The weekend is here and much like the last time we played in the Premier league, it’s a Saturday in which our involvement is nil, but unlike last time, our rivals play today and will in all likelihood see us slip behind them come the end of the evening. With the Spuds sure to beat a poor Swansea team (although that won’t stop them having their usual blinder of a game against us on Wednesday next week) and Leicester up against a quite frankly useless Norwich side, I’m not expecting any favours from any teams today, so it will add yet more significance to the fixture in Manchester I think.
Our record is poor up there. Plenty of people have been quick to point that out. So to see us as favourites seems a bit misleading to me. We traditionally bottle it against the red devils, so why we’re odds on with the bookies does surprise me a little, because to me I still think even with all of United’s injuries they’d still be favourites with home support behind them. As Arsene admitted in his press conference, he still thinks that the game has an aura to it like the old days where both teams were fighting for the title and whilst I appreciate where he’s coming from in the sense that United will raise their game against us, I don’t think anybody could argue that it has the same gravitas about it because of United’s position. Were they to currently occupy the league position the Spuds are currently in, then I’d probably agree. But they don’t and as a result this game feels like it is a big game, but not as big as it was 10 years ago.
The news on the Ox was inconclusive at the moment it seems. Without a scan to determine the extent of the injury, Arsene was unable to go into a time frame on how long he’d be out for, but I did find it interesting that he specifically mentioned being ‘cut in half’ from Mascherano. Perhaps a little dig at the standard of refereeing on Tuesday night? Especially when he then went on to say that he didn’t think there was any malice in the challenge from the Barcelona player. Who knows. Maybe I’m just reading a little too much in to it?
He was also asked about Alexis and his patchy form. He was semi dismissive of the question raised, saying he’s sure that he will raise his game, but another indifferent performance from the Chilean on Sunday will only strengthen the worry we all have that this form will continue in the short term. That could threaten to derail our title bid this season. He needs to get himself back into scoring form and worrying defenders, but I’ve been speaking to a couple of mates about t his recently, one of whom is slightly concerned that defenders have worked Alexis out. He does enjoy picking the ball up, skipping inside the first man and then more often than not continuing to cut inside. If you’re a defender and you know a tricky little player like that will continue to cut inside, you need only to work on having a decent solid line of players in a certain position on the pitch – normally roughly in line with the 18 yard line – and you can potentially neutralise Alexis’ threat. That’s my worry that teams are adopting that same tactic with him and he’s not getting any joy with either his passing or long-distance striking. I don’t know if it’s just me, but he also doesn’t seem to be getting inside the box much since he’s come back from injury. When he did last pop up in that position just outside the six yard box, it was against Burnley and he scored, so that’s what I’d liek to see more of. More of the goals like he scored against Southampton at home last season, where he bundled one in having come in from the back post. That’s what we need to see more of.
He might get more space on Sunday, to be fair to him, because United won’t sit back. At least I don’t think they will. That should hopefully give him more licence to roam and if he can get the same joy as we got at The Emirates, then we’ll be in with a very good shout of picking up our first league double over United since 2001/2. That’s crazy, eh? We haven’t won home and away against United for over 15 years. That was the year that we last won the league. The time before that? 97/98. We won the league that season too. So could this be a good omen? Perhaps. But recent history away to United suggests it won’t be that simple.
Well, we’ll know within about 36 hours I guess.
Have a happy Saturday.