An away trip to Old Trafford for The Arsenal today to a ground in which, quite frankly, we’ve been woeful at for about a decade. It really is quite staggering that our last win was ten years ago, where an Adebayor goal secured a 1-0 score line. Since then it’s pretty much be exclusive disappointment, with the only time it not being was last season when we picked up a draw, then a few seasons ago when we eeked out a 0-0 against a United team who had already won the league and were in party mode. That’s it. That’s all we’ve got to show for a decade of away games.
It’s quite bizarre really. Even with the terrible record we have against Chelski, there are games in which we’ve come out on top, like the 5-3 away win at Stamford Bridge. But before we beat United 3-0 earlier in the season, our record was abysmal, and that’s so frustrating. Frustrating because we’ve outplayed United teams many times down the years, yet still come away with nothing, usually being scabbed by a dodgy finish or decision.
Yet today’s game offers hope still. United aren’t exactly steamrolling their way through games and coupled to their indifferent form, they have an injury crisis which feels very much like an ‘Arsenalesque’ one on their hands. A quick look at Physioroom.com sees United away out in front at the top of the injured league table, but plenty of players have the 28th February earmarked for a return date, including De Gea, Smalling and Martial. I’m expecting each of those players to have supped some sort of elixir of life over the weekend and be available today, which from an Arsenal can perspective is a bit of a pain in the backside, because missing that spine of players would have been a big blow to United and give us cause for optimism. As it is, with those three sure to have recovered from their ailments, I expect a strong United team to face up against us, with a point to prove and a difficult afternoon in Manchester.
I say ‘strong’ United team, but in all reality they look nothing of the sort. At times appearing a bit rudderless, we should be able to sweep aside United, but regardless of how toilet they’ve played in recent Premier League outings, I’m expecting nothing but the game of their lives for some of the United players, with another skanky goal to screw us over. I hope I’m wrong.
As for us, this game is the first in a catalogue of hard away games, so falling at the very first hurdle is hardly ideal in keeping the league title dream alive. With Leicester’s last-gasp win yesterday, our ‘wiggle room’ is negligible. We have to go to a ground where we traditionally play poorly and win. Swansea will do us no favours against the Spuds so unless we want to be three points away from them and a week until the NLD, we have no other option but victory, so the players had better be fired up for this.
The team picks itself in all positions except right wing, I think, in which a decision over Theo or Campbell will need to be made. I don’t think Arsène will play Walcott up top and instead will opt for Giroud, but with United sure to press higher, I do wonder if Walcott up top might give us more joy. He offers very little for most of the match, but he will make runs in behind Smalling and Rojo and if Mesut’s range is spot on (which it always is) then he will find those passes.
But I’m pretty sure Giroud will get the nod. Welbeck will not be risked from the start I don’t think. Arsène has been quick to point out that he has spent 10 months out injured and despite the clamour of fans to see him start, I suspect he’ll be more of an impact player against his old club, to avoid any Rosicky-style ‘setbacks’. I understand and kind of agree. The temptation will be there to give him a start given his recent performances and cameos, but could be perform so well for 90 minutes against one of the better teams in the league? He may have started against Hull, but let’s not forget it was a reserve Hull team. That’s slightly different to United away.
Big games need big game players, which is why it’s time for Alexis to awake from his winter hibernation and give us a good game today. He’ll always out in a shift, but we all want a productive one, so he needs to step up and if he does then not only do I think we win the game today, but it gives our title chances a big boost too, that’s how big he is to the success of this Arsenal team.
In midfield we need to see more of the same from Coquelin, but Ramsey has to step up, because this season has hardly been one in which he’s excelled, has it? His goals have dried up, he does give the ball away a little too much and sometimes is caught in possession in the wrong areas. But like Alexis his application will never dwindle. When you have a player like that you simply have to play him, so I can see why he is one of the first names on the team sheet.
I’ll be watching today’s game from behind the sofa. The Management knows what this type of game does to me, so even she’ll be taking her leave whilst I watch, meaning I’ll be alone and fretful come 2pm. It’s probably for the best.
Come on Arsenal!!