Tag Arsenal

Tag Arsenal

Preview: United v Arsenal

November 9, 2013 Tags: , Matches 10 comments
featured image

It has to be more than a decade since Arsenal arrived at Old Trafford in such buoyant mood, with Arsène Wenger’s outfit leading the Premier League by five points heading into Sunday’s clash – a full eight ahead of the hosts. Victory for the Londoners this weekend might just put the title beyond United’s reach before the turn of the year – a narrative popular in certain parts of north London this week.

Certainly, Arsenal’s form this season suggests the visitors will make a better fist of the fixture than in recent seasons where United’s home record against the Gunners reads five wins on the spin and no defeats in seven years, including an infamous 8-2 thrashing in 2011.

Nobody expects United to put up a cricket score on Sunday. Not with the Reds having failed to beat any of the ‘big five’ teams faced to date: defeat to Liverpool and Manchester City, and an uninspiring draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford. Arsenal’s arrival on Sunday, followed by Tottenham Hotspur in early December, is certainly a barometer for the Reds’ season ahead.

Yet, those commentators ranking Arsenal as clear favourites for the tie could be accused of forgetting the weight of United’s history. The hosts’ performances may have rarely sparkled this season, but David Moyes’ team has gone eight games without defeat, albeit with a more cautious approach under the new regime.

Still, this is predominantly Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. Whatever the limitations of Moyes’ squad, or the disruption brought by managerial, executive and coaching changes, there is a title to win this season. If United cannot up the level of performance on Sunday then this squad may never – at least not for the new manager.

It is an argument well understood by veteran Ryan Giggs, who turns 40 at the end of November, but is seemingly as determined as ever.

“Are you making us underdogs? Man United v Arsenal at Old Trafford – underdogs? I wouldn’t say we were underdogs,” said the Welshman, who will play in his 50th clash against the Gunners if selected.

“I take your point that Arsenal are probably the form team and it is going to be a tough game, but at home we can beat anyone. We’ve not started the season as well as we wanted to and Arsenal have so we will go into the game knowing we need to produce a good performance.

“Over the years we have played against some very good Arsenal teams. You know what you’re going to get: they’re going to keep the ball, they have got plenty of quality and they are in good form. But at Old Trafford we are always confident that no matter who we are playing, we can beat them.”

What a difference a few months makes. United’s 20th title, claimed by a now unimaginable 11 point margin, has long since been consigned to the glory of history. Meanwhile, those Arsenal fans calling for Wenger’s head shortly before the transfer window closed in early September have now been emboldened.

That window has proven pivotal. While United added an underwhelming Marouanne Fellaini to Moyes’ squad, the Londoners’ major signing – Mesut Özil – has proven a catalyst that will seemingly push Arsenal far closer to the title than at any point in the past decade. The German has not ameliorated all of Arsenal’s weaknesses, but has instilled a belief rarely seen in Wenger’s squad in recently seasons.

“I said at the start that Arsenal have got the same chance as the rest of us to win the league,” said Moyes, who also revealed that he turned down the chance to sign Özil this summer.

“It’s an open Premier League. They’ve had a really good start but it will only be decided at end of the season who will win it. We’ll wait and see until then.

“Arsenal are coming to play the champions. They’re in the top position at the moment, their form has been very good and they’ll come here in good spirits. But we’ve had some growing momentum and we want to put on a good show.”

Manchester United v Arsenal, Premier League, Old Trafford, 4pm, 10 November 2013That show, if it comes, will be without Rafael da Silva and Danny Welbeck, who remain on the sidelines with injury. However, Jonny Evans and Michael Carrick should return despite earlier reports that the Englishman is still troubled by a calf problem. Welbeck is suffering from ongoing fluid on the knee, while Rafael will not return until after the international break.

Injuries aside, Moyes has a number key personnel and tactical decisions to make ahead of Sunday’s clash. The former Everton manager could trust to creativity by including both Shinji Kagawa and brilliant teenager Adnan Januzaj, alongside Wayne Rooney and former Gunner Robin van Persie. There is surely no better time.

History, and type, suggests that Moyes is more likely to adopt the cautious approach seen in San Sebastian during the Reds’ bore draw against Real Sociedad in midweek. Either way, it is a pivotal decision in the Scot’s fledgling Old Trafford career.

In central midfield one from Giggs, Fellaini and Tom Cleverley will partner Carrick, while Evans is likely to start alongside one of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidić or Phil Jones. Chris Smalling will again start at right-back.

Meanwhile, Rooney is seeking to add to the 13 goals he has scored for United against Arsenal. The English forward burst onto the Everton scene as a 17-year-old with a stunning strike against the Londoners at Goodison Park. He has evidently enjoyed facing Wenger’s side in the decade since.

With seven goals the 28-year-old has found a new confidence this season. He might need it if United is to register a win against one of the title contenders for the first time in the campaign.

“We’re obviously capable of beating Arsenal, we’ve done it many times in the past,” Rooney told ManUtd.com.

“They’re on a good run of form at the moment, but we’ll wait and see where they are in March. We’ve seen before that they’ve been in the top two until February or March and then faded away, so it’s down to them to try and stay there.

“There have only been 10 games gone so there’s no big worry at the moment. We’re starting to do well. If we can get the victory on Sunday then we’re in a great position. Eight matches unbeaten is a good run. We’re getting more clean sheets and we’re playing with freedom.”

Meanwhile, Wenger should welcome back Mathieu Flamini after the Frenchman recovered from a recent groin problem. Jack Wilshere faces a late test on an ankle injury, although Theo Walcott, Yaya Sanogo, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski and Abou Diaby all miss out with injury.

Wenger has become increasingly bullish in recent weeks, having endured significant criticism over nine years without silverware during Arsenal’s transition from Highbury to the Emirates stadium. He side has not yet proven as durable as the Frenchman, although it is surely north London outfit’s best chance in the past decade to secure English primacy.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Wenger’s new found confidence comes in the wake of Ferguson’s retirement – the Scot having thoroughly bested his erstwhile rival. Yet, the transition affords Wenger an opportunity to offer magnanimous praise for the new man.

“David Moyes has shown great competence at Everton, so you need to leave him time to really get a grip on Man United, and he is slowly doing that,” said Wenger.

“You see it now in the results. When someone has been there for 26 years and goes, it takes time for the guy who comes in. It is very dangerous and difficult for the manager who comes in. For me, Moyes is dealing very well with the situation.”

Not all United supporters will agree. Then again, they rarely have with Wenger, a man who has transformed from bête noire, to figure of mockery. And perhaps back again.


Manchester United v Arsenal, Premier League, Old Traford, 4pm, 10 November 2013

United (4-1-4-1): De Gea; Smalling, Evans, Vidić, Evra; Jones; Januzaj, Carrick, Fellaini, Rooney; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Jones, Ferdinand, Nani, Cleverley, Anderson, Young, Kagawa, Giggs, Valencia, Hernández

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Arteta; Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla; Giroud. Subs from: Vermaelen, Gibbs, Fabianski, Bendtner, Jenkinson, Gnabry, Hayden

United 91 Draw 47 Arsenal 78

Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistants: S Burt, S Long
Fourth Official: A Marriner


Matchday Forum discussion

Preview: Arsenal v United

April 28, 2013 Tags: , Matches 84 comments
featured image

Robin van Persie will command the headlines Sunday afternoon, although the former Arsenal striker is unlikely to receive a welcoming entrance at the Emirates. Manchester United’s visit to north London less than a week after claiming the Premier League title ensures that the Dutchman garners a much discussed ‘Guard of Honour’ from his former colleagues; a customary recognition that will do little for the home supporters’ mood.

It is in keeping with modern football of course, but the abuse meted out to van Persie at his old stomping ground is likely to both be severe and personal. Little of it will bother the remarkably mature Dutchman, who has scored 27 goals in his début season for the club.

That van Persie has secured the prize he sought when leaving the Emirates last summer is only likely to heighten the hate generated on the terraces though.

Still, with Arsenal finishing the season strongly in the hunt for fourth place the home side has much to play for away from the focus on a former player. Meanwhile United, driven by the goal of reaching a record 96 points, but potentially attenuated by the recent triumph, is a beast unknown.

Indeed, with the title won Sir Alex Ferguson has already ditched the bravado of victory to focus on the next challenge. No matter the season’s stage, winning is all says the 71-year-old Scot. United must secured 12 points from  four remaining games to beat Chelsea’s record top flight tally of 95 achieved under José Mourinho in 2005.

“At a club like Manchester United there’s an expectation to live up to,” Ferguson said.

“You really need to win all the time and that’s all there is to it. I’ve said to the players it’s one thing being champions of the Premier League but another thing to set a record. We have an opportunity to set the record and, hopefully, we can do that. If we can do that, 96 points would be phenomenal. I don’t know if that could ever be beaten but nonetheless it’s a marvellous achievement by us.”

United host Chelsea at Old Trafford next weekend, followed by matches against Swansea City and then West Bromwich Albion on the final day of the season. With little to play for, achieving a points record is likely to be a tough ask, with Chelsea and Arsenal competing with Tottenham Hotspur for two Champions League places.

“Well, there are four different types of challenge,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“We’ve got Arsenal who are chasing a Champions League position and then it’s Chelsea, who are in exactly the same position as Arsenal. I think we’ve got a duty to other clubs who are chasing Champions League places.

“Also, the rivalry we’ve had with Arsenal and then Chelsea over the years does put an edge to these games anyway so hopefully we’ll represent ourselves in the right way.

“Having won the league, there’s always a danger of falling into the trap of ‘it’s all over and we can relax’ and enjoy ourselves but .

Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League, Emirates Stadium - 4pm, 28 April 2013Ferguson is likely to field a changed side at the Emirates, with defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić available for recall. The veteran pair missed United’s title-clinching victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Monday night.

Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans suffered injury against Villa, although neither misses the trip altogether, while Paul Scholes is still unavailable with a sore knee. The 38-year-old has less than a month before an inevitable second retirement this summer. Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck could come back into the team, with Phil Jones deployed in midfield.

“We have a few bumps and bruises from the other night but it is hopefully nothing serious and I expect to have a strong side on Sunday,” Ferguson confirmed.

“Two of the players played with an injury throughout the [Villa] game – Jonny Evans and Michael Carrick. Next week, I should have Vida and Rio back. I can put Jones into the middle of the pitch and play Vida and Rio together and we’ll get the experience going to Arsenal.

“A lot of the younger players have been on the fringes for the last few weeks, and I desperately want them to feel their contribution has been big. Chicharito, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Nani – I think it’s important to get them involved in the last few weeks.”

Meanwhile, Arsène Wenger’s side holds a single point advantage over Chelsea and Spurs in the hunt for fourth place. Tottenham’s draw with Wigan Athletic on Saturday hands an advantage to their north London rivals – with matches against Queens Park Rangers, Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United to come, qualification is surely the Gunners’ to lose.

Still, the question of whether United’s intensity will drop is a potent one, especially with the Premier League secure. Ferguson’s call for focus chimes poorly with a sense of complacency that has crept into United’s play at times this season, particularly during the second half of matches. It is an understandable conceit with 27 victories achieved in the Premier League.

“It’s easy to ease off, yes,” said Wenger, who has never finished outside the top four in a more than a decade with Arsenal.

“I do not hope too much. It is a special game, always, a little bit because naturally the stress is not there any more. Your tendency is to relax a little bit. You are still on the high for the next game. It would be a big mistake for us to think they will ease off straight away on Sunday.”

Yet, if Ferguson’s side does drop its intensity level at the Emirates it is unlikely to be the returning hero that does so. The striker has found a rich vein of form at just the right time. Nine matches without a goal ended with five scored in the last three, including the stunning hat-trick against Villa.

That United has tasted defeat just once in the past 11 meetings with Arsenal bodes well for van Persie. And while the Dutchman celebrated in muted fashion after scoring in the fixture between these sides at Old Trafford, none of the visiting supporters will begrudge the Dutchman his moment on Sunday. Especially in the face of mass vitriol.

Match details
Arsenal v Manchester United – Premier League, Emirates – 4pm, 28 April 2013

Possible teams
Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere; Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski. Subs from: Mannone, Coquelin, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Rosicky, Gervinho, Arshavin,  Oxlade-Chamberlain

United (4-4-2): de Gea; Rafael, Vidić, Ferdinand, Evra; Jones; Cleverley, Carrick, Rooney; Kagawa; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Jones, Evans, Powell, Carrick, Valencia, Anderson, Giggs, Nani, Welbeck, Hernández

Match officials
Referee: P Dowd
Assistants: A Garratt and S Ledger
Fourth official: M Oliver

Arsenal: WWWDWW
United: WLLWDW

Last 10: Arsenal 1, United 8, Draw 1
Overall: Arsenal 78, United 91, Draw 46


  • Per Mertesacker’s goal against Fulham last weekend helped Arsenal climb into third place in the Premier League with a 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage;
  • Midfielder Jack Wilshere started that game on the bench, but is likely to feature against United – the youngster boasts a pass in his opponent’s half once every 2 and half minutes this season;
  • Kieran Gibbs boasts a tackle success rate of 71.2 per cent from 66 attempted challenges this season,
  • Striker Olivier Giroud’s red card last weekend ensures the Frenchman is suspended for United’s visit, proffering Theo Walcott an opportunity through the middle – Walcott boasts the best minutes-per-shot rate of any player in the Gunners squad at one every 30.2 minutes;
  • Robin van Persie’s hat-trick against Villa secured a 20th league title for United last Monday – they were the 22nd, 23rd and 24th Premier League goals of the Dutchman’s season;
  • van Persie’s goals have come amid an attempt on goal once every 24.7 minutes on average this season, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Michael Carrick has finally garnered the recognition his consistent performances have long deserved – the midfielder has achieved more than 1000 successful passes in the opponent’s half this season and is the only United player to do so;
  • Jonny Evans may not play at the Emirates, but the Northern Irishman has again blossomed this season, achieving the best tackle success rate in the United squad of 73.5 per cent from 34 attempted challenges.


Frustrated Fergie challenges Reds on van Persie’s special day

November 4, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 18 comments

Comfortable, then, was victory for Manchester United over Arsenal on Saturday afternoon, stretching a record against the London opponents to eight wins in the past 10 fixtures. Yet, the 2-1 scoreline at Old Trafford barely tells the full picture of United’s total dominance against an Arsenal so tepid that it is tempting to wonder whether Arsène Wenger still holds the tools to build a championship winning team. The only disappointment on a day that saw Manchester City and Chelsea drop points: United’s failure to demonstrate superiority on the scoreboard.

Indeed, such is Sir Alex Ferguson’s quest for goals this term that United’s open attacking style has heaped the pressure on the Reds’ rearguard – evidenced in just three clean sheets all season.

Still, with Ferguson insistent that United will “never again” lose the Premier League title on goal difference, the manager’s barely disguised irritation at considerable profligacy in front of goal was evident. United’s 13 attempts at goal should have brought far more than Robin van Persie’s smartly taken opener and Patrice Evra’s close range header. The irony in van Persie’s excellent right-footed third minute finish came in the wastefulness that followed.

Yet, Ferguson’s disappointment moved beyond the superficial, to the underlying cause of failure to capitalise on United’s domination – a casual approach that bordered on the complacent despite technical and tactical superiority.

“There was a lack of urgency in our game throughout – we were far too casual, ” admitted Ferguson.

“It was an unusual Manchester United – Arsenal game. There were a lot of bookings but it never really got anywhere near the Manchester United/Arsenal games of the past. I was just really disappointed in our ability to hammer home the advantage.”

Such was the paucity of intensity during the second period that United came far too close to dropping points at Old Trafford for the second time this season. Santi Carzorla’s outstanding injury-time goal brought Arsenal but a late consolation, yet only after Wayne Rooney shanked a second half penalty wide and van Persie missed a sitter just after the hour.

Rooney’s miss, incidentally, his seventh in 20 Premier League penalty attempts over the past decade, and United’s fourth in six this season.

“It looked as if it was going to be self destruction,” said Ferguson in the aftermath. “It only takes a second to lose a goal.”

“They had some possession without really threatening us, but thank god we got the second one because the fact they scored right on full-time it would have been an embarrassment. The chances we missed – well, we should have put the game to bed a long, long time ago.”

There were some positives though, not least United’s control of a match in which Arsenal never looked capable of mounting a challenge. Indeed, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick bossed midfield while rarely rising above the mundane, while Rooney and van Persie continued to look threatening despite throwing away chances.  Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans were never in anything but total command at the back, without claiming the clean sheet the pair’s performance deserved.

It was van Persie’s day though, highlighted by an inevitable goal and accompanying low-key celebration. Hands reached skywards in apology, van Persie’s reaction was far more respectful of the travelling fans than the 3,000 were of their former hero.

“It was good for Robin to get the goal and he took it very well,” added Sir Alex.

“I thought he was fantastic today – his movement and his penetration were brilliant. He did the right thing [not celebrating]. He had eight great years at Arsenal and he respects that and I thought the Arsenal fans were fine too.”

That is, of course, a generous interpretation of visiting supporters’ repertoire of songs that compared van Persie to a “Dutch Jimmy Savile”, accused the striker of rape and repeatedly labelled the 29-year-old a “c*nt”. Such is the way of modern fandom; a performance that mocks years of north London outrage over abuse Wenger suffered at Old Trafford.

Still, the last laugh is with the Dutchman who was conveniently reminded just why he chose to force a move away from the Emirates this summer. Arsenal’s now seven-year-long search for a trophy will, on this evidence, not be concluded with the Premier League title next May.

United’s squad has its limitations, but Ferguson’s decision to invest so heavily in the – formerly – injury-prone Dutchman is already paying handsome reward.

“In the end it was quite a game, I think we played well,” added van Persie, who has 10 goals in all competitions this season.

“We were a bit sloppy with chances and should have scored two or three more. But in the end we are happy with three points because that is all that matters. It was the first time I have ever played against my former club. It was a special day but in the end it is about the game, which won so I am pleased with that.”

In that Ferguson will be happy too – the three points taking United top of the Premier League for the first time this season. It is November rather than May, but there is a sense of momentum building even if the Reds’ performances have plenty of headroom for improvement.

Ferguson was displeased at the late Arsenal goal, but seemingly more so at United’s placid comfort in a match that should have proffered a thumping victory.

“We should have scored five, six, even more,” added the 70-year-old. “I spoke to the players at the start of the season about the importance of goal difference. We lost the league last season on goal difference and I don’t want it to happen again. We had an opportunity to add to the goal tally today.”

But those are first-place problems compared to Arsenal’s, with Wenger’s side no closer to bringing an end to an extended barren run than at any point over the past seven years. Unrest at the club’s AGM last week, is spilling over into the stands – “we want our Arsenal back,” sangd the visitors at one stage.

It was a brief respite from van Persie’s abuse; anger that would have been so much more vitriolic had the Dutchman and his colleagues notched up the thumping win United’s performance largely deserved.

Preview: United v Arsenal

November 3, 2012 Tags: , Matches 63 comments

The odds, according to one well-known bookmaker, are a little short of 100/1 that Manchester United and Arsenal will share nine goals between them this weekend. Surely cheap at a half the price if the past week is anything to go by. Four goals down at half-time against Reading in the Capital One Cup, the Gunners roared back to score seven at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday night. Outdone in the scoring stakes, perhaps, but never out-entertained, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side was on the wrong end of a nine-goal thriller at Stamford Bridge in the same competition on Wednesday.

On this perfunctory evidence neither Manchester United, nor Arsenal, can defend; the recipe for fun at Old Trafford this weekend, if not always the highest quality.

Football isn’t as a simple as that, of course, and there is little doubt both sides will change personnel and outlook significantly ahead of this weekend’s Premier League fixture at Old Trafford. But there is also a truism in the analysis: these old rivals have defended far from optimally over the past week, even if Arsene Wenger’s side has become noticeably tighter at the back in the Premier League this season. Just six goals conceded in nine games attest to that.

By contrast, United’s recklessness in conceding twice against SC Braga, Stoke City and then seven in two games against Chelsea cannot be underestimated; this is a side not set up to restrict the opposition, with little to no support for an ever-changing back-four coming from the Reds’ open midfield.

Roy Keane, Nicky Butt and Nobby Stiles turn away now, there is nothing for you to see here.

Still, entertainment should be the watchword at Old Trafford for the early kick off against the north Londoners. That is the case even if fixtures against Wenger’s men have lost the edge of a decade ago, with Arsenal no longer in contention for major honours at home or abroad.

“Every game against Arsenal is always a big one,” insists Ferguson, despite Arsenal failing to secure silverware since 2005.

“Since I’ve come down here, it’s always the most important ‘derby’ game in the sense that both teams have always been challenging for the league. It won’t be different tomorrow.

Manchester United v Arsenal - Premier League, Old Trafford - Saturday 3 November, 12.45pmStill, United begin the tie as favourites even if there is little chance of Ferguson’s side repeating last season’s 8-2 thrashing of the Gunners. Weakened by injury and a Champions League tie the previous week, Wenger’s men capitulated under a barrage of United pressure. Part of the incentive, says Ferguson, for Arsenal’s more physical presence this season.

“They’re stronger physically if you look at the make-up of their team now,” adds the 70-year-old.

“They are a solid team. Podolski, Giroud, all these players they have brought in are more physical types of player than they have had in the past.”

Yet, with a plethora of forwards in outstanding form, including nine-goal former Arsenal favourite Robin van Persie, there seems little chance of United drawing a blank at Old Trafford for the first time in 53 games. Indeed, with both van Persie and Wayne Rooney in outstanding shape there is unlikely to be room in the starting line-up for Javier Hernández, whose season burst into life with three goals in two matches against Chelsea this week.

“You’ve got to think of Chicharito’s form as well and I’m trying to think of all sorts of ways I can utilise the three of them together and Danny Welbeck of course,” adds Ferguson

“Chicharito is in terrific form. He is improving all the time. The key to Chicha’s form is the decent rest he’s had in the summer. It’s difficult to work out how to utilise three of them – we did it at Newcastle but we won’t be able to do in every game. Nonetheless, it’s a fantastic problem for me.”

Whatever the Mexican’s merits, the focus will largely be on van Persie, who faces his former club for the first time. The Dutchman scored 132 goals in 277 games for the Londoners over nine seasons, before departing in a £24 million deal last summer.

Having settled into life at Old Trafford with such ease, and with the player overcoming the ‘injury-prone’ tag of old, van Persie has already become central to United’s hopes this season. The Dutchman is set to start as United’s lone forward, with Rooney in a deeper role.

“Robin van Persie has a great quality in the fraction of a second that he understands where to go – you can talk and talk and talk, but defenders have to read that at the same time,” says former manager Wenger.

“His speed of analysing those little pockets around the box are absolutely exceptional. The team know him as well because they have played against him in training. But in the game it is a question of timing – how quickly will they read it as well as he reads it?”

Elsewhere, Anderson may only make the bench, despite impressing against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup. Ferguson, trusting to experience, is likely to revert to Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick in central midfield, with Tom Cleverley dropping to the bench. Ashley Young, Antonio Valenica and Nani will compete for two spots in Ferguson’s side, but Shinji Kagawa misses out through injury.

Chris Smalling is close to fitness, although not ready to return to the first team squad, while David de Gea should take over in goal from Anders Lindegaard.

Meanwhile, Wenger’s team arrives seeking to erase memories of last season’s traumatic defeat at Old Trafford, where the Londoners lost both the game and, at times, their dignity. Wenger is likely to call on newly fit Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna, although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain faces a fitness test on a knee injury. Gervinho and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny are definitely out.

“They say a pessimist is a well-informed optimist – on the day, I was badly informed,” admits a rueful Wenger of last season’s thrashing.

“There is an emotional aspect in a defeat like that, but the football aspect, as a manager, has no real meaning. There is no mathematical consequence. We lost a game, that is all. It was easy to explain. You feel humiliated but after that, the next game, when you win, you don’t focus on that.”

Yet, it is hard to imagine last season’s result not coming factoring into the game at some point, not least because of United’s penchant for beating the Gunners in recent seasons. Eight of the past 10 meetings between these sides have gone United’s way.

It is hard to foresee anything other than a continuation of the pattern on Saturday; then this has been a week of odds-busting scorelines.

Match Details
Manchester United v Arsenal – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 3 November 2012, 12.45pm

Possible teams
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Young; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Wootton, Büttner, Giggs, Powell, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Nani, Hernández, Welbeck.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Mannone; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermalen, Santos; Wilshere, Arteta; Ramsey, Carzola, Podolski; Giroud. Subs from: Martínez, Djourou, Jenkinson, Yennaris, Squillaci, Frimpong, Koscielny, Coquelin, Walcott, Arshavin, Chamakh.

Referee: M Dean
Assistants: S Ledger, A Garratt
Fourth Official: P Dowd

United: LWWWWL
Arsenal: WWLLWW

Head to Head
Last 10: United 8, Arsenal 1, Draw 1
Overall: United 96, Arsenal 78, Draw 46


  • van Persie remains joint top Premier League goalscorer, with Newcastle’s Demba Ba, having netted seven goals in nine appearance this season;
  • The Dutchman’s goals have come from 23 shots, with 48 per cent on target – just over 30 per cent of striker’s shots have resulted in goals this season;
  • Hernández’ return to form has brought two goals in the Premier League this season, with four shots on target from seven attempts;
  • The highlight of Arsenal’s uneventful fixture against QPR last week was the return of Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta’s goal;
  • Arteta’s strike was his first in the Premier League this season – Arteta has taken just eight shots at goal, with four on target so far this season;
  • In contrast, no other midfielder in the league has taken more shots on goal than Santi Carzola – the Spaniard’s 33 shots have brought two goals, with 58 per cent of attempts on target;
  • Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey put in a shift of 6.86 miles against QPR, the second highest distance covered by an Arsenal player in a single game this season – after the Welshman’s 7.01 miles against Manchester City;
  • Arsenal has the most frugal defence in the league, having conceded just six goals in nine games;
  • Per Mertesacker has been at the heart of Arsenal’s improvement – the German has lost out on just one of the 13 tackles he has attempted, the best return of any player to attempt ten or more tackles this season.


Reds’ win leaves title race on the edge

January 23, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 3 comments

The bookies will tell you today that Manchester City is now odds-on for the Premier League title after recording an injury time win over Tottenham Hotspur at Eastlands on Sunday afternoon. The win, together with Manchester United’s away victory at Arsenal, leaves City three points clear with 16 games to go. But even if one of the Blues’ toughest remaining fixtures is now out-of-the-way, with 100 per cent home record still intact, the contrasting manner of the two Manchester clubs’ victories says much for how the prevailing wind may now be blowing in the Premier League.

Indeed, City manager Roberto Mancini was thankful for some overly generous refereeing decisions, and Spurs’ inability to finish chances, for the 3-2 victory in east Manchester. Meanwhile, United traveled south to face an Arsenal side that had been the country’s in-form outfit until recent defeats to Fulham and Swansea City. The Reds emerged with a stunning victory in the capital.

City’s plentiful resources, together with United’s ongoing – and lengthening – injury list dictates that Mancini’s side remains logical favourites for the title. But United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and his players emerged from the Arsenal encounter with confidence sky-high, believing that the ‘noisy neighbours’ can be reeled in before the season is out.

“It was important to win after City had won their game, but the manner in which we won was the more pleasing thing for me,” admitted Ferguson.

“I think we won in the right way – we played really adventurous football, we were positive and had great belief in ourselves. I’m delighted to see that at this important time in the season. What we need to do is stay on City’s coat-tails. Football is a funny game. The game at City today tells you things can happen and there will be changes [before the end of the season]. We’ve just got to stay on their coat-tails.

Should United stay in touch, both sides will look to the derby on 28 April at Eastlands as a potentially title deciding encounter.

In the meantime, United dominated against Arsenal for long periods, although the Londoners’ attacking response after half-time almost gained Arsène Wenger’s men a result at the Emirates. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s youthful verve and Robin van Persie’s predatory finishing brought the Gunners back into the game. For a moment, with defeat a real possibility, United stared at the precipice. The ensuing six point gap, had Arsenal won, would surely have handed City the title.

But as the momentum swung back in United’s favour on Sunday afternoon, with Wenger aiding the process by removing Arsenal’s best player in Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Reds’ confidence visibly grew. By the time Danny Welbeck lashed home from Antonio Valencia’s mazy run and cut back, there was no doubt about whether United would leave the Emirates with three points.

Ferguson gambled on an attacking formation, despite so few resources at his disposal, and came up trumps once again. The victory leaves United’s players believing that domestic title number 20 will be lifted at Old Trafford in May.

“I think (our gameplan) was to go straight forward, it makes a lot of pressure on the left-back and the right-back and that’s what we did,” captain Patrice Evra told Sky Sports.

“It was a good performance from the team. I think in the second half there were 15 minutes where Arsenal played very well, but we kept strong and had good shape, and after we scored a nice goal. The most important thing for us was to win. Three points were really important if we want to win the title.

“I always say the league is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We are still behind City but we have to keep going, keep winning games and I’m really confident in the team because everyone is working really hard and when we play with the United spirit it is difficult to beat us.”

Victory was United’s eighth on the road this season; a record that is five points better than any other team in the division. It is a series all the more remarkable for United’s poor form away from Old Trafford last time out. And the prevailing mood among the United squad now appears to be one of remorseless pursuit, ensuring that each victory brings pressure to bear on the club’s title rivals.

“I think we had the tougher game because it is always more difficult to go away, and we’ve got the three points,” added veteran midfielder Paul Scholes.

“There’s still three months of the season to go and hopefully we’ll be in the right place when the time comes. Obviously City are going well at the minute but we are only three points behind and funny things can happen towards the end of the season. We just have to make sure we look after ourselves and get the right results.”

That goal is not helped by the ongoing injury problems at the club. Long-term absentees Tom Cleverley, Nemanja Vidić, Michael Owen, Darren Fletcher and Fábio da Silva missed the trip south. As did defender Rio Ferdinand, whose back problem has flared up once again. History dictates that the veteran could be out for anything from days to weeks.

Further bad news came during the game when Phil Jones turned over his right ankle. Ferguson confirmed that the £16.5 million former Blackburn Rovers defender will miss “weeks” of the season after damaging ligaments. It could not come at a more inopportune time, although Jones’ injury is hardly surprising given the heavy workload the teenager has faced this season.

Worse still, Michael Carrick played through the second half with a tight hamstring, while Nani did not complete the game after hobbling off with a late ankle problem. The Portuguese winger left London in a protective boot.

Add potential injury to Wayne Rooney into the mix and Ferguson is likely to heavily rotate his team for the FA Cup fixture with Liverpool next weekend. It leaves United to cope, once again, without a plethora of stars. Yet, the ongoing injury problems have seemingly galvanising Ferguson’s squad spirit. Them against us, has become us against the world.

Indeed, injury aside, there were few downsides to victory in London. Ferguson’s team emerged from the Emirates not only with the points, but a genuine sense of momentum in the title race. City may have also won earlier in the day, but Mancini’s side was more than a little fortunate to do so. Add Mario Ballotelli’s inevitable lengthy ban for stamping on Scott Parker’s head, and the Blues could face yet more pressure.

“Soon enough, if we keep ticking these wins then they’ll crumble,” added defender Chris Smalling, who was immense as Jonny Evans’ central defensive partner in London.

“It was a massive win for us. Even at 1-1, we all knew that we really needed to win this game because of what happened earlier, and I think we showed real character.”

It is the very same character that may bring Old Trafford the Premier League trophy come May. Much against the odds and prevailing wisdom.

Reds face crucial Arsenal test

January 21, 2012 Tags: Matches 204 comments

It is another decisive weekend in the Premier League, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men at Arsenal on Sunday afternoon, and Manchester City hosting Tottenham Hotspur for late lunch. The potential from the two results swing cannot win Manchester United the Premier League title, but as the proverbial sometimes goes, a six point gap come Sunday night would certainly go some way to sending the title towards Eastlands.

Ferguson will be thankful, then, that the United injury list is down to just the seven absentees for the weekend’s fixture as the Reds face an Arsenal side out of the Premier League race, but still possessing enough firepower to damage the visitor’s dreams.

That is to say little of the redemption Arsène Wenger’s men will seek after United’s humiliating 8-2 victory at Old Trafford earlier this season. It was a result that had some Arsenal fans calling for the Frenchman’s head, and ensures a far tighter match this time out.

“It won’t be as open as the last time. There is no chance of that,” admitted Ferguson on Friday.

“There won’t be a lot between the two teams. They have only lost six goals at home this season so we are well aware it is going to be a hard game. I just hope we can get the result we want and need. I have never used revenge as part of my motivation. It rankles but you have to forget it. I am sure Arsène did that. That is what I would have done anyway.”

The fixture should see the return of two old stagers in Paul Scholes and Thierry Henry, although the later is struggling with a training ground injury. Scholes may start in the absence of other midfielders.

Yet, the United manager says that old rivalries between the teams have died over the six years the Arsenal have gone without a major trophy. It is a period in which Chelsea and now City have challenged United for the Premier League crown, and not the north Londoners.

“I don’t think that [Arsenal not being a threat] is the issue. I think it’s because they are different types of teams,” added Ferguson.

“The type of player they had, the likes of Vieira, Petit, Henry, Tony Adams and Steve Bould, has been replaced by a different type now. It’s a younger player, a different type altogether. Arsène has not changed his philosophy and it has paid dividends for Arsenal over a long period. He is still trying to do the same things. He is still trying to entertain and to play their football their way. You have to go back five or six years for when it was last combustible, when Keane and Vieira had that slanging match in the tunnel.”

Arsenal v Manchester United, Premier League, Emirates, 22 January 2012, 4pmThe United manager will again be without long-term injury victims Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young, Michael Owen, Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidić, but there is some brighter news elsewhere. The Scot will at least be able to call on defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones at the Emirates, although Rio Ferdinand may again miss out with a troublesome back.

Anderson is likely to be sidelined too, although Ferguson had positive news on key midfielder Cleverley, who may be just three weeks away from a competitive return.

“We’re a bit better in terms of injuries,” Ferguson told the press on Friday.

“Smalling and Jones will be fit, and Cleverley and Young have done some running, which is good. But Anderson is still a bit a short – he got an injury in training last week. Tom and Ashley are doing a good running programme and their fitness levels are good. They have done a lot of work, he and Ashley.

“I am hopeful in 10 days’ time he [Tom] will be playing football on the training side of it. That is the plan anyway, unless there is any recurrence. We can kick on then. It would be a great boost to have them both back – they’re influential players.

“The way Cleverley started the season was phenomenal and he’s been a loss. He’s got something different from the others. It depends how he does in the training, but his fitness levels should be fine. He could cope right away. If he does, you are talking about a week.”

If news of Cleverley’s potentially return has offered Ferguson’s men a genuine lift, then there is also a warning about Arsenal’s ability to still impact this title race. Wenger’s men may be 15 points behind City, but the Londoners host both Manchester sides before the campaign ends. Indeed, midfielder Michael Carrick believes that Arsenal remains a factor this season, with Wenger’s men in fine form until recent losses to Fulham and Swansea City.

“They didn’t start the season too well but they are still up there,” claimed the Geordie midfielder.

“Arsenal against Manchester United is always a massive game. They will want to win and so will we. Manchester City have done well. You have to give them credit. They set an early pace, had a funny Christmas period, and have now bounced back. It’s close at the moment, so we want to catch up with them. The bar has been raised this year.”

Meanwhile, the Gunners have an injury list every bit as long as United’s, with up to eight players likely to miss the fixture. Wenger will be without defenders Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna and André Santos, while midfielders Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta will sit out the tie. Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho are at the Africa Cup of Nations. Loanee Henry will face a late fitness test.

Despite the absences in Robin van Persie the Londoners still retain the league’s in-form striker. The Dutchman has 26 goals in all competitions this season.

“Van Persie has scored a lot of goals and is playing really well,” added United striker Wayne Rooney.

“He will be the biggest threat for Arsenal on Sunday. Van Persie and Ramsey are certainly the two who have stood out for them this season. It is not about me and Van Persie. It is about us against Arsenal. That is what we will be focusing on. There are a lot of top strikers in the league; Van Persie, Sergio Aguero, Yakubu is playing really well. It is about us against Arsenal. That is what we will be focusing on.”

With United only a victory away from drawing level with City at the Premier League summit or, indeed, slipping six points behind, Ferguson, Rooney and the United squad will surely be more focussed that the Reds’ last league match on the road – a devastating 3-0 loss to Newcastle United.

Yet, with back-to-back wins since that rocky Christmas period, and key players coming back into the squad, there is a little more reason for optimism than just a few short weeks ago.

Match Facts
Arsenal versus Manchester United, Premier League, Emirates, Sunday 22 January 2012, 4pm.

Potential Line-ups
Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny; Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Miquel; Rosicky, Ramsey, Song; Walcott, van Persie, Arshavin. Subs from: Almunia, Squillaci, Miyaichi, Eastmond, Benayoun, Henry, Park, Oxlade-Chamberlain.

United (4-4-1-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Jones, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Nani; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: De Gea, Fryers, Smalling, Cole, Giggs, Fabio, Rafael, Jones, Park, Lingard, Diouf, Keane, Hernandez, Welbeck, Berbatov.

Performance Stats

  • United secured a 3-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the last Premier League game;
  • Wayne Rooney covered the most ground for United in that game with 5.65 miles;
  • United fans welcomed back a goalscoring Paul Scholes on his first league game back for the club;
  • Scholes covered 3.94 miles in that game in 69 minutes on the pitch, impressively close to the total of 4.16 miles set by Nani who was substituted at the same time;
  • Danny Welbeck and Michael Carrick were also on target for United in that game. Welbeck’s goal was his fifth of the season, coming from 30 efforts at goal with 73 per cent on target;
  • Carrick posted the second highest total distance ran against Bolton with 5.61 miles;
  • Meanwhile, Arsenal lost 3-2 at a battling Swansea City in the last Premier League match;
  • Midfielder Aaron Ramsey covered the most ground for Arsenal in that game with 6.57 miles, the 14th time this season the Welsh midfielder has topped the distance charts for the Gunners;
  • Goals from Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie were not enough to secure victory for the Gunners though. van Persie’s goal was his 18th in the Premier League this season, and restores his place at the top of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • van Persie’s goals have come from an incredible 90 efforts at goal, with 62 per cent on target. He has also put in 34 crosses and contributed six assists.

Arsenal: WDWLWL
United: WWLLWW

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
Assistants: S Burt, A Watts
Fourth Official: P Dowd

Sir Alex’ lesson for the Professor

August 30, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 32 comments

If anyone needed proof that the current Manchester United side is superior to its north London rivals, then Sunday’s 8-2 demolition of Arsenal provided it. Even taking into account the multiple absences in the Gunners’ squad, the result offered a stark demonstration of the gulf in quality between Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad and that of Frenchman Arsène Wenger.

There have, inevitably perhaps, been calls for Wenger’s head from disappointed Arsenal fans who find themselves humiliated by an unthinkable result and disillusioned at a transfer window that has seen the sale of top-quality players with little in the way of replacements. The Gunners’ fans cannot understand how their club has fallen so far from the glory of Wenger’s ‘untouchable’ team of 2003-2004, which went an entire Premier League season undefeated.

For years in the late 1990s and early 2000s Arsenal fans enjoyed a shared dominance of the Premier League with United, which was finally ended in 2005 by the revolutionary spending of Abramovich-backed Chelsea. This event dramatically transformed the Premier League as Chelsea radically raised the bar needed for Premier League success with an end-of-season haul of 95 points.

At the time, this downturn in fortune for both United and Arsenal seemed insurmountable. But it was the managers’ reactions to the setback that has truly set them apart. While Ferguson rose to and overcame the challenge, Wenger floundered and has never recovered.

In the mid 2000s, sensing a danger to his United empire, Ferguson looked to the future, selling established players such as David Beckham, Roy Keane, Tim Howard and Ruud van Nistelrooy and replacing them with younger talent including Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Edwin Van der Sar. These players were to form the backbone of a side that would win four titles between 2006 and 2011.

Furthermore, Ferguson adapted to the European game, developing tactics including a three-man midfield that provided solidity and a fluid attacking unit that rendered Ronaldo, Rooney and Carlos Tevez almost unplayable. This was crucial in reaching three Champions League Finals during the latter part of the decade despite a move away from the rigid 4-4-2 that Ferguson employed to great effect in 1999.

Wenger, on the other hand, was far less successful in adapting to the new challenge posed by Abramovich’s Chelsea. Players such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell and Martin Keown were never satisfactorily replaced and although talented players including Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie helped mount some title challenges, there was always a negative feeling in the Arsenal camp. This led to a repeated and dramatic mid-season collapse in belief, such as that in 2008.

Today, the Premier League is faced with a new challenge – that of Manchester City and the club’s seemingly bottomless pocket. Ferguson has been charged in recent years with some hugely daunting tasks. He has replaced the magnificent Cristiano Ronaldo, along with the ever negative Tevez and has dealt with the retirement of ageing talents: Paul Scholes, Van der Sar and Gary Neville. Players such as Ryan Giggs and even Rio Ferdinand are in the twilight of their careers. At least with United.

Ferguson is, however, a master at creating new teams, keeping the best elements of an old team and merging them with new talent. Once again, he has succeeded in doing this, offering United fans a strong sense of optimism for the future and for the challenge that City will inevitably pose. He has signed young players of great quality such as Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young; brought through home-grown talents Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, and has coupled them with the undoubted ability of existing players.

Wenger, on the other hand, has been forced into selling two of his best players – Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Talk of signing 26-year-old striker Park Chu-Young and 28-year-old full-back André Santos will do little to encourage Arsenal fans as they lick their wounds from Sunday’s 8-2 defeat. Once again, it seems, Wenger and his team are failing to adapt whilst Ferguson’s United are facing the challenge head on.

It seems ‘The Professor’ has much to learn if he is to recreate a team to challenge that of his old adversary Sir Alex.

Fergie goes with kids for Arsenal test

August 27, 2011 Tags: , Matches 145 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will persist with his youthful revolution at Manchester United for this weekend’s fixture with Arsenal. At least that’s the message from the 69-year-old United manager, who says that form dictates younger stars, including Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, will continue in the United side for the visit of Arsène Wenger’s troubled Londoners. Indeed, with a nearly full squad for Arsenal’s visit Ferguson’s focus on youth is now a matter of expediency alone.

And while Arsenal struggles to overcome the loss of Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri this summer, United’s quintet of experienced departures has seemingly revitalised Ferguson’s side. Three inventive performances of attacking verve and youthful flair into the season and a new optimism has descended on Old Trafford, despite the ongoing failure to recruit the new central midfielder many supporters and pundits crave.

How typical of Ferguson then to both praise his young stars and keep their feet firmly on the ground ahead of United’s biggest Premier League match of the season to date.

“They’ve only played a couple of games,” warned Ferguson.

“They have potential and we’re very enthusiastic about that potential and hopeful they can fulfil it. But the name of the game is what they achieve.

“I have a tremendous problem when it comes to picking a side but it is the kind of problem I want. Maybe some of their form will taper off. That is when the squad comes into play. At the moment they are doing very well. So I have to let it carry on.”

The aforementioned quartet of Jones, Smalling, Cleverley and Welbeck is likely to be included in Fabio Capello’s England squad for Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales early next month on the back of an excellent start to the new season. With Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young and, potentially, Rio Ferdinand also included United could boast up to eight players in the Italian’s squad.

The call-ups are, of course, a bitter-sweet moment for Ferguson, the Scotsman who has always put United before international commitments. Moreover, with Ferguson regularly falling foul of the Football Association, the United manager has more reason than most to resent England’s call for his youngsters.

“It’s not a problem for us. The FA may realise who has produced more players for their country than any club in the world,” added Ferguson, of the group’s call-up.

“Maybe they will get some joy from it and realise how important we are to England instead of treating us like shit. I am pleased for the players. They are outstanding so we’re all pleased.”

Manchester United v Arsenal, Old Trafford, 29 August 2011Internationals are for next week though and Ferguson can boast an almost fully fit squad for Arsenal’s visit. Aside from Nemanja Vidic, whom Ferguson confirmed will not return for another month, and Rafael da Silva, the Scot can choose from the full compliment available.

Indeed, fellow Scot Darren Fletcher played the full 90 minutes for United’s reserves on Thursday night and could feature against Arsenal after spending the past six months largely on the sidelines. Meanwhile, winger Antonio Valenica is back in full training, and United will make a late call on Ferdinand’s involvement against Arsenal. Javier Hernández could make his first start of the new season after suffering a concussion in pre-season.

“On the injury front, Darren Fletcher played a game last night which is great news,” Ferguson added.

“I think the boy is back now. He’s had a terrible time but now he’s looking terrific and he’ll be in the squad for Sunday. Chicharito came back on Monday which gives me a tremendous problem for picking a side but that’s the kind of problem we want.”

Ferguson must also choose between Welbeck or the returning Hernández to start alongside Wayne Rooney in attack. Welbeck’s mixed performances against West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur may colour Ferguson’s decision, with Mexican Hernández desperate to start after two months without football. Yet, 20-year-old Longsight-born forward Welbeck also scored one and created a brilliant other against Spurs, underlining the genuine if raw talent at Ferguson’s disposal.

It is a choice that boils down to Hernández’ goalscoring record stacked up against Welbeck’s talent, with Dimitar Berbatov’s class all but forgotten in Ferguson’s revolution; a key story of United’s summer.

“It was great to play again, unbelievable,” Hernández told MUTV.

“I had one month off after the Gold Cup, and then the thing happened with my head, so it was two months without games. That was difficult but I talked to my family and friends every day when I was out, and made sure I was ready. Thankfully, for the last game against Spurs I was on the bench, then I played 10 minutes and I enjoyed it a lot.”

Squad players Carrick and Park Ji-Sung could make their first Premier League appearances of the season if Ferguson opts for experience despite words to the contrary.

Meanwhile, the visitors arrive at Old Trafford boosted by qualification for the Champions League in the past week. Despite the departures of Fàbregas and Nasri a defiant Arsène Wenger has, to date, failed to add expensive replacements to his squad this summer.

Such is Arsenal’s current malaise, having not won a trophy in six years and seen key players depart, that some sections of Britain’s media have suggested Wenger may consider his future at the club. Yet, this widespread belief that the London club is already doomed to failure this season is one Ferguson rejects, despite 15 years of rivalry with his French adversary.

“I would like to know who is going to replace him,” said the United manager.

“The work he has done in the 15 years he has been at the club is the best in Arsenal’s history. Yes, he has not won a trophy for six years but what does that mean? The quality of his side has not been reduced.

“Chelsea’s involvement has created a lot of the problem in terms of trophies to win because they and ourselves have been dominating the Premier League. Now Manchester City have come on the scene. When Arsenal and ourselves were going head-to-head, it went on for about eight years. The competition is far greater now.

“But [Arsenal] answered everybody back on Wednesday. They got a great result and the game on Sunday will be another stepping stone for them.”

It is, however, a match in which Arsenal will be without midfielder Jack Wilshere, missing for three weeks with an ankle injury and, probably, Thomas Vermaelen, who faces a fitness test on Saturday. Meanwhile, Alex Song, Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong are all suspended for recent indiscretions. Plus ça change at Arsenal.

The absentees are hardly ideal against a vibrant United side in the 214th meeting between the teams: a series in which United has won 88 times to Arsenal’s 79. Moreover, United has won six of the last seven home fixtures against Wenger’s men.

And while Arsenal emerged victorious in the last fixture between the sides on May day, few will bet against an 89th win for United on Sunday.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Arsenal, Premier League, Old Trafford, Sunday 29 August, 4pm.

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Smalling, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Cleverley, Anderson, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fábio, Evans, Carrick, Giggs, Pogba, Park, Valencia, Gibson, Fletcher, Diouf, Owen, Berbatov, Welbeck, Macheda.

Arsenal (4-5-1): Szczesny; Jenkinson, Miquel, Djourou, Sagna; Walcott, Ramsey, Rosicky, Lansbury, Arshavin; Van Persie. Subs from: Almunia, Fabianski, Traoré, Eastmond, Chamakh, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Miyaichi, Bendtner

United: WWW
Arsenal: DLW

Referee: Howard Webb (Rotherham)

Wenger gets it right and oh so wrong on ‘tapping up’

July 25, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 24 comments

Let there be no mistake ‘tapping up’ in professional football existed long before the Football Association set down its absurd rules banning the practice; governance that is unworkable, impractical and utterly pointless in a globalised football market. Yet, Arsène Wenger once again called for the FA to amend its framework, with Arsenal’s Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas under the gaze of predatory rivals this summer.

Indeed, asked if he believes the pair has been tapped up this summer Wenger called on the rules to be reviewed. It is not the first time the 61-year-old manager has cried foul over more successful, financially dominant rivals chasing Arsenal’s players.

That the north London club has successfully pillaged Barcelona’s academy for Fabregas, Fran Mérida, Jon Toral, and Hector Bellerin in recent seasons is not without its irony of course. Wenger’s inconsistency has always been defined only by its consistency.

“I would like to return the question to you,” quipped the Frenchman.

“What do you think? We live in a realistic world. I do not want to assess what I cannot prove. I know how things happen. It doesn’t necessarily go through the player or the agent but I think it is a rule that has to be reviewed. It’s not really respected.”

Yet the Frenchman’s apparent hypocrisy is moot; Wenger is right that the rules on tapping up need reformation but utterly wrong that the FA needs to strengthen an outmoded philosophy. After all the rules not only patronise players but are a restriction of trade made worthless by contract law. Indeed, as Wenger has made clear this summer Arsenal need not sell Fabregas nor Nasri as each remains under contract with the Londoners until the club is prepared to release their registrations.

But legal protection proffered under contract law is made irrelevant, so say critics, because of player power, a mythical universal force that means clubs must put economics before everything else. In that Wenger’s intransigence this summer is to be admired, even if the Frenchman’s faux horror at Barcelona’s pursuit of Fabregas returns us to that word hypocrisy once again.

The need for reformation of the tapping up regulations – or, preferably, removing them entirely – is more relevant still given the globalised nature of the football market. After all, players are little more than an asset traded, not solely between clubs, but third parties and non-affiliated training academies too. These organisations, such as Desportivo Brasil with whom Manchester United has an agreement, are little more than farms for the manufacturer and export of youthful football talent.

In that context the ban on tapping up makes sense as a protectionist measure only for those institutions that are unwilling to sell but cannot retain players by any normal means, such as money, silverware, or a feel-good-factor. Arsenal, then.

This argument is moot in any case. The one successful prosecution by the FA in recent memory – that of Ashley Cole and Chelsea – was made a mockery by Arsenal’s willingness to sell the player shortly thereafter. As if Wenger delights more not in success but in the moral superiority that the former Monaco coach so often basks in.

Then there is the very real truth in Wenger’s comments – clubs need not confer directly with players that they wish to sign when football is an industry over-populated with agents, middle-men and brokers. Perhaps Wenger would prefer the phones of every licensed – or otherwise – agent tapped to ensure that his want-away players never again hear of an interested outside party.

Have Nasri and Fabregas been “tapped up” in any normal definition? Absolutely yes. Does it matter a jot? Not at all.

Of course Manchester United cried foul in 2007, reporting Real Madrid to FIFA over the Spanish giant’s incessant pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo. Even then United relented a year later when Madrid returned with a world-record transfer bid for the Portuguese forward. Once again economics trumped the moral high-ground that Sir Alex Ferguson had claimed.

Ferguson though is ever the pragmatist. The Scot’s apparent angry promise that he would not “sell that mob a virus” hid the gentleman’s agreement that Ronaldo would eventually be allowed to leave. All that mattered at that moment was the price.

“You don’t want to [keep unhappy players] really,” said Ferguson yesterday when asked about Nasri and Fabregas.

“Cristiano Ronaldo was never unhappy at United, but he always had a thing about playing for Real Madrid and I believed him. We did well to have him for six years and getting that final year was a bonus because he was disheartened the previous summer. It could have affected him at the time, but we did well to keep him for an extra year and we got top money for him. But it’s usually the foreign players who want to get back to their nest.”

In that there is some truth where Fabregas is concerned, with the 24-year-old Catalan desperate to return ‘home’. Nasri has no intention of returning to Marseille of course as the midfielder plots a lucrative move north to Manchester City.

And there’s the rub: no FA regulation can compete with a £200,000-a-week offer. It is the same principal, if not the absolute salary, that has attracted so many youthful player’s to Arsenal from Catalonia in recent years.

Fergie questions officials as title comes down to Chelsea tie

May 1, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 27 comments

There is little doubt that Manchester United was denied a clear penalty with less that five minutes remaining at the Emirates on Sunday but in truth Sir Alex Ferguson’s reverted to type in defeat away from Old Trafford. Ferguson’s side was everything witnessed so often on the road this season: timid, lacklustre and above all, outclassed in midfield. Worse still, there was none of the adventure or creativity displayed at the Veltins Arena last Tuesday as United went down to an Arsenal side essentially playing for nothing but pride.

The frustration was tantamount in the United camp as referee Chris Foy missed Gael Clichy’s clear foul on Michael Owen with minutes remaining. Ferguson’s anger was compounded too, with Patrice Evra denied another good shout for a spot kick in the 68th minute after Bacary Sanga appeared to drag down his fellow countryman.

In truth Arsenal can also point a handball by Nemanja Vidic early in the piece that was also missed by the Merseyside official, although the Serbian’s touch was so fine that perhaps only Robin van Persie could have seen the infringement. Owen’s claim was none of the sort, with Foy well positioned to make what could prove a decisive moment in the Premier League title race.

It was almost too much for Ferguson to take post-match – the Scot did well not to incur further FA wrath after recently serving a five-match touchline ban for criticising officials.

“It’s too big a game not to get the decisions right,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“It balances out in that respect but I think it was difficult to see that one [Vidic’s handball] but the one at the end, Clichy knew, he put his hands up in horror. Obviously, it gives Chelsea a major chance now and that’s what happens when you get these decisions. They got one at Old Trafford last season so that’s the worry now. But in terms of ability – a game at Old Trafford, the supporters will be ready for it – and so will our players.”

Ferguson’s thinly veiled reference to Chelsea’s good fortune on Saturday, when the west London club were awarded two goals that should never have been against Tottenham Hotspur, is pertinent. Last season’s title charge was greatly altered by Didier Drogba’s winning goal at Old Trafford, scored from an offside position. Moreover, prior to United’s Champions League quarter-final win over the Londoners had enjoyed a series of refereeing decisions that irked Ferguson.

All that is now required to solidify the Scot’s paranoia is for the Premier League to appoint Martin Atkinson to take charge of next weekend’s key fixture. The official appointment is likely to be announced on Tuesday, ahead of United’s Champions League second-leg fixture with Schalke.

However, while Ferguson is a master at exerting pressure on whomever takes charge of next Sunday’s tie, the Scot will surely banish all negative thoughts from the United camp ahead of the match. Win or draw against last season’s champions and United will surely take a 19th domestic title. Lose and the title’s destiny will be outside United’s control for the first time in weeks. United can only countenance the former.

Indeed, with an identical goal difference, a Chelsea victory at Old Trafford will provoke a two-match shoot out to clinch the title. United versus Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool; Chelsea against Newcastle United and Everton.

That is for the coming weeks though. Ahead of the Chelsea tie United must play in Europe with the Londoners facing nothing more strenuous than a week’s light training at Cobham. The freshness should hand a distinct advantage to next weekend’s visitors, although Ferguson will rest key forward players for the Schalke tie.

“We have a big week ahead,” said Ferguson.

“Wednesday is a European semi-final second leg and then the game on Sunday [against Chelsea], so two massive games. We will regroup and freshen it up.

“I will make some changes on Wednesday without question. I will bring Paul Scholes back in, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen. We’ll need to do that but I will probably keep my experienced players at the back.

“We are in as good a position as you could ever wish for at the start of the season – semi-final of the European Cup, second leg, two-goal lead and go into a home game on Sunday level on goal difference [and with a three-point advantage].”

United’s good position both at home and in Europe could be undone inside the next six days though. And Ferguson is fortunate that three of the coming key games are at Old Trafford, with only the Blackburn game on the road. Given United’s horrendous form away from Manchester, where Ferguson’s side has won just five times in the Premier League, the fixture list is but a small mercy.

Until Wednesday the United squad will have much to ponder in tamely losing at the Emirates, whatever the poor officiating. And then it is to the two recent European games against Chelsea that United must turn, where the Reds’ positive intent drew high dividends.

Those games were everything Sunday at the Emirates was not.