The Big Match: Key Battles
Saturday`s showdown pits the two in-form teams in Europe, let alone England versus each other. Though such high profile games are so often a disappointment, the general feeling from both camps is that somehow this game will be different. Separated only by goal difference (albeit with a game less), Arsenal head to the game in great form, after a mesmeric 7-0 thumping of Slavia Prague followed by a more than deserved draw at Anfield, a result in which Arsenal may actually feel rather hard done by. However, United arrive in London just as confident, if not more, in the knowledge that they have (hopefully) already had their blip in form this season, with draws against Reading and Pompey followed by defeat to rivals City, and still impressively find themselves second in the table only to goal difference. United`s recent form has been nothing short of mesmeric, and after scoring four goals in their last four games, Sir Alex will know his team has what it takes to beat Arsenal.
So, two teams who both believe they have what it takes to win on Saturday. But who will? Though the question cannot be answered now, we here at Vital United decided to take a look at the key battles of Saturday`s match, which may go some way to tell us who will win. So, here it is...
Van Der Sar vs Almunia - Almunia has been hugely impressive over the last couple of weeks, managing to keep the much outspoken Jens Lehmann out of the team. And after some excellent saves in previous weeks, the Spaniard will be full of confidence. However, some may argue he hasn`t really been properly tested yet this season, and though last week was meant to be the acid test for Arsenal, the likes of Rooney, Tevez, Ronaldo and Nani are likely to provide Almunia with his toughest take of the season so far. Will he be up to the challenge? Only time will tell. Unlike the Spaniard, who is somewhat new to sustained matches at the top level, United`s number 1 is the icon of experience. The Dutch captain has had his fair share of big matches, both in England, Holland and Italy, and I don`t think anyone will argue that his experience will be pivotal on Saturday, and though Almunia is a very good goalkeeper, Van Der Sar`s experience gives him the edge. Former England goalkeeper, Nigel Martyn was asked this very same question on Sky Sports News, and though he felt Almunia had been very impressive recently, he too felt Van Der Sar`s experience, leadership and commandment of the box gave him the edge, labelling him one of the best distributers of a ball the game had ever seen. However, what do England know about goalkeeping!
Evra vs Clichy - There`s only one word to describe these two....Fast! Its as simple as that, barring Ronaldo these are going to be the two fastest players on the pitch this Saturday, and I believe that the player who can make best use of his pace, getting in behind the opposition defences will be the winner of this duel, and with the distribution from both increasing week by week, I wouldn`t mind betting these two could be pivotal on Saturday. These two have other similarities too, as well as both being French, both are lighting quick, and have a low centre of gravity, meaning they are extremely comfortable on the ball, and as I said before, both have improved their distribution, which all in all makes this one too close to call. It testament to the two Frenchman, who have both come in and replaced players who were seemingly untouchable, and improved their game to the point at which fans and pundits alike are saying "Ashley who?" and "Gabby who". Well done lads, and I think no United or Arsenal fans will argue when I say you are both fantastic players.
Vidic/Ferdinand vs Toure/Gallas - It`s the battle of the centre-backs and thus far I don`t think either team can argue with how each four have worked so far this season. Though I believe Rio and Vida the better partnership, after hearing comment from Paul Merson (that`s right, Merson said something clever!) I`m a little worried going into the game. We all know Rio and Vida can defend, but no-one would argue that both payers fortay is their immense aerial presence, but due to the fact Arsenals whole game relies around neat, quick passing to feet, one wonders whether or not it is their aerial presence we will need. However, I will still stick to my guns when I say I believe them to be the best centre-back partnership in the Premiership, but I do think they will need help from players such as Hargreaves and Carrick (or Anderson of he plays) to help stem the flow of Arsenals game. Moving onto Toure and Gallas, and I`m still unsure of this partnership. I think Toure is a fantastic player, and had we not got two stunning defenders already I would accept Toure into the team with open arms. However, I am still not sure about the captain, Gallas. After being excellent for Chelsea, can any Arsenal fan honestly say he has been the same at Arsenal? I know injuries have blighted his Arsenal career so far, but I do see flaws in his play and despite being an excellent player, I believe him to be the worst out of the four defenders mentioned. Will this have any bearing on Saturday`s match? We`ll see.
Hargreaves vs Flamini - It`s a huge match for these two, with Flamini wanting to prove he is justified in keeping his place ahead of the Brazil captain, whilst Hargreaves needing to prove he was worth all the fuss, with big match games such as these exactly what Sir Alex bout the Englishman for. It is the general consensus that whichever one of these players performs the best on the day, will end up on the winning side, as both players hold a role which is crucial to stopping the free-flowing, fast-paced football we are all expecting from both teams. The loss of Scholes makes Flamini`s role alot easier, but by no means easy and be it Carrick or the impressive Anderson playing, be sure Flamini will be in for one hell of a workout. Hargreaves, on the other hand hols a much tougher task, as he aims to blight the work of arguably the Premierships best performer so far in Cesc Fabregas, which though being extremely difficult, is exactly what Hargreaves craves. However, due to his lack of games, and having to still convince some United fans he was worth the fuss, I would have to say this one probably swings the way of the Frenchman. But will this be the case on Saturday?
Ronaldo vs Hleb - Despite the impressive form of Fabregas thus far, many Arsenal fans I have spoken to have used the performances of Aliaksandr Hleb for the reason Arsenal find themselves at the top of the table. Despite lacking the cutting edge of Ronaldo (to be honest, he can`t hit a barn door!), Hleb`s unique vision and passing ability mean that he is able to pass to a teammate in a better position, unbeknown to opposition defenders, when many others would shoot. However, I just can`t see a better player in world football at the moment than Crisitano Ronaldo. Admittedly, in recent weeks he has not been hitting the heights he did last season, his blistering pace, amazing trickery, lethal finishing and unhuman stamina levels makes him a constant threat, and though many an armchair pundit argues Ronaldo goes missing in big games (to which some extent is true) Arsenal cant forget about him, because he WILL punish them if he is given the chance.
Carrick/Anderson vs Fabregas - One of the hottest talents in world football at the moment will no doubt be important for Arsenal on Saturday, and in the shape of Cesc Fabregas Arsenal have a player which no fan, be it Arsenal, United and even Spurs can call a bad player. Even at his tender age, comparisons of legends such as Platini and our very own ginger prince, Paul Scholes. His passing, vision and ever-increasing goal threat are all things United will have to take into consideration, and if United are to win the match, you would assume they would neutralise the threat of the Spaniard. Having said that, in the form of Hargreaves we have the perfect foil, but saying it is one thing...doing it`s another. Moving on to United and finally our injury plague seems to be calming, n with Carrick back Sir Alex finally gets to choose a central midfield partnering rather than having it forced upon him. Hargreaves is a dead cert to play despite only just recovering from illness, and though Carrick holds the better experience when compared to Anderson, I personally would be more than comfortable with the young Brazilian starting in such an important game. His passing, tackling and all round enthusiasm has been a major party in our recent success, and his ability to slot into the United team almost instantly would suggest he has a very high chance of starting. Though I love Carrick's style of play, and see him as the better distributor of the ball one must ask, "why change a winning formula?" which is why I would pick Anderson to partner Owen Hargreaves.
Tevez/Rooney vs Adebayor - The loss of Van Persie is a huge blow to Arsenal, as just as him and Adebayor were forming a partnership, injury disrupted. Having said that, Adebayor has proved himself more than useful in his absence, and despite a mini drought, the Togo star is sure to start tomorrow, and our defence must be aware, we all know what hew did to us at Old Trafford last season. However, if we are talking about up-and-coming strike partnerships I believe united have one of the most promising in world football. If "Tooney" (You get it?) can continue their fine form and understanding of each others play, I`m sure we are witnessing the start of something special. Some may argue that with them we miss the aerial threat, but when you can pass to each other telepathically, without looking why you need to lump it high to them, we can just pass it round them. Rooney in particular is on lethal form, and with 8 goals in his last 7 matches, Rooney will we eager to continue the run. He is no stranger to scoring against Arsenal, and even scored in the 2-1 defeat last season.
In addition, I think the two benches will play a big part in the winner on Saturday, and with the prospect of Kuszazck, O`shea, Carrick/Anderson, Giggs/Nani and Saha I think we can be very happy with our bench. But we will see, the talking is done, let`s et the players do the talking...
Let battle commence!