Happy Saturday. Unless your name is Jose Mourinho obviously, because then it’s anything but, and there’s a good chance you’ll be getting sacked in the morning, you specialist in verbal diarrhea you. Is he still speaking?
We host Manchester United tomorrow afternoon of course, and having just checked, I’m slightly shocked to find that our last Premier League victory over tomorrow’s opponents came way back in May 2011, when Aaron Ramsey’s carefully-placed low strike secured us a 1-0 win at Emirates stadium.
Since that game, we’ve played them eight times in the league and lost five of those matches, conceding 17 and scoring just 7 times along the way. Of course those aggregate scores are skewed somewhat heavily by that infamous 8-2 at Old Trafford, and we did beat them in our last meeting in the FA Cup, but still, we’re long overdue to put a few past United. Needless to say, tomorrow would be the ideal time to do it as we look to bounce back from our midweek defeat in the Champions League and keep pace with the challengers for the title.
Arsene Wenger spoke about the fixture at his pre-match press conference yesterday (despite the assembled media’s best attempts at keeping the conversation on David Ospina and the Olympiakos defeat), explained why his team will go into the game in confident mood and also pointed out that no team can be identified as likely champions, given the close proximity in points of the teams at at the top of the table. He said:
It is a special fixture because usually Man United are always fighting at the top. It has an even bigger meaning now because there are three points between the teams, and we play at home in a big game. We have just come from a big win at Leicester and we want to continue our run. We are the only team who has beaten [Leicester], so I don’t see why we should not believe we can beat Manchester United. At the moment it is too difficult to say that any team dominates the championship. It is so tight that one point more after seven games does not mean you will suddenly make a big difference in the league. It is settling at the moment and it is a very important time in the Premier League but you cannot come to a conclusion that one team is above everybody else.
In terms of team selection, Laurent Koscielny is ruled out with a hamstring strain but Gabriel is available after serving a one-match suspension for last week’s win at Leicester so barring any last-minute injury concerns, the Brazilian should play alongside Per Mertesacker in central defence and I’m guessing Petr Cech will have recovered sufficiently from the ‘slight alert’ over his calf to take over from Ospina in goal.
Elsewhere, I think the team picks itself. Our two Spanish fullbacks, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in midfield, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Ramsey ahead of them with Theo Walcott again leading the line and looking to score his 13th goal in 14 Premier League starts. I suppose Olivier Giroud has a chance of starting in Theo’s place given the fact he was banned for Tuesday’s game and may therefore be physically fresher but I can’t see it. Theo’s in fine goalscoring form and I’d be amazed if Arsene left him out.
As for the opposition, despite Anthony Martial dominating discussion given his solid start to life at United, Juan Mata has been playing pretty well too and Arsene praised the former Chelsea man’s quality yesterday, as well as highlighting United’s other dangermen, saying:
He is an intelligent player and his position is a bit secondary. What is important is the timing of the moment to get rid of your marker and the quality of your vision, and Mata’s quality of vision is very high. Let’s not forget at Chelsea he was twice voted player of the year so that is a quality he always had. United have a few dangerous players. The danger can come from Martial, Mata and Depay. Maybe Mata has been in top form of late but with these types of games it is important you are focused on defending well as a team as the danger can come from anywhere.
Individuals aside though, I don’t think United have been anything special at all so far this season. I saw them host Wolfsburg on Wednesday evning and thought they were very fortunate to win the game. The Germans were the better team. But then when you make as many squad alterations as United have, finding fluency takes time and hopefully we can capitalise on their lack of familiarity with one another.
Despite losing this fixture last season, we actually played very well and Jack Wilshere’s chance when one-on-one with David de Gea sticks out as one that may have led to a different result at full-time. Taking the lead in these big games, as lots of managers often point out, is vital. So if we can reproduce that same level of intensity in our game but take our chances this time, I expecting us to pick up all three points and show that maybe we’re serious contenders this year after all.