Rivals – Man United

Where to start with these gits? We gave them a bloody good run last season but in the end the size and quality of their squad told and they caught us. I don’t begrudge them their victory as much as I would had Chelsea taken the title. They generally play good positive football and keep the ball on the ground rather than hoofing it long (like say Chelsea or Liverpool for example). But still I look back at last season and in a first choice 11 versus first choice 11 I cant help but thinking;
“we could have taken them.”
The season is due to kick off and they haven’t really added to their squad as of yet. Signing Tevez fulltime looks like a foregone conclusion and they may yet add Bertatov to an already pretty strong attack but so far no one of note has come in. In general, with the players they have this is not a major issue but I am a bit surprised that they haven’t gone out and gotten a top class keeper. Van der Sar is in a lot better nick then I will be when I am his age but he is getting on, pushing on 38, and keepers generally keep their level relatively high but going down hill rapidly when age catches up with them. Behind them they have both Foster and Kuszczak who both seem able keepers but I don’t think either are will be strong enough over the full season should van der Sar pick up an injury or lose form. This is an area that we may see some profit from.
Their defence is strong, strong on paper and strong on the pitch. Ferdinard has come on a lot in the past two years. He still has a casual style to his play but he has cut out a lot of the mistakes he used to make and is close to becoming the complete defender. And any areas that he falls short in his partner Vidic seems to be incredibly strong in. On the right Brown did a good job but you would expect that the horrible git Neville will be back for most of the big games provided he can prove his fitness, he is 33 now and coming back after more than a season without regular football will be tough. Evra on the left side of the defence did not look at solid throughout the season as I think he can be. He can be awesome when he is on form but he had a few less than spectacular games last season. We will see how he gets on this year but he is a good player and I would expect him to improve.
Last season that backline kept cleans sheets in an incredible 60% of the league games that they played in and conceded an average on only 0.58 goals per game. You have to work to score against these guys and while I don’t think that they will be that tight this season it will be rare that they will conceded two goals in a game.
In the midfield they have the perfect balance of youthful talent and experience that we are crying out for. Take your pick from Scholes, Giggs, Hargreaves, Carrick, Nani, Anderson, Ronaldo, Fletcher and even O’Shea. While they don’t always play the standard 4-4-2 formation their players are always well drilled in what their roles and responsibilities are, what ever else you can say about Ferguson he doesn’t allow players to make the same mistake twice. Their midfield is very strong and this shows the value of a big squad. If Hargreaves gets injured you bring on Carrick. Scholes picks up a knock and on comes Anderson. Giggs needs a rest then you tell Nani he’s playing. Now Giggs and Scholes are old boys and came up through the ranks but the rest have all been bought in at huge expense. United and able (and willing) to spend millions on players that are not even part of the starting eleven. Nani cost about £15million, Anderson the same, Carrick near to £20 and Hargreaves even more. When you compare the money that we paid for our midfield you see the real difference.
Now we have some incredibly talented players and Ramsey looks like one with real potential but the money we spend on Nasri would make him a back up player at United, with us he is first choice. I think we can favourably compare our middle four (Rosicky, Cesc, Diaby (?) and Walcott) versus theirs (Ronaldo, Hargreaves, Scholes and Giggs) but our second string in far behind in both experience and ability. Eboue either a first or second choice right winger will never cut it in a team that wants to be serious about challenging for the top honours.
But it is not all doom and gloom for us Arsenal fans. Ronaldo as we all know was simple awesome last season. Even in games when he was playing poor he still managed to chip in with a goal and in many cases it was the match winning one. It is hard to see that he will be as good again this season as last time around. For a start his whole mind set cannot be the best having spent the summer first working towards and then working away from a move to Madrid. We know, from experience, that once a player thinks about going it is best that he should as his form is never quite the same (see the last season of Patrick V and Thierry Henry for further evidence). On top of that he had a fairly disappointing Euro 2008 as Portugal once again underperformed and he is also likely to miss the first 6 weeks or so of the season. Good news for us and the rest of the league. On top of that Scholes and Giggs are a year older and while they have been used sparingly recently they are still getting on (nearly 34 and 35 respectively). Despite the reduced number of games that they play their influence cannot be underestimated.
Up front they have the tireless and effective Tevez paired with the I felt, less than impressive Rooney. When he plays he can be devastating to opposition but I think that it’s pretty fair to say that Rooney has not yet lived up to the hype of his younger years (I say ‘younger’ in someone who I acknowledge to be only 23-24). I didn’t think he had a great season and while you cant argue with his work-rate or the league and Champions league medals he has around his neck I think that he was a better player when he was younger and more selfish. Now he seems to be looking for the pass more than thinking about taking an opponent on. Will he recapture that form or is he one of those players who will fail to live up to the standards that everyone else set for them? Now don’t get me wrong, I think he is a bloody good player and I’d love him at Arsenal but while two seasons ago I would have had him straight into our starting eleven now I am not so sure. Maybe his most effective position will be coming off the bench? Anyway it looks increasingly likely that Bertatov will swap one disgusting shirt for another and move for Spurs to United. The fee looks to be in the £25-£30 million bracket which is about right for a player of his ability. Bertatov will form a lethal partnership with either of Tevez or Rooney.
United are a very strong team. Ferguson’s policy is to get the best players into the club and let someone else worry about how they are paid for, a policy that I feel Wenger could learn from. Don’t question their motivation as their manager seems to be on a one man mission to displace Liverpool as the holders of the most league titles and he will not allow any player to fall short of this mark. They scored more goals than any other team in the league last year but it looks like they are strengthening their attack. They are strong at the back and have a lot of strength in dept in midfield. If ourselves and United merged then the team would be about 50/50 (or as 50/50 as an eleven aside team can be) but 38 games over 9 months make it a squad competition. Despite finishing third in the league last year we had more players in the players choice team than any other club, more than the rest combined in fact but in late winter and early spring where injuries and tiredness really start to become a factor than the benefit of having a £15 million player or two on the bench shows its worth. It is for this reason alone that I think United, sadly, will make it three in arow.
Last Season Prediction: 1st
Actual Finish:      1st
This Season Prediction: 1st.
By Galway Gooner.

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