nowhere near where they should have been before the first game.
Tomorrow's opponents showed how transfer dealings should be completed early in the summer, and they have hit the ground running already this season. Two wins from their first two games sees them as favourites to retain their title after they added three players to their squad early in the transfer window. They identified positions that needed strengthening and acted on it as soon as they could, and they already look like a settled squad as a result.
In attack Arsenal will be led by RVP and he will probably be flanked by Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin. Walcott still frustrates me an awful lot at times, but when he gets past the defence on the left he is very good at finishing. Other aspects of his game leave a lot to be desired, but I don't doubt his commitment or his application when he plays.
Arshavin is a different matter as he looks almost disinterested at times when he loses the ball. He has not started this season well at all, and I sometimes wonder where the player who scored four goals at Anfield has gone. His passing is erratic at best, and it's hard to argue for him keeping a regular place in the team.
RVP was Arsenal's top scorer last season and I expect him to be so again this season, as long as he stays fit. He hasn't got a league goal yet this season in the opening two games, but then again the team haven't scored in those games either. In a tough game like this a player with his ability could be the difference between Arsenal emerging with something, or going home empty-handed.
In the game itself Arsenal are going to have to work hard and give everything they have to emerge with anything from the game. If the players can put in as much as they did in the second half on Wednesday night I feel they will have a chance of emerging with at least their pride intact. The more senior players in the team need to stand up and be counted, and lead by example too.
I always feel United are a little vulnerable without serial cheat Nemanja Vidic, and I'm delighted that he won't be playing tomorrow. Arsenal have had their difficulties with discipline already this season, but it has to be remembered that United continually get away with incidents which other teams are punished for. They should have had at least two red cards against Arsenal in different matches last season, but they didn't get any.
Vidic should have seen red at the Emirates when Arsenal beat United 1-0, but somehow his handball wasn't seen and Arsenal didn't get a penalty either. In the FA Cup game at Old Trafford Paul Scholes showed what a thug he was, but the referee chose to issue a yellow card when a red card was the correct decision. The ridiculous rules also mean that an incident cannot be reviewed after a game if a referee has given a yellow card.
If any contentious decisions go Arsenal's way in tomorrow's game you can be sure Wayne Rooney will be the first person screaming abuse at the referee. According to the rules of the game you cannot swear at a referee, but Rooney does it fir fun and never suffers the consequences. No matter who is in charge tomorrow United will be shown favouritism at home, as they always are and Arsenal will just have to deal with it.
I watched most of United's 3-0 victory over Spurs on Monday night, and it was obvious that the Spurs players tried to target United's new keeper. According to the fantasy football statistics he made nine saves on the night which is an awful lot for a home game. He has a poor record at saving long distance shots, but Spurs went a little overboard in their attempts to beat him from distance.
If Arsenal get a sight of goal from up to 25 yards out they should have a go by all means, but Spurs were shooting from up to 50 yards out which was a waste. It was good practice for David de Gea, as he attempts to fit into Premier League football. Without Vidic as a barrier I see him as a possible weakness, and hopefully Arsenal can exploit that weakness.
In midfield United no longer have a playmaker and the Arsenal defenders can expect a lot of players running at them with the ball at times. If Arsenal's patched together midfield can get hold of the ball often enough they might just give themselves a chance in this game, but it won't be easy.
United's home form was quite magnificent last season with 18 wins and one draw in 19 Premier League games, and it was the foundation for their league win. If Arsenal lose this game they will be eight points off the pace after only three games, and they will have a huge task ahead of them to get back into the title race. They will have to start winning games very quickly, but with 35 games to go they will still have a chance of course.
However, I'm predicting an Arsenal win, as I always do. Maybe it's because I'm an Arsenal fan that I have such blind faith in my team, or maybe I'm an eternal optimist. I think Arsenal will win 2-1 and that RVP could be the key man on the day for them.
I'm sure 99% of non Arsenal fans will disagree with me, but football is a game of opinions and mine is that Arsenal will win.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at Sylvan Wiltord's winner away to United in 2002 which clinched the Premier League title for Arsenal.
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