Howdy from a Gooner Stateside with jet leg. I don’t get it – I thought that was only supposed to happen going East, not the other way around, so I’m finding myself beat by 10.30pm and up at 5.30pm at the moment, which is not how I plan on spending my holiday in a place that is all about the nightlife.
The up side of being in Nashville is that the Monday night game gets played at lunchtime where I am right now, so it means my evenings get no disruption, unless of course Arsenal get battered later, which is not outside the realms of possibility given this Arsenal team. We’re a team with an amazing ability to breathe life into ailing sides and in tonight’s opponents Man United we have another side who look for all intents and purposes like they’re in a bit of a crisis, but still have the capability to do us damage, of which we as Arsenal fans are all acutely aware of.
We haven’t won up at Old Trafford since 2006. Even in that game we made it hard for ourselves, missing a penalty, then relying on a contentious handball from Adebayor which probably should have been ruled out. Let’s not imagine the football gods haven’t paid us back in spades thought; the Rooney dive at Old Trafford to break the unbeaten run, the United teams of the last five or six years that have been utterly terrible and still skanked us, there are countless examples. Sometimes going unfairly against us but mostly we’ve just been terrible up there.
I don’t know what it is. A team like Arsenal should have at least got one win in the last 13 years and 14 seasons. Heck, Swansea, Blackburn, West Brom and Sunderland have all got victories up there where we haven’t. So why have we been so poor? Is it a psychological thing? Is it something that is embedded into the fabric of our football club?
Who knows. All I know is that the stats up there don’t make for good reading, much like they don’t make for good reading away from home against any of the top six. We have an appalling away record and that’s the reason I won’t be holding out too much hope that we will smash a United team that sounds like it’s on its knees. Logan is a doubt, as is Martial and Rashford, which means 17-year-Old Mason Greenwood could lead the line and let’s be honest as Arsenal fans, the thought of us being his ‘arrival on the scene’ game feels almost inevitable at this stage. Remember when Rashford did the same to us a couple of seasons ago? I think he’d played in a League Cup and Europa League game just before we played them too, so I’m fully anticipating Greenwood to become the embodiment of the Original Ronaldo tonight (or this afternoon for me).
So how do we stop the usual result from occurring? Well for me it involves ‘leaning in’ to our strengths and that certainly isn’t by being resolute at the back, so I hope that Emery is as bold as possible in his attacking line up. I want to see pace that can trouble a beleaguered United defence – as beleaguered as ours it seems – and so I hope he goes with Aubameyang, Pepe, then one of Saka or Nelson. Both have pace and directness about them that hopefully can trouble United’s back line. We need to test them by giving them fear that if they press us high up the pitch we can break quickly.
In order to do that though, we need more protection from our midfield and that’s why I’ve got everything crossed in hope that Torreira starts. Get him in front of our back four Unai, get him there breaking up play and get him there covering the cavernous space we leave in our midfield when the ball turns over and we don’t have possession. If there are the gaps in the game that we’ve seen against Villa and Frankfurt then we’re going to have problem. We’re going to have a problem because even though this is an injury-hit United side, they are still much better than Villa and Frankfurt and will take their chances if they are given them tonight.
So go with a midfield base of Torreira and Xhaka, then in front of them in a more advanced role play Ceballos, Guendouzi or even Özil (although we know that won’t happen). Let’s have a bit more balance about the team and let’s see if we can cause United some problems tonight.
Behind them it’ll be Leno in goal and Maitland-Niles back from suspension, which makes sense given that Daniel James has pace to burn and will certainly be a threat. But with some poor games in recent matches I do wonder if Sokratis will be sacrificed for either Holding, Chambers or Mustafi. Each have done well since coming in for the cup games and to be honest at this stage I wouldn’t mind any of them. The Greek needs to be taken out and if Luiz wasn’t still relatively fresh meat in that Arsenal defence, I suspect the same would be said of him too, but I doubt Emery will make that call tonight.
The question on the left hand side will be intriguing though, because it’s a decision the manager needs to make with Kolasinac or Tierney. The Scot had a very good game against Forest and looked very spritely right until the end when he came off and, with almost a week’s rest as a result of the fixture scheduling, you’d think he’d be fit for the game tonight. I’d chuck him in. He can’t be any worse defensively than Kolasinac and with his running on that left hand side against Wan Bissaka, hopefully whoever plays on the left up too tonight will get a bit more room. The United right back has looked really good when I’ve seen him so if we’re going to get any joy then we’ll need to overload him. Tierney has the engine going forward and backwards to ask some serious questions so providing he is 100% ready I’d be chucking him in.
I’m never usually confident with this game in the season, mainly because of our woeful form, but as a football fan you always have hope. That’s what I have for tonight. Come on Arsenal, let’s get rid of this hoodoo in Manchester, shall we?