Manchester United vs. Arsenal
Sunday, August 28, 11 AM EDT
Old Trafford, Manchester, Greater Manchester, Used to be Lancashire, The North
TV Coverage: Fox Soccer Channel
SB Nation Manchester United perspective: The Busby Babe
If ever there was a time for Arsenal to travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, this was probably not it. And yet, travel they must, into the arms of the title-winners. Manager Arsène Wenger has said that United are favorites for the title this year as well, but he thinks that his squad has a chance tomorrow to surprise and respond as they did in the second half midweek against Udinese.
As it is impossible to get new signings in before tomorrow, Arsenal know pretty much where they stand squad-wise for the proceedings. Gervinho, Emmanuel Frimpong and Alex Song are suspended. Jack Wilshere, Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastien Squillaci, and Kieran Gibbs are crocked.
Ready to go, however, are Laurent Koscielny, and probably Thomas Vermaelen. The two of them will most likely be flanked by Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson on the left and right again, as Armand Traore hasn't seen the pitch in some time. Johan Djourou is available again as well, and in the absence of Song and Frimpong, it is likely that he could play in front of the back four. His passing skills aren't at Song-levels, and he's less aggressive than Frimpong is, but he is a quality defender when confident, so hopefully Wenger has surrounded him with a lot of people constantly stroking his ego and telling him how cool his shirt is and where can they buy a sofa like his and what book is he reading and...
Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky, who came through Wednesday unscathed, will start in the front two of the midfield, and the front three is likely to be Andrei Arshavin, Robin van Persie, and Theo Walcott. Beyond the starting XI, it is THIN: Ryo Miyaichi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Marouane Chamakh, Ignasi Miquel, Armand Traore, and Lukas Fabianski will be on the bench, along with one of Joel Campbell or Henri Lansbury (who could possibly start in the midfield as well).
United are a little beat up as well; their starting back four will probably be the same as it was against Tottenham Hotspur, with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, and Patrice Evra covering the back in the absence of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Anderson and Tom Cleverley looked good in the middle, although either Ryan Giggs or MIchael Carrick could get the nod there, depending on how Sir Alex Ferguson feels staring into his morning tea tomorrow. Nani and Ashley Young could start on the flanks, but Park Ji-Sung is a noted Arsenal slayer of yore, and could easily fill in on the left. Wayne Rooney should start; whether Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez partner him is a question, although Welbeck has done well so far and Little Pea is just coming back from injury.
No matter who starts, Arsenal have to be seen as underdogs going into this match. Getting a result at Old Trafford is almost impossible for most teams, good Yorkshire constable Howard Webb is our referee tomorrow (yayyyyyy), and Arsenal's squad is stretched to the breaking point, while United are bringing players with 20 years of Premier League experience in off the bench. It is stacked against the Gunners, but stranger things have happened, like when Gladiator won Best Picture.
Arsenal predicted lineup: (4-3-3): Szczesny; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Sagna; Djourou, Ramsey, Rosicky; Arshavin, van Persie, Walcott.
Prediction: Arsenal sneak a wily opener through Walcott after Patrice Evra sees his long-lost twin in the front row. United fight back through seventy dubious penalty awards from Webb, Arshavin scores a late consolation, United have a decent penalty shout turned down in the 19th minute of extra time. Arsenal sustain five new injuries. United win 67-2.