Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Saturday September 16 2006
Hello again good people, well the passport has another stamp on it and another three points have been safely banked in our new favourute tournament. Given that our accomodation was situated right in the middle of the reeperbahn, not much sleep was had, but with international football removed from the calendars for another month, the games are coming thick and fast and attentions are already turned to sunday.
An excursion to Manchester United having not won any of our first three games is less than welcome one would think, particularly as our hosts have started the season with gusto (it won't last, they haven't got the depth). Call me crazy, but I believe this fixture could be right up our street. In the run up to this fixture, you may have noticed that Arsenal have been written off more times than Jermaine Pennant's Bentley. Injuries have once again conspired to rob us of key players, this coupled with Arsenal's slow start makes for a troubling recipe, or so it would seem. With the odds stacked heavily against us, the pressure is effectively placed onto our hosts, leaving us with a kind of freedom which our style of play craves. Plus, we're long overdue a win there aren't we?!
But how to set about beating rampant United on their own patch? Well I think our new acquisition could be the key. Our forward options are somewhat limited with van Persie and Henry struggling, but I am not inclined to believe that this is necessarily a bad thing. Firstly, Henry never plays well at Old Trafford, he's only ever scored there once and that was in a 6-1 reverse (what a fun journey home that was!) Despite his mercurial talent, I genuinely do not believe TH warrants a starting place in the side right now. Strangely for a man of his explosive pace, Henry seeks to slow the game down whenever possible at the moment, giving packed defences an opportunity to regroup and stifle his forrays. Arsenal have demonstrated much more freedom in the games he hasn't played, the players look liberated and relaxed going forward without the spectre of Henry scowling at them every time they have the temerity to forge an attack that does not involve his twinkled toes. Do you think Rosicky would have taken that strike on wednesday night with Henry pedantically screaming for the ball? I don't. The other thing that has been gnawing away at me, has anyone noticed that Thierry appears to pick up these slight niggling injuries around the time we play at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge or White Hart Lane? Of course they clear up as soon as we play, ooh I don't know, say Sheffield United at home? Just a thought.
Basically with van Persie and Henry on the Ashley Cole memorial treatment table, our striking options are restricted to Adebayor and Baptista (not forgetting Theo, I just think he's better off as an impact player from the bench for Sunday), and therein could be the ingredients for success. I would play Adebayor up top with Baptista playing just off him, 'the beast' (beast, beast, beast) playing as an auxiliary second striker when we are in possession and dropping back as a fifth midfielder when we concede. I think this tactic is tailor made to stop United. Man USA like to stroke the ball gently around the defence and build attacks from the back. The presence of Adebayor, buzzing around them will ensure they cannot do this comfortably. Ade also seeks to get in behind the defence, if one is to look at the few goals United do concede, a common occurence is Ferdinand's inability to track a forward run in behind. With the ball on the toes of a marauding forward, Rio is one of the best around, not many can dribble around him (even Henry has struggled in this regard), but he lacks the awareness to cut out a through pass. Adebayor can also benefit our counter attacking game, his ability to hold the ball up will becrucial in involving the likes of Hleb, Ljungberg and Cesc.
Like Adebayor, 'the beast' (beast, beast, beast) can have an impact both offensively and defensively. Carrick will look to pick the ball up in front of United's defence and pull the strings from there. But with Baptista occupying the same area of the field, Carrick will not be afforded the same time to spray passes to the ever dangerous Ronaldo, or Rooney. Baptista and Adebayor can provide something of a wall (a bloody great big wall) which can prevent the springboard for Yoonited attacks. One of the more obvious points to make about Baptista is that at 7 feet four and fourty two stone, he has a physical presence which we will require in a game at the prawn sandwich arena. (I would like to see Scholes try and aim one of his two footed lunges at the beast!) Baptista's speciality is arriving late in the box to deliver the hammer blow, this is an ingredient we have really missed at Old Trafford, particularly since Ljungberg's hip injury has pretty much rendered him completely ineffective. Of all the sides in the Prem, Ferguson's troops are the ones most comfortable with nullifting our style of play, Manu and 'the beast' (beast, beast, beast) provide us with a much different option and give Man USA something different to think about.
The ever dependable Gilberto will be charged with looking after Scholes and Rooney who operate with deadly applomb in the final third. But given Gilbo's effectiveness in dealing with the likes of Riquelme, Zidane, Nedved, Ronaldinho coupled with his brilliant performances thus far this season I am confident of him managing this. However, Rooney and Scholes are special, special players and the captain will have his work cut out. Alex Hleb can also be a key player for us, he terrorised United at Old Trafford last season with his searching runs and 'superglue' dribbling. As I've already mentioned above, United appear very comfortable when we pass the ball to death in front of them, but Hleb provides a more probing threat. Alex did this with great effect again on Wednesday night, and for my money, was one of the best players on the pitch. I would also like to express my relief that Kolo Toure has been declared fit, the thought of Cristiano Ronaldo torturing Justin Hoyte was one I couldn't bring myslef to entertain. Hoyte has struggled in every game he has played at left back and Cristiano Ronaldo will have crucified him. With Gallas at left back, I feel we have a better chance of negating his influence. Make no mistake, Kolo's fitness is more essential than Henry or van Persie's.
There you have it. I hope you were taking notes Arsene! I think Sunday's game could see a draw, which on the face of it is a satisfactory result. But really we need to start climbing away from the embarassing confines of the bottom four quickly and a win at Old Trafford would be the catalyst for our season to explode. Despite the absence of firestarters Keane, Vieira, van Nistelrooy and Keown, this can still be a fiery old fixture, and we will have to be prepared for a battle. (Translation, we will have to be prepared to halt the thuggish advance of Rooney and Scholes studs- dare I suggest that our men take the field wearing a box?)
One final thought straying from the subject matter. I think the following sentence is confirmation that the world has finally gone stark raving mad, 'I nearly swerved my Bentley off the road when my agent told me Arsenal would only be offering me £55,000 a week.' It's true you know, ignorance really is bliss.
Date:Saturday September 16 2006
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