Manchester United v Arsenal
Barclays Premier League, Old Trafford
Saturday, August 29, 2009, 17:15
Cesc Fabregas is out which is a big loss but we know that the Gunners can win without him.
His absence makes the Gunners less predictable in their pace setting. The CL encounter which Man Utd handily won was largely due to their successful disruption of Arsenal's passing game as the busy legs of Evra, Rooney, Park Ji Sung, and Fletcher set up a series of blockades taking away the passing lanes with their swift tackles and interceptions. It was only late in the match that Arsenal was able to muster up some coherence but by that time it was too late.
Cristiano Ronaldo's ability to up the tempo seemingly at will meant that Man Utd was most dangerous during lapses and lulls. Fast counterattacks and opportune spells of domination especially in the beginning of the match and towards the ends of the halves.
This season has been up and down with a desultory win over Birmingham, a shocking loss to Burnley, and a second half flurry of goals that buried Wigan. The strand in this inconsistency is Wayne Rooney's over due fulfillment as a potent inside threat. He scored his 100th and 101st goal against Wigan and leads with three league goals. Sir Alex will be looking to him to deliver.
For the Gunners, there are encouraging signs that their defense is gelling. William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen have successfully formed a physical presence in the center, Rooney and Owen's sweet spot. They have also been impressive in set pieces adding to Arsenal's varied goalscoring sources. Alexander Song, the most improved player has been robust in center midfield and will need to continue his form against Nani, Scholes, and Rooney.
A win at Old Trafford will be an emphatic affirmation of the Gunners trajectory, a loss will open up questions against quality opposition. Wenger's theme of frugality, emphasis on youthful talent, and the loss of seemingly indispensable players will once more be put to the test. The good part is that the club they face are also undergoing a seismic shift after years of stability.
Prediction: Arsenal wins 2-1.