As the weekend ends in the Premier League, we have been privy to some breathtaking matches with both Arsenal and Manchester United’s games leaving them grasping at straws. Arsenal’s complete lack of defense against Liverpool (5 goals allowed) on Sunday was only the beginning for what could end up being a long, miserable, February.
Luckily for Arsenal, their midweek opponent, Manchester United, also had a difficult time Sunday. They conceded a goal in stoppage time that saw Fulham steal a point in the waning moments of the match. With each of these two teams coming into a tightly packed month, we could be on the cusp of a jaw-dropping spectacle with each team searching for answers. Here are a few key battles to watch out for in this midweek fixture.
Per Mertesacker vs Robin van Persie
In the reverse fixture, Arsenal’s defense saw too much van Persie as he scored the only goal of the game to send his former club to a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat. This time around, not only will the entire defense have to continue to work as a collective whole; but, Mertesacker will once again have his hands full attempting to stop his former teammate.
Arsenal’s midfielders vs. Manchester United’s attack
Whatever configuration of midfielders Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger, utilizes on match day, one can be sure they will need to control the pace of the match. One of the ugly sides of Arsenal’s play, is when the crispness of passing fails, games such as the drubbing at Liverpool are almost unavoidable. What was apparent in Arsenal’s game against Liverpool was the ineffectiveness of their midfield. They appeared sluggish, uncreative, and sloppy even without the ball. If Arsenal are to repeat this type of sloppy performance against Manchester United, expect that the Red Devil’s attacking options to punish them just as Liverpool did.
Mesut Ozil vs Fletcher/Carrick
If Arsenal are going to leave the Emirates on Wednesday with the full three points, Mesut Ozil is going to have to take control of the game in midfield and show off his great vision and passing skills. United’s midfielders, on the other hand, will need to keep close tabs on Ozil and continuously disrupt his rhythm, not allowing him time to find the gaps that no one but Ozil sees. Since coming to the Premier League on transfer deadline day this summer, Ozil has surpassed all expectations, proving why Wenger destroyed his previous signing fee to capture the German international. Ozil has at times appeared to be having a tough time adjusting to the physical nature of the Premier League, this is something that the Fletcher/Carrick duo can capitalize on to keep the visionary at bay.
With both of these teams coming off disastrous games, they both need a victory, or at least a draw. Attempting to wager a guess at this game is a complete shot in the dark. If Arsenal’s free flowing, attack minded, game returns, I could see them pulling off a massive home win; however, if their defense again decides to take a holiday (5 goals to Liverpool, 6 goals to City) this game could be over before it ages thirty minutes. In predicting a final for these two “down in the doldrums” teams I would have to say both defenses will be stretched and there should be no shortage of goals like the last encounter. Final score: Arsenal 3-2 Manchester United.