As the title said, “this is it, all or nothing”. I have heard this said when we visited Stamford Bridge but this time it officially is all or nothing. Lose this game and we end the season trophyless AGAIN, win and the race is wedged open that little bit more. There would still be a lot to do but there would still be hope, and, more importantly, belief.
Man Utd let us back into the title race when they dropped points at Middlesborough last weekend. Having dropped two more points at home to Liverpool I saw the title as on its way to Old Trafford or the Kings Road. When I found out Middlesborough had taken two points off United I felt even more gutted that we had wasted the chance to cut the gap.
We have the chance to redeem that draw on Sunday at Old Trafford but if we don’t get the 3 points it is goodbye to this season and hello to the re-building stage for next season. Win it and the gap is down to just 3 with 4 games to play. The key could be the fact United are in two competitions and should we win on Sunday, the focus is solely on one trophy.
I feel as though I am getting way ahead of myself here; we still have to play the game yet. This game is massive but it is also the most difficult game of our season. Yes, it is tougher than the visits to the San Siro and Anfield recently. Why? It takes on so many different aspects.
1. Having lost at Anfield on Tuesday, confidence has got to be low. People might say that it is easy to lift yourself when a game like this comes around. However, after such a devastating blow to our season it would be understandable if the players found it hard to get themselves motivated for this game.
2. After the gruelling match from the other night the players must be absolutely knackered. Our most important players have been involved throughout most of the season and as we get into this tough part they must be running on empty. Players like Cesc Fabregas used up every ounce of energy and now they face yet another sapping game of Football.
Just look at how much effort Cesc needed to put in to try and stop Babel as he raced clear at the end. That was the sign of a man on his last legs. This coupled with the disappointment of the result will make it extremely tough to get fit and raring to go this Sunday.
3. Manchester United had the luxury of resting Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. After their draw at ‘Boro they know this is a must win game for them also. Lose and they have to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to stay in it. Their two most influential players are fresh for this game and will look to exploit Arsenal’s tiredness.
As fans we know the history and pride involved in these games and hopefully this gives the players that boost to make up for the energy lost. This is a real derby game. We might not be close in terms of location but in terms of the last 10-15 years we are as close as any two teams in the world. Playing away at Old Trafford is a game every player wants to play in. If they don’t, they should not be at Arsenal.
I hope we show ourselves far better than we did in the FA Cup fourth round. Although many things can be dismissed from that day, some must be taken note of. Toure and Gallas were torn apart by Rooney and this must change come Sunday. I feel Wenger will revert back to these two in the centre and they must deal with him far better this time around.
That day we seemed unable to string three passes together. United pressured us throughout the game and the ball failed to stick up front. During the first half at Liverpool we gave a lesson of how to play football in high pressure situations. We kept the ball easily and moved it at great speed. Liverpool’s midfield could not get close and until Hyypia’s goal we dominated Liverpool.
If we can start the same way as we did on Tuesday we might have a chance. Start the way we did in the 4-0 defeat and I can see the same result once again. The key for any team going to Old Trafford is to frustrate United and keep the ball for as long as possible. Arsenal are the best at this and the longer we frustrate them, the more likely it is that spaces will open up.
We also lacked any urgency that day. As i said before, the occasion should hopefully inspire a more committed performance. Hopefully the players will fight till the end before they give up the season. The key will be to move the ball quickly and get into the United players whenever they have it.
One key loss to our side is Flamini. He gives us that urgency in midfield and this was obvious when he limped off on Tuesday. He gave Liverpool no time on the ball when they had it as well as providing a spring board to attack. He is able to get forward and his passing has improved greatly. Once Gilberto was on, we struggled to fight for the ball in midfield.
Gilberto’s job tomorrow will be to prevent the ball getting to: Ronaldo as he moves inside and Rooney/Tevez should they drop deeper. He used to do the job so well but since he has lost his pace his job has looked far harder for him. He brings experience in the big games but last time we played United he looked like a fish out of water.
Justin Hoyte was torn apart by Nani during the Cup and this will be in Wenger’s thinking as he picks his back four. There is no doubt Wenger will want to have Gallas and Toure in the centre after Senderos’ lack of ability against pace. Man Utd possess this far more than they do height; this means Phil will be far more awkward at the back. The problem is that Sagna is still out and Toure may be required to play RB. If Wenger does not trust Hoyte, I would give Eboue a game there, if only to release Toure.
Cesc Fabregas has a massive job on Sunday. He will need to link defence to attack. I see Gilberto’s job simply being in his own half; a bit like a 5th defender if you like. This means Cesc will be required to bring the wide men into play as well as supporting the striker(s). I hope he is not too tired but these are the games Cesc often shines in, hopefully we see the Cesc we know.
In my opinion it is ridiculous if Theo Walcott does not start this game. United will be shit scared after his amazing run on Tuesday. Recently Theo has been the only player with any urgency. He changed the Bolton game, gave us impetus at home to Liverpool and nearly won us the tie on Tuesday. Eboue’s performances are beyond a joke now and there is a point where Theo must become a starter rather than the go to man.
Evra also prefers to go forward than defend and can be a threat for them. If he knows Walcott will be left free to run into the empty space, he may be more wary. Evra is not the best defender in the world and if Theo can get at him we may get some joy. He could be used up front but on Sunday I can see him being a bigger threat from out wide.
Wenger has to decide whether to go with two natural strikers or Hleb behind the one. With Diaby suspended he may be forced to start with Hleb on the left and Van Persie up front. Van Persie is still coming back to full fitness but he does possess the ability to produce something out of nothing; hugely important in games like these. With Vidic out United look more vulnerable and playing two up front gives us the best opportunity to exploit it.
Wherever Hleb plays, if we can get him on the ball, he will be a major threat. He has an eye for a pass and if United become stretched he can pick this pass. If he is up for this game he could be very important on Sunday. His dribbling is fantastic and when we need a cool head on the ball, he normally provides it.
One option is to start with a 4-5-1 formation. Wenger could put Song alongside Gilberto in front of the defence. This would mean we set up with an offence and a defence, like American football. We would defend with the 4 defenders and these two. Then in attack we have Cesc, Hleb and Theo working off Ade. I can see this as a probable set up but means we must support Ade at all times.
Van Persie can then be used as a supersub but however we play Ade has a massive part to play. Ferdinand knows he is a handful and is without Vidic to help out. If Ade can be a nuisance and bring players into play we may well get some joy up front. We must make sure he does not become isolated and Hleb, Theo, Cesc etc get close to him whenever we attack.
Subs: Lehmann, Senderos, Eboue, Song, Bendtner
Subs: Lehmann, Senderos, Eboue, Van Persie, Bendtner
All that is left to say is come on Arsenal! It really is 3 points or bust, LET’S GO