Man Utd v Arsenal
16 May 2009
Brice is busy at school. The last time I covered for him on the match preview, we lost to Chelsea…
We say that when it comes to a big match, it's down to who wants it more. Do you think they want to be crowned champions more or we want to spoil the party more?
The shiny cup has been made ready, medals counted, ribbons tied, champagne cooled, red carpet set to be rolled out. They're just one point away from starting the party. The incentive is all there - to bring their record to 18 league titles, level with Liverpool, and to celebrate with the Old Trafford faithful:
'We have another opportunity to win it in front of our own fans - it would be nice to do it,' said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. 'I have always said I don't care where we win it. But it is strange that we have won it once out of 10 at Old Trafford.' That came in 1999 after their home win against Spurs. (I wonder if Spurs is the team that has witnessed the most title celebrations, apart from the winners themselves.)
He also expects a good game against an attacking team like Arsenal and wants his team to try and win the game, although one point will see them crowned champions:
'They are a very good team and they will attack us, there's no question about that. They won't change the way they play and I'm expecting a good game.
'We've just got to concentrate on winning the league and try to do that in our own way. Going for a point is always a dangerous game to play when that's all you need, we must try and go for the win.'
Arsene Wenger, on the other hand, has already started reflecting on the season and, when asked about the prospect of witnessing United's celebration of the title win, stays positive as always:
Instead of thinking that it could deflate his players, he said, 'Of course it can inspire the players.
'These players will win and want to win but you have to accept as well, as we've said before, Man United at the moment is the best team. In sport, you have to accept that.
'They have watched us lifting the trophy as well. It's part of sport, and England is famous in sport for the fair play they have shown and the rugby teams have created this idea.
'If a team has been better than us, and Man United has been better than us without a doubt, the whole season, then [you applaud it].
'They played under pressure, Liverpool won the day before, the next day they come out and they believe they will win. At the end of the day, you have to say yes, you are the best and there is no shame to say that.'
Manchester United Team News:
Rio Ferdinand will likely miss the game with a calf strain, according to Ferguson. The United manager is more keen to make his most experienced defender available for the big clash against Barcelona in Rome so it's not likely for them to risk Ferdinand against us since he's not even training. So he should stay sidelined with Wes Brown (foot) and Jonny Evans is likely to stand in again. Otherwise they have a strong squad available.
Possible starting XI: Edwin van der Sar; O`Shea, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Park, Fletcher, Carrick, Ronaldo; Rooney, Berbatov/Tevez
Player to watch: Carlos Tevez
If he plays, that is. He has seemed genuinely happy to play for United and the home crowd have seemed genuinely supportive of him. I personally think it`ll be a big boss if United choose not to keep him, but the price tags being quoted in the press do seem prohibitive so apparently he is set to leave Old Trafford this summer.
Arsenal Team News:
The only addition to the squad is Andrey Arshavin who returns from flu (the regular one). But Manuel Almunia is 'unlikely' to play with an ankle problem, enjoying the company of William Gallas (knee), Gael Clichy (back) and Eduardo da Silva (groin) in the medical room.
I know many Gooners have given up hope on Tomas Rosicky. But I was truly happy to learn that he was finally back in training with the first team, despite the possibility of yet another false dawn. It's been 16 months after all… He obviously won't feature in the remaining games, but he will go through a special training programme with Tony Colbert to get back to his best in summer.
Possible starting XI: Fabianski; Sagna, Toure, Silvestre, Gibbs; Nasri, Fabregas, Song, Arshavin; van Persie, Adebayor
Player to watch: Andrey Arshavin
Yes, it's all worth watching whether our back five can deal with United's great forwards, whether Cesc, Nasri and Song are good enough in the midfield battle, whether Ade still cares, whether Bendtner (for me our most hard-working and effective striker at the moment) gets to play at all.
But if I'm honest, I can only count on one guy to make something happen in a difficult game. He proved that he could give that something extra at Anfield. Our defence is still the weakest in the top four, but I don't think we would've missed so many chances and lost by such a margin against Chelsea had he been fit and playing. That's spilt milk, but I'm amazed we are relying on him already. (But well, maybe it tells you as much about him as about the rest of the attacking force who haven't done enough in terms of getting results.)
Match Facts & Stats
Only one fact counts on this occasion: Manchester United will be crowned the Premier League champions if they draw this game. So to delay the party we need three points.
They will almost certainly become the first club to achieve the second hat-trick of league titles in the English top flight, their first one during the three seasons from 1998-2001. Only three other clubs have done the hat-trick: Huddersfield (1923-26), Arsenal (1932-35) and Liverpool (1981-84). United will also match Liverpool's record of 18 English top-flight titles; 11 of those have been achieved in the Premier League era.
If we manage to delay the party by beating United, it would give us the consolation of doing the league double over them for the fourth time in the Premier League.
This will be the 40th duel between Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, the longest serving in the Premier League. United have won 15 times, Arsenal 14.
Mike Dean (Wirral) will be the head official for this game. He has officiated 30 PL games this season, handing out 8 red cards and 117 yellows, averaging 4.17 cards per game and ranking second in the PL referees' cards table. He gives out more cards than other referees in general. But apart from the two yellows he gave to Eboue at White Hart Lane, I don't recall any special incidents that involved either team.
I don't enjoy doing this part, if I'm honest. Well, with Ferdinand out and Arshavin in, we may have a chance. But even an optimist like me can only see a draw at best: 2-2.
24/5 (Sun) - Stoke City (H) - Premier League