Match Preview by Alex Baguzin
It’s United away on Sunday and it’s hard not to look at this game as crucial to our hopes of finishing second. As we know, our defeat to Swansea left our fate out of our hands. We now trail second-placed City by 3 points with a game in hand, but it’s important to note our goal difference is vastly inferior. So in case we finish level on points, City will be runners-up, we will be third.
As such we should concentrate on securing third right now and hope for slip-ups from last season’s champions. Them dropping points is not completely out of question: Swansea away and Southampton at home are their remaining games and both look tough. Monk’s side, as well as Koeman’s team are looking to secure that last Europa League spot, so both teams will fight for the points right till the end.
However, we shouldn’t hold out in hope City will make a mistake. We must admit Monday’s loss (as much of a freak accident as it was) is a mess of our own making. Even a point would have left us with a good chance, instead we blew it. We should accept there’s nothing we can do to rectify the damage that was done and move on to our new objective: securing direct qualification by finishing 3rd.
Here our chances are still decent: even a loss on Sunday won’t mean we can’t finish 3rd. Six points in 3 games will do the trick. Nonetheless, a second defeat in a row can have lasting repercussions. We should try and bounce back by getting at least a point. It will restore some pride and, although not mathematically, will realistically ensure direct qualification to the group stages. A win can do wonders to our confidence and will also keep City on their toes, especially if we then get a midweek win.
Team news and approach
Regarding our possible lineup, no one will return from their respective injuries. Arteta, Debuchy, Oxlade and Welbeck are all short for the trip. The first two isn’t a problem, Coquelin and Bellerin proved their worth, but we really could have used either Oxlade or Welbeck on the flank. As it stands, it’s either Ramsey on the right (who himself is a doubt) or Wilshere.
Personally, I’d prefer Jack for two reasons: I don’t want to risk Aaron, who is struggling with a knee injury for a second game running; also, I think Wilshere, who has some experience on the flank is a better fit. But I’d rather Jack played on the left, seeing as he’s left-footed and shift Alexis to the right. Such a change will a) have an element of surprise b) look more balanced than our current set-up. However, I’m pretty sure Ramsey will start if he’s passed fit. We were in exactly the same position pre-Swansea and Aaron started. Don’t see Wenger changing it now.
As for our approach, the “defense first” one will suit me down to the ground. United need to win this game much more than we do. Even a draw is unacceptable for them: it will see the Red Devils trail Arsenal by two points with just a game to play, while we’ll still have two, both at home.
United want/need to attack? Let them. It won’t be the first time we’ll defend deep and hit on the counter. Such an approach has been our trademark way of doing business away from ome against big teams this season. That was exactly how we got a result against both Manchester clubs away.
I would be more at ease with Welbeck and Oxlade at our disposal, as both are hard workers in defense, while they are also capable of quickly performing the transition to attack. Alas, we have neither and so will have to make do with other players.
This is the part where I suggest Wenger gives Walcott a shot at CF. Theo for Giroud can turn out to be hugely beneficial in more ways than one:
Just like Wilshere on the left with Sanchez on the right, United won’t be expecting that. If they didn’t expect Welbeck, surely they won’t expect Walcott
If we are planning on sitting deep (something we should be planning to do), Theo is the perfect counter-attacking weapon. When we take into account McNair and Jones is the most likely pair of central defenders to face Walcott, well…Both are error-prone and slow-ish. Theo should have a field day
Such a move from Arsene Wenger will show Theo he is likely to have a future at the Club, maybe even as a centre-forward. On top of that, if Theo does well, he may genuinely become an option as a striker in Wenger’s eyes
Final (and most obvious bit) is that Giroud isn’t much help when we decide to play on the counter. Moreover, it’d be fair to say the Frenchman has lost some of his flair. Whether this is down to being tightly marked, having a painful reaction to Thierry’s untimely comments or simple exhaustion, remains to be seen. Either way I think Ollie will benefit from a short respite
You are probably asking why not play Giroud and Walcott simultaneously. My answer is such: firstly, that’ll mean we’ll have no striker/winger on the bench. Secondly, shifting Theo wide is risky, simply because he’ll have to help out defensively a great deal and we all know how Theo isn’t really good at it.
It is our chance to prove Swansea game was just an accident. It is our chance to beat United away for the second time in God knows how long. It is our chance to secure third and direct Champions League qualification.
If there was anything positive about that Swansea loss it’s that the players will have a burning desire to respond. They’ll be angry. And they’ll know they are capable of beating United because they have already beaten United.
Moreover, let’s face it: United have been utter crap all season long, relying on occasional goals from Rooney (who’ll be unavailable) and Fellaini, coupled with some outstanding saves from De Gea to keep them afloat. The only reason United are in the top four right now is because Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton are nowhere near as good as they were last season.
Yes, on paper United looks a force to be reckoned with: Van Persie, Di Maria, Herrera, Mata & Falcao on the bench. Truth is such that none of these players are showing anything special. Falcao and Van Persie have been fighting for a starting place for U21s, Mata has discovered some semblance of form only recently and Di Maria has been as big a flop as I’ve seen. The only player I was truly worried about was Rooney, we know how Shrek loves a goal against us, but Wayne is out of the equation for Sunday. Which means we are in a perfect spot to get a win.
So come on you Gunners!