A few days after our Anfield show has allowed the performance and the result to sink in. Despite a draw being a result I would have accepted before the start of the game I cant help thinking that it was two points lost rather than one gained. Now I know that we went behind and I know that while Liverpool have not been overly impressive this season they are a hard team to beat and not many (if any) will come away with the win. But, and this is the important point, games are not played on paper based on previous results or form or injured players or anything like that.
All these things contribute to the results but the key is how well the 11 V 11 play on the day. And on the day despite a bright start Liverpool were quite average and allowed us somewhere between 60-65% of possession. If we had been playing at Wigan or Reading or the like and had 65% of the ball and hadn’t won then we’d be disappointed and that’s how I feel about the Liverpool game. We could have won it and I think had it gone on five more minutes we would have won it. They were dead on their feet at the end, absolutely knackered and had zero left to give where as we seemed still full of life and didn’t want the game to end. However it’s a point more than we got from them last season so it’s another improvement but it could have been so much more. Imagine how we’d feel if we’d gotten the win? Still we move on and this week we face our ‘first big test’ of the season (bar Liverpool and Spurs and Blackburn and Seville etc) when our old friends United come a calling.
Here we are only into just into November but already the hype for this game has built to near hysteria levels. To say that a loss for either side would effectively kill off their title aspirations is obviously fantasy but there is a strong argument for the impact a defeat could have on either teams confidence. United have built up a nice bit of momentum but a loss on Saturday would see a gap of 3 points open, a gap that could open to 6 should Arsenal win their game in hand. 6 points in November is not the end of the world but a win now is worth exactly the same as in April and while the title is never handed out before Christmas it is still two games that Arsenal would have to loose before United could catch them.
On our side while this team are currently flying but there have been accusations of “you only sing when your winning” made against us in the past. So far this season we have yet to taste defeat and you wonder how this new fighting mentality will stand up to a home loss? I think this is one questions that none of us can really answer. While it is early in the season the significance of this game, the impact of the result rather then the result itself shouldn’t be underplayed. United upset most experts last season by winning the league and winning, it has to be said, in some style. They then went out during the summer and signed Nani, Anderson, Hargraves and Tevez. That is some spending spree and it does give them frankly an awesome attacking arsenal. Rooney and Tevez have shown over the past few weeks that they can play together and Ronaldo has yet to really kick-start his form this year.
The worrying thing is that despite their top player coasting along in maybe third gear for the past few months they are still level with us on points and even when playing bad managed to grind out a few dull and some would say undeserved 1:0 wins. Rooney and Co will really test our back line and its good that Gallas is back. All respect to Big Phil but this is not one game I would play him in. United attack quickly and speed is not Big Phil’s selling point. Our back two, just like their front two are quick on the turn and read the game well. It will be very interesting to see how Toure and Gallas face up to not one but two really class players. Supporting these we can expect to see Ronaldo flying down one wing and maybe Giggs on the other? Hargraves will certainly start and be expected to sit just in front of the back four, just in the space where Cesc likes to run into.
I don’t think Hargraves is really that good a footballer but he is very good at the role he fills. He’ll chase, tackle and chase some more for the full 90 minutes and Cesc should not expect to be making his dashes into the box without a United player tracking back with him. Carrick is apparently back in training and with Scholes out I’d be tempted to start with him. Like Hargraves, Carrick has never over impressed me and I have yet to see him turn up in a big game but he also can sit deep and look to release his more skilful team-mates once the ball is won back. There are questions over his match fitness and Arsenal is the one team that you don’t want to be playing while short of breath. Nani and to a lesser degree Anderson have started to show why all that money was spent on them but I think a midfield containing Ronaldo, Giggs, Nani/Anderson and Hargraves may be just a tad to attack minded for an away game at Arsenal.
If Carrick was up to it he’d be my choice to start. Scholes would be my first pick but thankfully he’s out. United have looked good over the past few games but despite a defence showing a miserly goals against column I do think that they can be got at. Brown and O’Shea are nowhere near the standard of the rest of the team and I would really fancy both Helb and Rosicky to test them beyond their ability to withstand. Ronaldo and to a lesser extent the more canny Giggs would not be known throughout the land for their defensive work rate and this may give Sagna and Clichy the chance to go 2-on-1 against United’s right and left back but this is a risky tactic. If either of our full backs do venture forward then Flamini will have to really drop back into the hole. United will punish us if we simply go gung-ho. For us, we once more need Flam and Cesc to run their little legs off for the full ninety minutes. If we can match them in midfield, which I think we can, then we have a real chance of taking the 3 points. But make no mistake, this is going to be our toughest (I didn’t say ‘first’ mind) test of the season to date.
I really wish we had VanP back for this one and he always produced in the big games and he would have relished this one. But we have nothing to fear. Ade with the amount of work he puts in will tire any defender and Ferdinard said that last year he was harder to play against than Drogba which is high praise indeed. Will Wenger go with two up front or play 5 in the middle and give them licence to support as needed? I think that’s exactly what he’ll do and if he puts in a good shift in the game against Sheffield during the week it wouldn’t surprise me to see Gilberto starting in a middle three.
Walcott is now showing that he is a real impact player, he may not be quite ready to continue that impact over the full 90 minutes but we will see him for the last 15-20 minutes. Last week Liverpool were finished after 75 minutes, that is not because they are unfit but rather because they spent so much of the game chasing the ball. When teams loose the ball to us they have to work incredibly hard to win it back. We don’t waste possession and are quite happy knocking it around for minutes at a time. It’s a lot less tiring playing a game with the ball then without it and they have yet to face a team that retains possession as well as us. We need to do this against United, keep the ball and control the p ace of the game.
If it comes to a straight shoot out then I’ll think that they’ll win so it will be vital that the game is played on our terms. If we are level with twenty to go I’d expect us to go on and win it but I think it will be very close. Like last year I think we may have to come from behind and like last year I think it will be late. If you had to bet your life on this game I’d go for a draw but I think we may just nick it.
Hold on to your armchairs – its going to be one hell of a ride! Prediction: Arsenal 2 United 1.