Arsenal face a home game against Manchester United this Sunday in the Premier League. The reverse fixture at the end of last August was a very painful game for Arsenal fans, as the club was in crisis going into the game. The fans feared wht might happen in that game, and those fears were realised when they were beaten 8-2.
It was a game that will live long in the memories of Arsenal fans for all the wrong reasons. Arsenal were missing an awful lot of players on the day, but the team that played should have been good enough to perform a lot better. Besides the performance of the team Arsene Wenger made some bad tactical decisions on the day too.
Francis Coquelin started in the defensive midfield role, but he was replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with 30 minutes left and the score at 3-1. I found it impossible to fathom how Wenger took off a defensive midfielder, and replaced him with a player who is listed as a striker on the club site. The collapse arrived soon afterwards, and the memories are still painful.
Despite the obvious talent Chamberlain has he was overlooked in every single Premier League game after that until last Sunday. He got to play the last 15 minutes against Swansea last Sunday, as Arsenal desperately tried to claw back a 3-2 deficit. His efforts were in vain, and Arsenal were beaten for the second league game in a row.
Going into Sunday's game Arsenal have even more absent players this time, as their squad is ravaged by injuries. It was hoped that both Mikael Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen would be available, but Arteta is definitely out and Vermaelen is highly doubtful. Added to that Thierry Henry has picked up a knock, and he might not be available either.
I find myself wondering if Arsenal have built their new stadium on an ancient burial ground, as they suffer a series of devastating injuries season after season. Besides the current list of injuries Arsenal are also missing both Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh who are both on international duty. By my estimation Arsenal are missing six of their strongest team, and the team has no balance as a result.
Of course the defensive injuries are worst of all, and the injuries to all of the club's full-backs are almost unbelievable. Even the players who have attempted to fill in for the full-backs are falling like flies at the moment. All of those injuries will probably mean Arsenal have to play a very similar team to the one that lost to Swansea last week.
I can't see the defence being any different unless Vermaelen makes a miraculous recovery, and the chances are the front three will be the same again too. That means the only change in personell might come in midfield where Tomas Rosicky looks likely to start for Yossi Benayoun who seemed unable to get into the game last week.
Aaron Ramsey got quite a lot of stick from some Arsenal fans after last week's game, but I thought he tried harder than most of the other Arsenal players. It was not his fault that the referee gave a penalty against him when he was actually the player fouled. He may have done very little right in the game, but he cannot be blamed for that penalty.
Arsenal have had a bad run of very debatable decisions go against them recently, but surely these things are meant to even out over a season. If that's the case I think Arsenal can expect to get half a dozen penalties in their favour very soon, as well as getting away with a few blatant ones against them. I won't be holding my breath for that scenario though.
United have a few injury worries of their own, but they can put out an almost full strength team. Their biggest loss is Nemanja Vidic, and I always feel their defence is weaker without him. Hopefully Arsenal will be able to take advantage of United missing their best defender.
United have the best away record in the Premier League with seven victories and only one defeat in 10 games so far. They have only conceded six goals in those games too, but their last away game was a 3-0 defeat against Newcastle United. Another performance like that one from United would be ideal for Arsenal.
On the other hand Arsenal have a pretty good home record so far this season, and their only defeat came against Liverpool when they were down to 10 men. Only Manchester City have conceded less goals than Arsenal at home too, and it's a record for the team to be proud of. That record will be put to a severe test by United I would imagine.
On the face of it the team Arsenal will play is very weak at the back, and the game is there for United to go out and win. When teams have attacked Arsenal this season they have opened up their defence too easily, and that should be United's best tactic in this game. Whether they decide to do that or not is another matter altogether.
Added to that Arsenal are missing too many very good goalscoring chances in almost every game, and they will need to be clinical against United. Their chances to score could be few and far between, but if they take the good ones they can get a result in my opinion. If Robin van Persie is at his best he can cause United some real problems.
Unite have Nani and Antonio Valencia in their wide roles, and they can both cause real problems to the fill in full-backs for Arsenal. Both Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin will have to help their full-backs as much as possible, and I hope the two of them can work as hard as they are needed to.
In my opinion Arsenal need to keep the game as tight as possible, and look to frustrate United. Every single Arsenal player has to work as hard as they can, and fight for the cause. A draw would be a good result for Arsenal, but it probably wouldn't be for United considering the team Arsenal have to play.
If United play two players up front they will be leaving themselves short in midfield, and that could play into Arsenal's hands. I would like to see Paul Scholes start for them, as I think he is well past his best and could struggle if Arsenal put him under pressure. He has a nasty side to him, and it would be nice to see him punished by the referee if that side is put on show.
I think Arsenal have a chance of getting a result if they can keep to their game plan, and every player does all that is asked of them. That certainly hasn't been the case in recent games, but surely the players will know how important it is in this game. I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal, but then again regular readers will know I always predict an Arsenal win.
That's it for today.
Here's the goal from Aaron Ramsey that won this game for Arsenal last season.
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