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Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs Arsenal

LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 22: Theo Walcott of Arsenal battles with Michael Carrick of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2012 in London, England.

What Arsenal fans wouldn’t give to have the happenings of 28th August, 2011 wiped off their mind-maps. Old Trafford was the location on that ill-fated day, when perennial rivals Manchester United handed the North London side a stern reality check, suggesting that their utopia of footballing success hand in hand with financial stability and profitability was much a thing of the past, as were the days of Arsenal’s reign as one of England’s elite. 8-2 was the scoreline, the visitors’ heaviest defeat since the 19th century, so getting a little payback will be one of the many things on their minds when they return to the Theatre of Dreams for Saturday’s lunch-time kickoff against the Red Devils.

Manchester United:

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 02: Robin Van Persie of Manchester United celebrates the winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester United at St Mary’s Stadium on September 2, 2012 in Southampton, England.

Not for long were the Red Devils allowed to bask in the glory of last Sunday’s victory at Stamford Bridge, when they broke, albeit controversially, their ten-year hoodoo at Chelsea’s fortress. Roberto di Matteo’s men, determined not to be humbled at home twice by their fellow title contenders, won back some pride in another thriller on Wednesday in the Capital One Cup, overturning a deficit three times to claim a stunning 5-4 win. However, having chosen to rest their stars for the midweek game, United will go into Saturday’s encounter, their third top-of-the-table clash in a week’s time, feeling upbeat, given their current three-match winning streak in the Premier League. Also to lift spirits in Manchester will be the incentive of climbing to the top of the table, albeit for a few hours, with Chelsea playing their game only later in the day.

The focus throughout the game however will be centred on one man, who earlier in the summer decided that his ambitions were a tad too lofty for Arsenal’s miserly ways, and jumped ship to Old Trafford. Going by the apoplectic reactions of Arsenal fans, one-time skipper Robin van Persie will be vehemently booed on every touch of the football, as the Dutch striker looks to give further example to his former employers that the overtures of winners’ medals at Manchester United was not one to be shunned.

Sir Alex Ferguson has shuffled around his troops on a regular basis throughout the season in an attempt to hand his wide array of stars a fair opportunity to prove their first-team credentials. However, he is expected to go unchanged from the 4-4-2 that helped the Red Devils claim all three points on Sunday, with van Persie and Wayne Rooney to spearhead the hosts’ attack in place of the trident that was used earlier in the season. The manager’s biggest worry however will be his backline, which has been shipping in goals consistently, and has had its failures masked by the outfit’s enterprising performances upfront.

Arsenal:

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 03: Lukas Podolski of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Arsenal FC and Olympiacos FC at Emirates Stadium on October 03, 2012 in London, England.

Saturday’s game represents several different sub-plots for the visitors, for whom a victory at Old Trafford would mean a whole lot more than just three points. They however would be invigorated after their exertions in midweek, when they overturned an incredible four-goal deficit to defeat Brian McDermott’s Reading side 7-5 at the Capital One Cup. They will be desperate to carry that form forward, as two straight losses and unconvincing performances in recent weeks were dampening hopes of the emergence of a new Arsenal.

Arsenal lie in sixth in the table, but a win on Saturday will help them displace Tottenham from the top four, who incidentally did beat United at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Wenger has done his best to play down the hype ahead of the game, laughing off comparisons with last season’s game at the same venue by pointing at the fact that almost none of the players who played against United then will feature in his starting lineup on Saturday.

Arsenal are still beset by injury problems, and are missing both their first-choice custodians. However, a massive boost for them will be the returns of Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna, both of whom started against QPR last weekend. The summer signing trio of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla are set to start for the visitors, with the latter possibly in a right wing role if Wenger decides not to hand Theo Walcott a start after his 120-minute midweek workout.

Head to Head:

22 Jan ’12: Arsenal 1 – 3 Manchester United

28 Aug ’11: Manchester United 8 – 2 Arsenal

1 May ’11: Arsenal 1 – 0 Manchester United

12 Mar ’11: Manchester United 2 – 0 Arsenal

13 Dec ’10: Manchester United 1 – 0 Arsenal

LONDON – NOVEMBER 03: Sir Alex Ferguson manager of Manchester United shakes hands with Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal following the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on November 3, 2007 in London, England.

Form Guide:

Manchester United (LWWWW)

31 Oct ’12: Chelsea 5 – 4 Manchester United

28 Oct ’12: Chelsea 2 – 3 Manchester United

23 Oct ’12: Manchester United 3 – 2 Sporting Braga

20 Oct ’12: Manchester United 4 – 2 Stoke City

7 Oct ’12: Newcastle United 0 – 3 Manchester United

Arsenal (WWLLW)

30 Oct ’12: Reading 5 – 7 Arsenal

27 Oct ’12: Arsenal 1 – 0 Queens Park Rangers

24 Oct ’12: Arsenal 0 – 2 Schalke

20 Oct ’12: Norwich City 1 – 0 Arsenal

6 Oct ’12: West Ham United 1 – 3 Arsenal

Predicted Line-Ups:

Manchester United (4-4-2) - De Gea, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Rafael, Cleverley, Carrick, Young, Valencia, Rooney, van Persie

Arsenal (4-3-2-1) - Mannone, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Santos, Sagna, Wilshere, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud

Key Battle:

Antonio Valencia vs Andre Santos - While he has looked impressive on his forays upfront, Andre Santos has been rather hapless at the back in recent weeks, and is expected to be tested severely by Antonio Valencia’s direct running and pace on the right side of United’s midfield.

Predictions:

The visitors will be looking to avenge last season’s defeat, and along with it prove that they no longer need their previous season’s miracle man, while United will want to enforce that van Persie’s signature widened the growing gap between the two sides. With both sides looking paper-thin at the back, another goal glut could be in order, but in the contest between these two adversaries, there is no doubt as to who has the upper hand.

Manchester United 3 – 1 Arsenal

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