Evening all. In all the time I’ve been following football, I can’t think of a more vulnerable Manchester United team than the one we’re likely to face tomorrow afternoon, as we try to reduce the gap to league leaders Leicester back to two points after the Foxes scored a last-minute winner against Norwich earlier today.
Having conceded at the death against us a fortnight ago to lose the game, I suppose some will view Leicester’s late victory today as karmic consequence, but I’m going to put it down to the fact Claudio Ranieri’s side are a genuinely quality outfit who have their first-ever Premier League title in sight.
When you then study the respective run-ins of the two sides, ignoring the two other title hopefuls in Manchester City and Sp*rs, it becomes pretty obvious Arsenal can’t fall any further behind, making victory Old Trafford all the more important.
It’s something Arsene Wenger is obviously very aware of and assessing our upcoming run of fixtures, which start against United tomorrow and include hosting Swansea next midweek before the north London derby at White Hart Lane a week today, the boss called it a ‘key period’ when he spoke at his pre-match press conference yesterday. He said:
It is the key period. We work the whole season for this period and that’s where you’re really tested but it’s where you have an opportunity to show your quality as well. On that front, that is the most interesting period of the season. You can show quality, nerves and desire as well. We need to focus on the Premier League where we have a big part to play. Everybody drops points and it is unpredictable. We have rebuilt a good run in the Premier League and we need to continue that. How many points that will be needed [to win the title]? We don’t know. Let’s not set any limit on the number of points we can get. We have put ourselves in a strong position again. We want to take advantage of that and continue our good run in the Premier League.
In terms of team news, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky remain long-term absentees and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has joined them on the side-lines but Gabriel, who played in the reverse fixture in October, is expected to be fit and available after his own recent lay-off.
When you throw in Danny Welbeck’s availability, Olivier Giroud’s lack of goals recently and a newly vacated starting berth on the right of the attack, playing Arsenal Manager and guessing our likely selection for tomorrow becomes a lot more difficult.
I’m tempted to say we’ll see a change at centre-half because if not, this will be a third game in eight days for Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. On the other hand, which one do you rest and is Gabriel match-fit even if he’s no longer injured?
As for up front, is Theo Walcott worth a go in place of Olivier Giroud? Or were his two assists in the two recent games against Leicester and Bournemouth proof that the Frenchman’s contributing enough even if he’s not scoring himself?
Is Danny Welbeck now able to start and finish a vital game having played bit-parts in just three games in ten months? Then, whoever leads the line, what do we do on the right? Joel Campbell? Theo? Danny? Aaron Ramsey, with one of Mohamed Elneny or Mathieu Flamini playing in the middle alongside Francis Coquelin? Who knows? Only Arsene …
Personally, I would be inclined to play Elneny in midfield, move Ramsey to the right and pick either Welbeck or Walcott up top if this wasn’t quite such a vital fixture, but seeing as it is, I’d make as few changes as possible to Tuesday’s team, despite us losing. So if pushed, I’d say keep the same starting line-up, with the one enforced change being Welbeck starting in place of the Ox on the right.
Whoever plays though, we’ll have to buck a trend that has seen us go win-less in our last eight Premier League games at Old Trafford, losing six of them. But as I suggested at the start of this post, we should be more confident of victory than at any time in recent history. Time to turn that confidence into concrete points and stay firmly on the Foxes’ tails.