Manchester United takes on Barclays Premier League leaders’ Arsenal, and it should be another classic North-South Derby at Old Trafford.
United trail the Gunners by a single point in the standings, but that is because the Reds have a match-in-hand, and even though titles are never won in December, this game could hold significant meaning come May.
If United win, they will go two points clear of Arsenal – with a game in hand – at the top of the table, however, if the Reds happen to lose, they would fall four points behind the Gunners, and depending on the other results, they could very well end up in fourth place.
Both clubs have recently advanced to the next round in the UEFA Champions League this past week, with United securing top spot in their group, but Arsenal was pushed to the brink of possible elimination, and forced to labor out a 3-1 win over Partizan Belgrade.
Last Saturday, the Reds’ trip to Bloomfield Road to take on Blackpool was postponed due to a frozen pitch, which allowed Arsenal the chance to jump ahead of them, because of their scrappy 2-1 home victory over their London rival, Fulham.
On top of their unbeaten run in the league since last April, United also has personal five game unbeaten streak against Arsenal – four wins and a draw – which includes two wins in the two-legged Champions League Semi-Final in 2008/09.
However, form, history and/or statistics can never be factored into this famous English derby, because of the quality of the players that both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger boast in their respective teams.
In this corresponding fixture last season, United was put on the back foot against Arsenal, but they somehow still managed to sneak out a 2-1 come-from-behind victory – courtesy of second-half penalty and Abou Diaby own goal.
At the end of January though, United put on a footballing clinic at the Emirates with a comfortable 3-1 win, which will be forever-remembered for the match that possibly saved Nani’s Old Trafford career, because he put in an excellent display to terrorize Arsenal.
Arsenal has not won a trophy since luckily defeating United on penalties to claim the 2004/05 FA Cup, but the Gunners are in a prime position to win this season’s Carling Cup, and, as mentioned before, they are also in top spot in the Premier League.
A lot of London-based pundits are saying that Arsenal’s youngster are finally turning the corner by being able to grind out the necessary results it will take to win the Premier League after some of the intense moments against some of the lesser Premier League teams.
However, last season Arsenal was in the same position atop of the league, and with only seven winnable matches to play, they failed to cope with the pressure during the Premier League run-in between Chelsea, United and themselves, and the Gunners finished in third place and 11 points behind the Blues.
So far in the league this season, Arsenal has scored an impressive 34 goals, which is only bettered by United’s league-leading total of 35.
Since losing 1-0 to Newcastle United, the Gunners has scored at least two goals in each of their last five Premier League outings, which has resulted in four wins – the only loss was when they blew a two-goal lead in their 3-2 loss against their hated-North London rival, Tottenham.
Since Wenger has always opted to sign very attack-minded players, goals have never been the problem because of the elegant football that Arsenal plays, however, the way they wastefully concede them at the other end has to be a glaring concern for their manager.
The Gunners has allowed 18 goals in their 16 Premier League matches, which is two more then the often-criticized United defense has this season, which is wrongfully and often blamed on Wenger’s lack of first-choice goalkeeper.
Cesc Fabregas has been Arsenal’s best player by a country mile for the last few seasons, but the uncommitted midfielder is facing a race-for-fitness and listed as doubtful for the match after picking up another muscle injury two weeks ago.
Samri Nasri, who scored two goals the last time Arsenal beat United, has had a breakout season, which is solely down to the young French midfielder being given a more centralized role, and that freedom has produced club-leading eight goals.
Marouane Chamakh, who arrived this summer on a free transfer from Bordeaux, is the Gunners second leading goal scorer with seven goals to his name, but the finesse forward has recently admitted that he does not like the physical style of play in England, which is exactly what he will face against United.
With the departures of three center-backs over the summer, and a serious injury to Thomas Vermaelen, who has only appeared three times this season, Wenger has been forced to establish new central defensive partnership to anchor his all-French back-four.
Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci both arrived this summer from Lorient and Sevilla FC, respectively, and will more than likely team up with the already-established French full-backs, Gaël Clichy and Bacary Sagna, in the Arsenal defense for the visit to Old Trafford.
Sir Alex is going to be sweating over the fitness of Rio Ferdinand, who came off with a hamstring injury against Valencia, but, thankfully, he could partner the emerging Chris Smalling with Nemanja Vidic if need be.
Another doubt for the match against Arsenal is Paul Scholes, but Ferguson can breathe a bit easier because he has Anderson, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, who are all capable of manning the center of the midfield.
Manchester United, Dimitar Berbatov in particular, has to do better with their chances than did against Valencia during the week if the Reds can expunge Arsenal from first place in the Barclays Premier League table.
Out: A. Valencia (leg), O. Hargreaves (hamstring), Doubtful: M. Owen (hamstring), P. Scholes (groin); Questionable: R. Ferdinand (hamstring)
E. van der Sar; Rafael, R. Ferdinand, N. Vidic, P. Evra; Nani, Anderson, M. Carrick, J. S. Park; W. Rooney, D. Berbatov
Manchester United 3 Arsenal 2