Date:Wednesday April 29 2009
Record-wise, this is the best ever Manchester United defence, due to that magnificent run between November and February. Statistically it is worse than last season's: we've already conceded more league goals than in 2007/08 and there are five games to go...
It is important because Arsenal come to visit Old Trafford in the Champions League, Arsenal who left their attacking impotence in the winter months behind them. Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed that as it's the first leg of a semi-final a 1-0 win would be perfect.
Well, I'd also be pleased with it: Arsenal beat us 3-1 at Highbury in 2002 and since then, every single result of the games played at their ground between the two teams would put us through if the first leg indeed ended 1-0.
However, I believe it's unlikely that we'll win 1-0. First and foremost our defence, as I hinted above, is not as good as it was last season when we conceded only two goals throughout the knockout stages of the tournament: Evra has gone off the boil and was seriously troubled by Lennon on Saturday, Vidic and Ferdinand seem to be plagued by uncertainty and we never had a consistent right-back because of injuries.
So I expect we'll concede. But it's true the other way round as well: Arsenal have a very suspect defence which can be seriously hurt by pace and power, as demonstrated at Anfield where they simply could not cope with the pressure of Liverpool's attackers and the sheer pace of Fernando Torres.
Considering that Gibbs and Silvestre are struggling with injuries, Clichy is out while Djourou has just returned from injury, you could say that Arsenal have serious defensive problems ahead of the game. And it seems that United's attack is finally clicking - the signs against Pompey and of course, against Spurs, were most encouraging in this respect.
I think it's possible that we won't score more than one goal but if that happens, we'll have only ourselves to blame. At the moment I can't imagine that we won't have enough chances to score two or three at least. Profligacy, however, has been a major issue for most of the season (see the Portsmouth game for the most recent example), not least at the Emirates where we missed unmissable chances (don't want to single out anyone but Rooney and Ronaldo should have scored).
Fergie promised a fair degree of caution - but somehow I feel this game will have goals in it. I'm hoping for a 3-1 home win.
Date:Wednesday April 29 2009
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