Manchester United play host to Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday and we can expect a lot of goals in this game.
It certainly won’t be the same 8-2 score line in favour of the Old Trafford outfit like we saw happen in August last year, but there is just too much quality in both teams for there not to be goals in this match. A lot has happened since Arsenal’s heavy six-goal defeat at United and to be honest I do not think that result will have any bearing on Saturday’s contest. A lot of Arsenal players who played in that 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford on 28 August 2011 won’t be starting against United this weekend. I also believe that Arsenal did very well to recover from that humiliation to finish in the top four and therefore qualify for the UEFA Champions League this season.
United did beat Arsenal home and away last season and so Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will definitely be happy with a point from the upcoming clash — anyone who goes to Old Trafford would be. However, this does not mean that the Frenchman will set his team out defensively. He only knows one way. Wenger will go with 4-3-3 and put out his strongest team which means full-back Bacary Sagna will start in place of Carl Jenkinson as he did against QPR last weekend despite only just returning from a long injury lay-off. I am not sure about another long-term absentee, who made his first start of the season against QPR, Jack Wilshere. To put him in midfield for such a big game after such a long injury spell is a little bit of a gamble but nevertheless he is a good player.
An Arsenal player who definitely should not start Saturday’s game with United is Theo Walcott. I see him more as an impact player, someone whose injection of pace can change things while coming on as a substitute. He’s a bit brainless really when he starts and despite what he might say, I do not see him as a striker either. His place is on the wings because of his pace.
As for United, their manager Alex Ferguson got the tactics and formation perfect against Chelsea last weekend where they won 3-2 at Stamford Bridge. They had pace and lots of width and I think it would be stupid for him to chop and change it back to the diamond formation he has experimented with this season for Saturday’s home game with Arsenal.
This means that I am expecting youngster Tom Cleverley and not veteran Paul Scholes to partner Michael Carrick in central midfield as he did against Chelsea. With respect to Scholes, I just don’t think Carrick and him work together – both can’t run up and down the pitch and it makes United weak.
A lot of the focus for Saturday’s game between United and Arsenal, though, will be centred on Robin van Persie. This will be the Dutch striker’s first game against the Gunners since crossing the divide in the summer to join United in Manchester. For me, Van Persie has nothing to prove in this game. At 29 years of age, he is not a youngster coming back to face his old team — he’ll just do what he does best on Saturday which is to score goals.
If he does score, I am not sure how Van Persie will choose to celebrate. Players do feel extra motivation to do well against their former clubs but I do not know what sort of terms Van Persie left Arsenal under or if he still feels anything for the club. The one thing I do know is that if you score you’re entitled to celebrate no matter who you have scored against.
As for my prediction for Saturday’s clash — I am tipping United to win.
—The writer is a football expert with ESPN