Know your opponent: Manchester United

Arsenal travel to Old Trafford tomorrow, and ahead of the match, Charles from SBNation's Man U blog, the Busby Babe, was gracious enough to answer some questions for us:

1) Patrice Evra has made some comments about Arsenal being no threat to Manchester United in the title race, being essentially a "training center" for football. What goes through your mind when you hear one of your players make comments such as these ahead of an important match?


I think the players just need to shutup and focus on the task at hand. Call me old-school, but I think the talking should be done on the pitch, not in the tabloids. I may dislike Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, but I certainly respect them and their histories. Sir Alex has always been one to ham it up in the press conferences and in interviews ahead of big matches...trying to gain a psychological advantage...but he's the gaffer and he can do that. Evra just needs to worry about how he's going to close down on the Arsenal attackers and leave the trash talking to Sir Alex.


2) It sounds like Rio Ferdinand will be fit to play against Arsenal. How important is his return to the squad for Monday?

Cannot understate his importance in central defense. Jonny Evans struggles at times and isn't reliable to be a regular starter and Chris Smalling shows a lot of promise, but needs some more time before he's ready to be a regular first-teamer. Beyond those two, John O'Shea who has been hit or miss all year (mostly miss) and is a natural halfback. Having said all of that, Rio is head and shoulders above everyone else at the position right now and losing him Monday night (or next Sunday at The Bridge) could be disastrous.

3) Although United qualified for the round of 16 in the Champions League, it doesn't seem like they have really hit their peak form yet in the competition. How can they pick it up moving forward in that competition? Is it a matter of too many injuries to key players so far?

Well to be fair, United never really fielded their first-choice squad. I think once we advance further and the games become more difficult, we'll see more of the first-team regulars and less of players like Bebe, Mechada and Ben Amos. I think as long as United finish first in the group stage, Sir Alex is always going to slide a younger player or two into the line up to give them that European experience.

4) How important to United is Owen Hargreaves? If he can stay healthy when he comes back from his current hamstring injury, do you expect him to be an automatic selection for midfield, or are Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick doing an adequate job?

If you'd asked me about Hargreaves a couple years ago, I would have said he's indispensable. Unfortunately, 2+ years worth of injuries has him on the outside looking in and if the rumors hold true, he's on his way out of Old Trafford. Michael Carrick has been a good servant to the club, but his passing isn't as crisp as it once was (to be fair he hasn't had a long run of games until recently). He did have a decent game against Valencia last week, so maybe his form is coming back. Darren Fletcher has really impressed me the last couple of seasons by taking control of things at the midfield. I think being captain of Scotland has helped with his development and leadership as much as anything. So to sum up, I guess Hargreaves is a goner, Carrick needs to be a goner and Fletcher is a keeper.

5) Do you anticipate any January signings?

United snapped up Anders Lindegaard a couple of weeks ago, though he can't play competitively until after the new year. But, if anything, he's a project for the future. We have a more immediate need for a first-team keeper (to replace 40-year old Edwin van der Sar), so I would expect United to go after David de Gea of Atletico Madrid or Allan McGregor from Rangers. Rumors have it that United are interested in Guillermo Ochoa from Club America, which is who I'd like to see them grab.

I read this morning that Sebastian Schweinsteiger signed a 5 year deal with Bayern Munich, so it looks like he's off the table. We have a ton of prospects, both on the reserves squad and out on loan (Danny Welbeck at Sunderland, Tom Cleverley at Wigan, Mame Diouf at Blackburn, just to name three) so I don't really see the NEED to go out and buy anyone. I'd like to shore up central defense...but I don't really think there's anyone on the market that I particularly want.

6) Finally, who do you think will take the points on Monday, if anyone?

I think United take all 3 points Monday but a 1-1 draw wouldn't surprise me.

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