This weekend a battle will commence at 12.45 GMT in North London between two of the nations oldest rivals. Arsenal, one of the most successful clubs in the Premier League’s history, will lock horns with the most successful club in the Premier League’s history — Manchester United.
In what is always a mouth watering fixture to every season, the league table as it stands couldn’t be any closer. Arsenal sit on top with the same points and same goal difference as the Red Devils but with a game in hand. The result to this game could prove to be pivotal at the end of the season. Between them Man Utd have won 375 games, notched up 1,258 points and collected nine league titles. Arsenal on the other hand have won 316 games, notched up 1,107 points and gained three titles.
The game this season sets up the most effective attack against the tightest defence; the north Londoners have scored 22 goals in 10 whilst their rivals have conceded just 4 in 11. Last seasons match at the Emirates saw Arsenal come from behind to beat Man Utd 2-1 in the last seven minutes of the game. Rooney had put the away side in front but an equaliser from Van Persie, who broke his foot in doing so, and a winner from the now departed Henry stole the points for them.
Interesting facts to note going into the lunch time game this weekend is Arsenal have never lost when Emmanuel Adebayor has scored. They’ve won 16 and drawn twice in the 18 matches that he’s found the back of the net. However, the Togolese striker hasn’t scored since the 22nd September when he netted twice in the 5-0 victory against Derby. Wayne Rooney has scored five times against Arsenal, twice when he was at Everton and three times for United. This season the strike force of Rooney and Tevez are the Premier League’s top marksmen with four goals each.
The rivalry between the two over the years has been a bitter one, with incidents such as the infamous pizza throwing fight in October 2004. The game that led to that was a physical encounter in which United ended Arsenal’s 49 game unbeaten run. The Londoner’s were said to be enraged with United’s tactics and the penalty that was awarded to Rooney. It was this row that escalated in the tunnel at the final whistle, where rumours circled that pizza was thrown around and Sir Alex Ferguson was hit in the face by a slice. In the prior season to this one though, another penalty decision was at the heart of the ‘disagreement’ between the two sides. Patrick Vieira was sent off with 10 minutes remaining after a foul on Van Nistelrooy. After the Dutchman failed to put away the resulting spot-kick several of Arsenal’s players surrounded him with accusations of cheating and goading him to the point where fines and match bans were issued out afterwards.
There’s no love lost between the managers either. Ferguson and Wenger face each other for the 34th time with 33 of the previous meetings resulting in 11 United wins and 13 to Arsenal. Seven of the other nine were draws with the remaining two being decided via penalty shoot-outs.
With Fabregas in exceptional form this season and 10 goals under his belt already his awareness, drive and stamina are crucial to his side’s chances this weekend. Arsenal have played attractive, one-touch football so far this term — something which they have been practicing in training using smaller set up pitches. They could miss Van Persie who is injured but with Eduardo netting twice in midweek this can only be a boost of confidence he needed. Arsenal, as much as the reliance on Fabregas, will also be looking to their wide players Hleb and Rosicky to use their skills and acute passing to get the dangerous, defence splitting through balls to their strikers.
United have played quick, counter attacking football this season and with the pace of Ronaldo, Rooney and Nani can cause any side problems. They will be dependent on their back four remaining as firm as ever and releasing the ball early to the attacking players. Scholes is out of the match but with the returns of Hargreaves, who can hold up the ball well and Gary Neville’s experience in defence they will be going into the game with confidence.
It’s ether going to be a high tempo, fast paced physical match with both sides looking to score early on to take control of the game or a nervy, keep-possession type game that will result in a draw if it does. United will no doubt be focusing on containing Fabregas whereas Arsenal’s defence and Almunia are going to have to be alert throughout the whole 90 minutes in monitoring United’s potent attack.
My prediction: 2-1 Arsenal