United v. Arsenal
Arsenal face Manchester United in the Champions League for the first time tomorrow. The old, fiery rivalry has diminished into nothing but a slight smolder in recent years. Thanks to fixture makers though, the matchup has been drenched with gasoline and set ablaze once again. The two English giants will face each other three times in the next three weeks. Manchester United are the current champions of England, Europe, and indeed the World, so it has to be said Arsenal are not the favourites here. I believe that is just the way Wenger's boys will want.
I'm currently watching the fascinating battle between Chelsea and Barcelona as I write this. It has to be said the difference in the two teams approach to the match is oh so interesting to watch. Tomorrow will be a different story though. Arsenal and United play a similar attacking style that promises to be a wide open affair.
It's Wenger versus Ferguson, Adebayor versus Vidic, Fabregas versus Ronaldo. It's Arsenal versus Manchester United!
Arsene Wenger promises to go at the United defence at Old Trafford. 'The first target was to win the game, and that is the best preparation,' he said. 'If you go to Old Trafford without belief, you make it very difficult at the start for you.
'We will go there with belief and to enjoy it, and also will be faithful to the game we play and will go there like we do everywhere in Europe to try to score and win the game.'
Emmanuel Adebayor wants to continue his 5 game goal scoring streak in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. 'I know they do not like me there because I managed to get a goal, and you just feel like 'Okay, I will show you again how good I am.'
'In three games there I have scored two goals and I know it will not be easy to get another one, but I will give 100 per cent to do everything it takes to score or to help my team win the game.'
The 25-year-old added: 'We know how good they are and it is going to be an exciting game for English football.'
'It is going to be tough, but we just have to believe we can do it, that we can win this cup. That is why we are here.'
'What is important on Wednesday is that we are at our best - when we our best we can beat everybody, so let's focus on us to be at our best and not to speculate any weakness of Manchester United because they have experience.'
Toure has identified the defence being the deciding factor in this tie. 'United are the ones who won it last season, but for us we are going there to do the best we can playing free and passing the ball. We know when we play football against Manchester United, they struggle a lot.'
Toure continued: 'United are a really good team going forward, but, like us, at the back they have conceded a few goals.
'We have the same type of team - we both like to play, but sometimes you can be caught out at the back. The team that will win will be the one which defends the best. It is going to be a really big fight.'
Manchester United Team News:
Gary Neville joins long term absentee Hargreaves on the United treatment table. O'Shea, Rafeal, and Wes Brown are fighting for a place a right back, and it seems O'Shea might get the nod. Other than that there is no news for United.
Predicted Starting XI: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Giggs, Anderson, Rooney, Berbatov, Ronaldo
Player to watch: Wayne Rooney
The Ogre has always been a pain in our side, and I don't expect that throbbing ache to go away in the next three weeks. If he doesn't bag at least two goals over the trio of games, I will very much surprised.
Arsenal Team News:
As you can tell from the quotes above and many others from the Arsene and the players this week, believing in themselves is the central theme. There is no doubt our young players have the talent. On our day we can beat anyone, like Wenger said.
Again, defence is the main injury worry coming into this match. Silvestre went off with back spasms against Middlesbrough, while Djourou made his return. Gibbs has a slight problem and will have a fitness test tomorrow. After being quarantined in his house due to suspicions of the dreaded Swine Flu, Mexican, Carlos Vela, has been allowed to join up with the squad. Bacary Sagna and Adebayor will return to the team after being rested over the weekend, while van Persie is out until the second leg. Eduardo may be involved, but nobody really knows what is going on with his injury situation at the moment. Gallas and Rosicky are definitely out, and Arshavin is cup tied of course.
Predicted Starting XI: Almunia, Sagna, Djourou, Toure, Gibbs, Walcott, Song, Denilson, Nasri, Fabregas, Adebayor
Player to watch: Kolo Toure
After the defensive horror show at Anfield from the Arsenal, how we will defend must be a concern for every Arsenal fan. Toure is our leader back there, and in the end, it will be mostly his job to organize our inexperienced back five.
Match Facts & Stats
van Persie, Song, Diaby, and Nasri are all one booking away from a suspension for Arsenal.
Rooney and Evra are the only two on yellow card watch for the Mancs.
Giggs will be making his 800th United appearance. Very impressive
Arsenal can win their 100th European match and our 50th Champions League game tomorrow.
Arsenal have never lost a European semi-final. (1970, 1980, 1994, 1995, 2000 and 2006)
Danish referee Claus Bo Larsen will be the head official for this match. He was the official in Milan for Arsenal's 2-0 win over AC, and he also was the ref who sent off Paul Scholes for pretending to be a volleyball player against Zenit. He also took charge of Arsenal's recent game against Roma where Toure was booked for entering the field without permission.
Tough one to call here. Both teams know each other very well, so one would expect an evenly matched affair. I will go with an adventurous 2-2 draw, which will delight Wenger. Adebayor, Toure, Ronaldo, and Rooney to score the goals.
2/5 (Sat) - Portsmouth (A) - Premier League
5/5 (Tue) - Manchester United (H)- Champions League
10/5 (Sun) - Chelsea (H) - Premier League
Here's a quick video to get you in the mood.