Welbeck expected to start at Old Trafford as Wenger talks up pace – But Centrally or from the Right?

United vs Arsenal

The game against Manchester United is looming large and it is the 3rd match in a busy schedule. It started vs Hull in the cup, continued against Barca, now we have United and then, with a 3-5 days interval, Swansea, Tottenham, Hull again, Watford/West Bromwich (depending on whether we beat Hull in the replay), Barcelona again and Everton, before the wretched international games intervene and wreak havoc in the organised world of club football.

However, Arsene views this stretch as much of a chance to prove our worth as a potential hurdle in competing for silverware:

“It is the key period. We work the whole season for this period and that’s where you’re really tested but it’s where you have an opportunity to show your quality as well. On that front, that is the most interesting period of the season”.

As we all know, momentum is extremely important when the schedule gets tough. Win some games in a row and the feeling of elation allows the players to brush off all the aches and niggles. Lose once, disrupt momentum and it all suddenly looks much harder.

And that’s another reason (in a list which grows ever longer as the game approaches), why a win today is so crucial. We haven’t exactly kicked off our busy period in spectacular fashion, drawing Hull and losing to Barca, that’s why it’s essential to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible.

Time to get back to winning ways

Team news update

From Tuesday we have lost Oxlade-Chamberlain and it doesn’t look like we’ll have him back anytime soon:

It’s not [a recurrence of a previous injury]. Not at all. It’s a new injury. He has been cut in two by Mascherano and he did his knee. We have to see how big the damage is in his knee. He is consulting a specialist at the moment. Hopefully we will have good news. How long is he out for exactly? I don’t know”.

Rumour has it Ox will be out for a period from 2 to 7 weeks. It’s a big shame for him personally, but the blow the team has suffered as a result of this injury is debatable. It’s never good to have your players out, but what I’m trying to say here is that Oxlade’s contribution this season has been neither stellar, nor consistent. The speediest of recoveries to him anyway.

Cazorla, Wilshere, Rosicky and Arteta remain sidelined (what the hell is going on with Mikel?!), but Gabriel could be back:

“Gabriel has a test today (February 25th) and tomorrow then we will see if he is available for the game”.

With regards to United, they’ll have De Gea back, while question marks are hanging over Smalling and Martial. The latter is less likely to be involved, having suffered a strained hamstring just on Thursday, but I’ve become used to opposition players making miraculous returns against Arsenal. I’m not suggesting there’s foul play involved this time, not with United’s long list of injured anyway, just making an observation and trying not to get my hopes up at the same time.

Back in time to face us, it seems

Squad and approach

“We had a good performance against them in October. I think we took them a little bit by surprise and we played at a high pace from the start and closed down well early on. We need to play at that pace again because our game is based on pace and speed, and if we don’t have that I don’t see how we can win there”.

Wenger then goes on to say that we have to up the intensity at the right moment, which means we are not necessarily in for an early bout of pressure from the Gunners. However, we are very well equipped for stage one, as the only player missing who was at the Emirates on that October day is Santi Cazorla. As Ramsey is better suited for a pressing game, there should be few worries about having the personnel to pull it off.

Indeed, with Welbeck and (hopefully) Gabriel back, there’s a strong case to be made to start both of them in order to further our, ahem, pressing cause. If Gabriel comes in I suspect it’s Mertesacker who’ll give way, while Welbeck can start either on the right or down the centre.

My personal preference is seeing Danny start up front with Campbell/Theo on the wing. Hell, Wenger may even be tempted to start Elneny in the middle of the park and shift Ramsey to the right. After all, Cazorla’s return is drawing closer, so it would make sense to start getting ready for it right now.

Worth a try up top?

Back to Welbeck however. He’s better suited for a lone striker role at the moment for several reasons:

  1. He dovetails better with Alexis. The Chilean’s richest vein of form last year coincided with Welbeck’s run up top and I don’t think it was a coincidence
  2. He will be better suited to press United’s centre-backs than Giroud
  3. Giroud has gone 8 games without a goal, a break can help recharge his batteries
  4. Welbeck is a right little conundrum in terms of how to mark him. He is fast, he possesses aerial prowess and he’s very good facing the goal. Essentially, he offers a blend of Giroud’s and Theo’s qualities, something that would make him hard to shut out

Knowing Arsene, however, we’ll most likely see Welbz come in for Oxlade in order not to disrupt the dynamics of the team, its balance. Gabriel is easier to reintroduce in this sense, because the Brazilian was a regular starter prior to sustaining an injury. It’s just the question of whether he’s fully ready for a game of this magnitude.

Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mert – Kos – Monreal – Coquelin – Ramsey – Ozil – Alexis – Welbeck – Giroud

Will they start together?

The verdict

Despite United being utterly crap this season, we have to approach this game on full alert. For one, United have actually been decent against the big teams, beating Tottenham, losing to us and drawing everyone else: Leicester, Chelsea (twice), City. They have even beaten Liverpool twice. United step it up in big games and I don’t think tomorrow will be an exception.

Secondly, United, while scoring very few goals, also concede very few, especially at Old Trafford. This is in most part due to David De Gea heroics, cause, whatever your view of him might be, it’s stupid to deny the Spaniard is really very good.

Thirdly, United will also step in up against us in particular, simply because there is a long history between the two teams. We can only thank heavens Rooney won’t play. Regardless of his form (which has actually been very good prior to his injury), the Englishman loves a goal against us.

Finally, we have our own problems to solve. While generally tight at the back, sometimes even unnervingly good, we are still lacking up front. It’s high time for us to start banging them in, that’s why I’m in favour of a reshuffle and giving Welbeck a chance up top. A simple shake-up can prove very effective. Give some players a chance to prove their worth (Welbeck, maybe Campbell too), others a better environment to thrive (Alexis), remind some they are not indispensable and should shake themselves out of their limbo (mostly Walcott, maybe Giroud).

This is our best chance to win a league game at Old Trafford for quite some time. I believe key to success would be putting United’s mismatched defense under pressure, forcing them into mistakes. After that we’ll just need to find our shooting boots.

Come on you Gunners.

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