Manchester United v Arsenal
Old Trafford, Trafford, Greater Manchester, The North
Kickoff: Saturday, November 3, 12:45 PM GMT/8:45 AM EDT/5:45 AM PDT
Form: MU WLWWW | ARS WLLWW
TV: ESPN 2, ESPN3.com
Arsenal travel to Old Trafford for the first time since losing 8-2 to face Manchester United and former captain Robin vol de Mort. That storyline will undoubtedly be talked about ad nauseam by talking windbag Steve McManaman, but of bigger concern is the fact that Arsenal are already 6 points behind Manchester United; a loss could be a knockout blow to Arsenal's faint title chances.
Despite hope earlier in the week, Saturday's match has come too early for Wojciech Szczesny and Kieran Gibbs, meaning that Vito Mannone will continue in goal and Andre Santos will play at left back. Meanwhile, there should be no reason Jack Wilshere doesn't play alongside Mikel Arteta in midfield. If Wilshere can play as well as he did against QPR, who arguably have a better centre midfield than Manchester United, Arsenal will have an easier time creating chances for the attack, which will presumably have Olivier Giroud at centre forward, after Gervinho was ruled out for three weeks with an ankle injury.
Until I found out that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be unlikely to return on Saturday, I was going to suggest that the young Englishman play on the left wing. Oxlade-Chamberlain, of course, blossomed on the left against United last year at the Emirates, and tends to put in a defensive shift, which Podolski hasn't as of late, possibly due to an ankle injury. He'd also offer more width than Lukas Podolski, which would've been crucial with the absence of Kieran Gibbs' runs forward.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, though, is probably out, so Podolski will probably play. He has to be mindful of his flank, with Rafael and Antonio Valencia an extremely potent attacking side. One possibility is playing Aaron Ramsey on the left; Wenger has favoured playing Ramsey in the "big" games this season, as he gives Arsenal technical security on the flanks, and also tracks back very well, much like Yossi Benayoun did last season. He's also a battler on the flanks, and as the ability to beat a man, and was excellent against Manchester City back in September, becoming an extra man in midfield, using his creative ability to set up chances that Gervinho squandered.
The big problem for Arsenal, though, is to stop Manchester United from scoring. That means stopping the grey-haired horseface knobhead, which, as we learned last season, is hard to do. His movement, as we know, is excellent; if van Prickhead gets a chance, he'll probably score. What Arsenal have to do is cut out his supply line; that means Andre Santos sticking tight to Antonio Valencia, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere sweeping up Wayne Rooney and Tom Cleverley.
The left side will have to be dealt with; presumably, Rooney will play on the left, but Danny Welbeck could also play there in the absence of Shinji Kagawa. Bacary Sagna being back is a big plus; he should be able to deal with Rooney or Welbeck coming inside, and has the ability to beat the ever weakening Patrice Evra on attack.
That's the other big question for Arsene Wenger; does he start the in-form and very confident Theo Walcott, who, until now, hasn't had much luck against Patrice Evra, or does he start Podolski on the let and Ramsey on the right. Evra, though, is becoming a weaker fullback by the minute, and a possible replacement, Alexander Buttner, is rubbish. Smart money is on Walcott starting, with Serge Gnabry, Andrei Arshavin and Thomas Eisfeld intriguing options from the bench.
Subs: Martinez, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Ramsey, Arshavin, Gnabry, Chamakh/Eisfeld?
Prediction: van Persie scores early and late, but in between that, Wayne Rooney falls into some quicksand, and Arsenal score five goals through Theo (2), Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, and Pat Rice, who inexplicably comes off the bench in a tag-team effort with Andre Santos, which the FA sanctions because why not. Arsenal win 5-2, and the little boy inside Robin van Persie realizes his mistake far too late. Andre Santos wildly drives a vintage roadster onto the pitch in celebration.