The last time Arsenal defeated Manchester United, Osama Bin Laden was killed the next day and Prince William had married two days before. Four years on, with no household international terrorist about, and Prince Harry still a bachelor, whence cometh help for the gunners? Ten years ago, this fixture could have been taken for a miniature El Classico. Oil money has since put an end to that, and Vieira and Roy Keane now play golf in Siberia. And no one chews gum at the touchline.
But this is about the only chance for two misfiring clubs to chew out silverware. Arsenal is consistent in their inconsistency. They defeated QPR at Loftus Road mid-week, but what has that proved? It is normal for them to catch fire, win a couple of matches then slump. They had a decent run in December which was ended in Southampton’s two-zero bashing on New Year’s Day. Then they dusted off the stain, won some matches including an emphatic 2-0 at Etihad, then lost to Spurs a week to Valentine. They rose after that, got some brilliant flashes before Monaco tore them apart. Wenger could have shaken hands with Sisyphus.
A slim victory at St. James Park in mid-week, Manchester United is still a shadow of their old self. They have turned Gaal into a philosopher of sort. The red half of Manchester is not used to fighting for top four spots. But considering that they didn’t make it last season, it could have been worse. A top four finish and an FA triumph will be a decent achievement for Gaal and launch a post-Fergie era properly. They have to overcome Arsenal who denied them their twelfth FA victory in 2005.
But they can be buoyed by the fact that Arsenal hadn’t won in Old Trafford since that fateful September Sunday in 2006 when a Febregas assisted Adebayor goal won maximum points for the gunners. The Red Devils can also cheer on the fact that Arsenal seem to always drop their armour at the presence of big teams. Another arrow in the quiver of the home side is the fact that they have this certain edge over Arsenal—the best of Arsenal mostly stutter at Manchester. For instance, Arsenal was the only Top Six Club that didn’t cash in on Moyes bonanza last season—Arsenal didn’t even score the hapless team. And last November, with Young and Valencia playing full-backs, Man U still ran (let’s not say walk) away with the three points at the Emirates.
Manchester is without Arsenal ex-captain van Persie, van Gaal’s favourite son having left Wales in crutches late last month. But the blow is softened by Rooney’s rediscovering of his goal scoring wand, and Rooney has been punishing Arsenal since he was 17! Arsenal has quite a number of injuries—Wilshere (setback), Flamini (hamstring), Debuchy (shoulder), Arteta (old age) and Diaby (curse) are not available for selection. But Rambo is back; remember he killed Osama in 2011.
The match will be interesting to watch. Arsenal is the highest scoring team in England after the two pounds-spoilt clubs, Chelsea and Man City. Although Giroud has missed some goal scoring chances that would made Yakubu wince, and Welbeck has shown time and again that been a successful attacker has nothing to do with being tall, black, handsome and English. Sanchez seems to have ended his goals mid-term break for now, while Walcott since his return from injury appears like the cartoon recreation of his idol Henry. Looking at the firebrand Cazorla and at the fact that no one has better assist rate than Ozil in 2015, one should be hopeful, not forgetting Ramsey and Chamberlin, potent bonuses.
It will be fun to see how Manchester will line up on the defence to stop the threat above. Valencia, Smalling, Evans and Rojo are a modest set, but November 22nd has shown that no Manchester defence is ever too weak to contain Arsenal. Up mid-field, Herrera, Blind and Young could get the nod to team up with record signing flop Di Maria. Another big boy flop Falcao could be around to prove that his career is not just played out in the pages of newspapers by his Kanye Westward agent.
For Arsenal, Monaco scape-goat Mertesacker would return to partner Koscielny following Gabriel’s injury, and Ospina due to Szczesny’s illness would remain between the sticks. Or Wenger could just throw third-choice Martinez into the fray (didn’t Sanogo start against Munich last year? Never dare Wenger).
Who will win the match? Bookmakers wouldn’t have been in a fix right now, if not for Arsenal’s poor credentials at Manchester. It is ironical that the same people who tip Arsenal to retain their Cup following massive big team casualties in the fourth round, are reluctant to put their money on Wenger’s boys. Indeed a lot has happened since that January day when Chelsea ate dust in Stamford Bridge off the feet of Bradsford.
I don’t see the battle for Wembley ending in 90 minutes. A score draw at the amphitheatre of dream will leave both teams angry and heaving a sigh of relief, then we will wait a few weeks before season two and final battle in London, north of the Thanes. I hope for my team, I am wrong.
We would love to hear your predictions and comments below. Tweets to @Oke4chukwu