Sunday, 17 May 2015

Arsenal's Trip To Manchester United Previewed

The defeat at home to Swansea on Monday night means Arsenal's chances of finishing second are an awful lot less likely. They're only three points behind City with a game in hand, but City have much better goal difference thanks mainly to the 6-0 spanking they gave QPR last week. Arsenal's chances of catching them will be a lot clearer after City play away to Swansea in the earlier kick off today.

Swansea have something to play for themselves with a Europa League place still a possibility if they can win their last two games. After both Southampton and Spurs won yesterday Swansea know they have to win to realistically keep their chances alive and they're very much an in form side. If they can do Arsenal a favour by taking a point or even three off City then second place will be very much up for grabs again.

Of course for Arsenal to keep those chances alive they will have to go to United today and win and that's no easy thing. United have lost three league games at home so far this season, but they have also won 14 and no other team has won more home games in the league. It's United's final home game of the season and they will want to sign off with a win for the home fans.

United have their injury problems coming into this game and Arsenal do too even if they have named an unchanged side in five successive games. It doesn't look like Danny Welbeck will be available and he was the player who scored the winning goal against his former club when Arsenal won away to United in the FA Cup quarter final. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mathieu Debuchey and Mikel Arteta are all unavailable too and I think the team is missing the pace of both Welbeck and Chamberlain and the options that pace gives them. For me the unchanged nature of the team may not necessarily have been a good thing as Arsenal have a squad capable of beating almost any team and I think the squad needs to be utilised more often.

United came to Arsenal in the league in November and somehow or other won 2-1 despite only having one effort on target. The cup game was a lot different, but Arsenal did need a defensive howler to hand them the winning goal and I have no doubt this game will be just as close as those two were. It could come down to which teams makes an error to give the game away just like the cup game and Arsenal need to be switched on from first minute to last to ensure they're not the ones messing up this time.

Without the pace of Welbeck and Chamberlain it might not be a bad idea for Arsene Wenger to deploy Theo Walcott on the right even if he isn't exactly a genuinely wide player. Walcott hasn't really got much of a look in for one reason or another since returning from injury in January and the chances are he will be on the bench again today. When he came on against Swansea he missed a good chance to put Arsenal ahead, but he wasn't the only player who should have scored in that game.

I think the United defense are vulnerable to pace and Walcott could be the player to expose their deficiencies given the chance. He offers that something different that Arsenal need at the moment, but the chances are the boss will stick with the same side despite the result on Monday night. That team has loads of quality in it and is more than capable of winning this game, but they cannot afford to play it at the same pace as they did in the first half against Swansea. They didn't make Swansea work hard enough in the first hour of that game to keep them out and then they missed chances when they eventually opened them up in the last 30 minutes. 

United are guaranteed Champions League football for next season and that's an improvement on last season, but they must still hold some hope of finishing above Arsenal too. Third place means no final qualifying round for next season's competition and it's a hurdle both teams would like to avoid. If United win they will be a point ahead of Arsenal even if Arsenal have a game in hand and they will give themselves a chance of finishing third. A draw for Arsenal would more or less guarantee third place and might be enough to keep their chances of second place alive depending on the City result.

The defeat on Monday night brought Arsenal's great run in the league to an end, but they really should have at least taken a point from that game. The players have to show today that they aren't affected by that result and go out and play their game against United. This United team is far from the finished article and with the injuries they have they will be all the easier to beat too. 

Of course Arsenal will have to be aware of the threat posed by Marouane Fellaini, but Francis Coquelin had a great game against him in the cup match and I expect more of the same from Coquelin in this game. He has made himself such an important player for the team since circumstances saw him come into it and he's the one player you expect to always be at his best. If he can help to win the battle in midfield I think Arsenal will gain enough of a foothold to win the game. 

I suppose I would be happy enough as long as they don't lose considering how long it has been since they won a league game at Old Trafford. That cup victory was the template for what they can achieve in this game though and more of the same would be very welcome. Ideally I would love to see Arsenal win after City have failed to do so earlier in the day and make themselves favourites to finish second for the first time in 10 years. We don't always get what we want though, but it is more than possible today and the optimist in me thinks it might just happen. Even if Swansea don't do their part I think Arsenal can still beat a United team who have been far from impressive for most of the season and in recent weeks in particular.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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