With the FA Cup 5th round tie against Manchester United well on the horizon and the run in as tight as ever, I thought about looking at the two squads, plus Chelsea! With all three clubs competing in at least 3 competitions, a good squad can be crucial, with strength in depth a massive factor. Chelsea have spent lots and many might expect them to have a big advantage here but United have spent a lot recently too and Wenger has built foundations.
The match on Saturday will not really compare the best teams of Arsenal and Man United with the sheer amount of injuries Wenger has right now coupled with the desire to rest certain players. Therefore it will be a key time to look at the squads of both. I believe Ferguson will select a near full strength side to try and banish memories of the derby defeat last Saturday.
Goalkeepers: (in order of current hierarchy)
Arsenal: Manuel Almunia, Jens Lehmann, Lukasz Fabianski
Man Utd: Edwin Van Der Saar, Tomas Kuszack, Ben Foster
Chelsea: Petr Cech, Carlo Cudicini, Hilario
At the start of the season, I doubt any Arsenal fans would have predicted Almunia would have established himself as the current Arsenal no.1. With a very dodgy start to the season, Lehmann lost his place to the Spaniard who has just kept improving. There are still doubters over his long term future as Wenger’s no.1. That is not the case for Chelsea who definitely have one of the best around in Cech. He has made more mistakes recently but is still a rock for Chelsea between the sticks. Ferguson had an easy decision to make due to Foster’s long term absence. Had he been fit it is likely he would have challenged Van Der Saar for the keeper’s jersey. Van Der Saar has looked shaky at times this season as his probable last season at United comes to and end.
Arsenal: Sagna, Gallas, Toure. Clichy. Hoyte, Senderos, Djourou, Traore, Song
Man Utd: Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Neville, O’Shea, Gibson
Chelsea: Beletti, Terry, Carvalho, A.Cole, Ferreira, Alex, Ivanovic, Ben Haim, Bridge
It is hard to make a judgement based on the first choice defences of all three clubs but I am going to put something out there. I believe that when each team plays its strongest defence, it is not Chelsea who have the best like many believe but Man Utd and Arsenal. In the centre back department, Man Utd are probably the strongest as they have the perfect partnership in Vidic and Ferdinand. They just edge out Gallas and Toure due to their lack of height and dominance in the air. Don’t get me wrong, Chelsea’s defence is still strong but I feel they have a lack of pace in the centre.
United have a brilliant player in Evra but he can be exploited defensively. Wes Brown is not a right back for me and United lose any attacking potency with him at full back. It is at right and left back that Arsenal are the strongest of the three. Sagna and Clichy are the best full back pairing in the league, both attacking wise and defensively. Chelsea do have attacking full backs but I do not feel we see the best of them going forward.
In reserve it is clear Chelsea are way ahead. They have an international defender in Alex who has done well this season. The new defender Ivanovic comes with a hefty price tag and Grant has high hopes for him. They are just two of the three reserve centre backs. Ben Haim may well be on his way come the summer. United are quite thread bare once you take out a few of their defenders. They have very little in reserve and an injury to Vidic for example could be a massive blow. Arsenal have Senderos as the main back up to Gallas and Toure. He has shown that with a run in the side he can be a good defender. However, as a sub or replacement for one game, it often takes him too long to settle. We have Djourou who still has a lot to learn but Alex Song could be a real find at centre back. If he can show the form he did at Blackburn this season, he can be a brilliant replacement centre half.
Again, Chelsea have a far better reserve in full backs. Ferreira and Bridge are both internationals and Bridge especially is pushing Cole for his place. Arsenal have Justin Hoyte who has improved massively recently. On the left however, we only have Traore to fill in for Clichy and his education is only just underway. He is improving but can be exploited by a half decent winger. Wenger could move Gallas or Flamini there to do a job but he would lose something else from the team. United have Neville to come back but it is a big question as to whether he can be the same player after such a long lay off.
Advantage: I really am not sure here
Arsenal: Hleb, Fabregas, Flamini, Rosicky, Eboue, Gilberto, Denilson, Diaby, Song, Walcott
Man Utd: Ronaldo, Hargreaves, Scholes, Giggs, Nani, Anderson, Carrick, Park Ji-Sung
Chelsea: Wright Phillips, Ballack, Essien, Lampard, J Cole, Malouda, Mikel, Makelele, Sidwell
The first thing I want to say here is that I have put the midfield in order of which players are first choice. I still am not sure which pairing suits Man Utd best as it is a hard decision to make. Last season Scholes and Carrick were brilliant but this season has seen the introduction of Hargreaves and the emergence of Anderson earlier than expected. With Scholes out injured for most of the season, Anderson has come in and done a fantastic job; yet you cannot leave Scholes out, he still has it. Hargreaves has added an extra bit of fight to the midfield but Carrick is a better passer of the ball. Arsenal’s centre midfield pairing is now set in stone with Flamini and Fabregas working so well together this season. In the centre, Chelsea’s best three players are Essien, Lampard and Ballack. If these three cannot work well together they do have more than adept players to come in.
Mikel has shown some patches of good form this season with Ballack out and he would get into most sides. Makelele has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the world in recent seasons and can still come in and show off this talent when called upon. In Sidwell they have a workhorse who would be in most other teams below the top four. I have mentioned Man Utd’s strength in depth but not yet looked at Arsenal. Gilberto’s performances have gone down hill this season compared to a brilliant previous campaign. He seems way off the pace and gives the ball away way too often. In Song and Denilson we have two players with great potential. With Diarra gone it gives Song a chance to make his mark in midfield as well as at the back. Denilson is similar to Cesc but understandably is not quite at his level, not many are at such a young age.
On the wings Manchester United have Cristiano Ronaldo and Giggs. Even as an Arsenal fan I have to admit the blend of exciting youth and clever experience works fantastically. To have 25 goals in one season is amazing for anyone, but Ronaldo has reached that amount by February. He is granted a free role admittedly but it still is absolutely amazing.&n bsp; Chelsea also ha ve talented wingers with SWP coming on this season and Joe Cole always threatening. Arsenal do not use orthodox wingers but in Hleb and Rosicky have two great attacking midfield players. They do need to get more goals however but contribute massively to the team as an attacking force.
In reserve Arsenal have Eboue and Diaby who many fans wish did not play out wide. Eboue can be very frustrating but has shown glimpses of brilliance. As an impact player he could be a big asset for Wenger to have. Diaby is naturally a central minded player and seems to dribble far too much on the left. Like Senderos, he needs a few games to settle into the side. Wenger is still clearly unsure over Theo Walcott but he can be a good impact player off the bench with his pace and attacking instinct. United have Nani who is a raw talent, who, under the right guidance could be a top player. Park has not had great luck with injuries but is a manager’s dream. He will give 100% whenever he is picked and seems like the kind of guy that will not throw his toys out of the pram.
Again, Chelsea have an abundance of players in this position and every player possesses quality. Man United are particularly strong in the centre but compared to Chelsea they do not have as much quality in those wide players on the bench. Arsenal are weakest it seems out wide with no natural wingers. In reserve they have some impact players but no one who you can see pushing for many starts out wide. In the centre Arsenal have a few players with potential but again the Flamini and Fabregas are pretty much assured of a place when they are fit.
Arsenal: Adebayor, Eduardo, Van Persie, Bendtner, Walcott
Man Utd: Rooney, Tevez, Saha
Chelsea: Drogba, Anelka, Kalou, Shevchenko, Pizarro
It is pretty clear that there is little between the strike pairings of all three clubs. Rooney & Tevez have formed a partnership many doubted would work. Man Utd rarely play the ball in the air so these two are rarely isolated. They take turns to drop off and seem to have a brilliant reading of each others’ games. Emmanuel Adebayor has been brilliant this season as we all know and recently Eduardo has become a perfect partner. It took him time to settle, hence why Wenger went with 4-5-1 for a while, but now his partnership with Adebayor is working brilliantly. Avram Grant has gone with 1 striker during his reign but surely having Drogba and Anelka will force him into a change to 4-4-2? Having these two in the side could lead to goals a plenty. There is a risk that their egos could clash but having to choose between one or the other could lead to problems off the pitch. Drogba may be off this summer anyway.
In reserve Arsenal are probably better off. If Van Persie can get fit Wenger will have a big decision on his hands. Van Persie is a fantastic player who can produce a goal at any moment. He is technically gifted and has reminded many people of Dennis Bergkamp with his skill and passing but he also possesses a lethal shot. He provides the team with quality set pieces for the team, especially the likes of Nicklas Bendtner who has impresses this season with his development. He has been aided with Van Persie’s absence but has linked play well and scored some good goals. He is going to become a top class player and has already pushed Wenger to give him more games this season. In Theo Walcott Wenger has another rough diamond on his hands.
It is no coincidence that United have lost four games this season and all have been when Wayne Rooney has been absent. He makes United tick and works so well with Ronaldo and Tevez. In reserve they only have Louis Saha who is always injured it seems. It seems obvious that they are one striker short and I am surprised Ferguson didn’t make a move for another forward. They have the option of playing Ronaldo through the middle but they lose something when he leaves his role out wide.
Chelsea have 5 strikers that have all played a part this season but I can see at least Pizarro leaving this summer and probably Shevchenko if the right offer comes and Abramovich is prepared to let his mate go. Kalou has a few goals this season but does not offer what Drogba or Anelka does. He could well play alongside one of them but I do not see him as a lone striker. It has been clear this season that when Drogba was out Chelsea looked short of goals and that forced them to sign Anelka. Those strikers available to Grant had not impressed and have never looked like scoring regularly.
Overall, we know that each club has a strong side but each team seems to have an advantage in different departments with Arsenal one apiece and Chelsea with 2. It is interesting to see that United have less depth than many many believe but their first team is arguably the best. They have been lucky with injuries which obviously play a major part in squad involvement but with so many competitions to be sorted still, these squads will no doubt be involved, Saturday being a clear example.