Yesterday we hit December, which means I can officially go FULL CHRISTMAS CHEER, starting yesterday with the decorations going up in the house and Home Alone on in the background. I love this time of year. Everyone seems to be much happier.
So what I – and by extension you – could really do without, is a loss to a Jose Mourinho team. Yep, it’s United who visit this evening and its that scourge of Arsene, Jose. And regardless of the fact they’re missing one or two players, I am not in a confident mood.
Not because I think United are great. In fact I’d say that they haven’t been much better than us this season and benefitted from a very kind run of fixtures right at the start. But that Portuguese has the jump on Arsene from a tactical perspective and I think he’ll have mapped out a full gameplay today to negate all of our strengths and emphasise theirs.
Heck, I bet even Lukaku scores, given I’ve removed him from my Fantasy League Team because he’s going through a dry spell.
So yeah, I could really do without Arsenal effin’ up my weekend by a poor performance.
The good news is that at least we go into this game in some sort of form. The North London Derby delight was filled with a gritty display against Burnley, which was accompanied by a smashing of Huddersfield and although we’ll be missing Lacazette today because of the injury he picked up in midweek, we have plenty of players who go into this match in high spirits.
Take Aaron Ramsey for one. I thought he was superb against Huddersfield and I’m hoping for another big game from him today. He’s going to need to have one I feel. It was great seeing us score at will in the second half against Huddersfield but today represents an all together more different challenge. United have good players. Very good players. Their attacking options are well known and when they get the ball our midfield will need to be defensively minded enough to ensure that the back three aren’t over-burdened. So what I really don’t want to se against United tonight is a breakdown in possession and the transition happen so quickly that Bellerin, Kolasinac and Ramsey are ahead of the ball with three United forwards breaking at pace against Xhaka and our back three.
Pogba is the main man that makes the United team tick and we’ll need him to be in his indifferent mood today if we’re going to get the win we all crave I think. Because I have a fear of him picking up the ball with Martial, Lukaku, Rashford or Lingard running at us with pace and picking those balls out to set them in behind. Mourinho is no mug and he’ll play the quickest front line he can field today because he’ll know that we aren’t good when the ball turns over possession when we are in the opposition half so I expect him to try to exploit that today.
The way we counter it is to be sensible in our pursuit of goals. We have Alexis, Ozil and even thought I was thinking Giroud earlier in the week, the more and more I think about it, the more I wonder whether Welbeck’s pace might be the best option for us. Lindelof is still settling in to the league and has looked shaky t time and Danny is somebody who also opts for a high press when closing down defenders, so forcing that kind of mistake on Lindelof could get us some joy. Assuming he plays that is.
The rest of the team is pretty obvious to pick. Cech in goal, Bellerin, Kolasinac, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, with Rambo and Xhaka in front of them. This is going to be a test though because it’s the first time that the first team have played more than one game in a week. My hope is that the fact it’s such a big game against a big team will ensure that adrenaline gets them all through it.
I can’t say I’m confident though. This feels like one of those games where we might get frustrated by a draw or, if worst comes to worst, we get hit on the counter. Mourinho has his blueprint for away games and so we know what we’ll get. The trick is going to be whether or not we can unpick his team.
Someone like Alexis would be crucial in a game like today and I’m sure I’m not alone if I say that he’s been poor all season. He was poor against Huddersfield until he scored, he was terrible against Burnley and even against the Tiny Totts he had moments which drove the crowd to frustrated distraction. We need a big performance from him. We need to see him at his free-flowing best and please, please, let’s see him not going mental every time one of his teammates doesn’t get on to one of his terribly overhit passes.
I’m not a betting man but this feels like a difficult afternoon and a draw to me. If United score first it could get messy, but if we score first it should draw them out, so would make for a more compelling football match I reckon.
I’ll be there with all of my Christmas cheer. Let’s hope Arsenal bring some to the weekend too.