Arsenal v United, a once marquee tie that’s lost its gloss
MANCHESTER: It wasn’t so long ago that Arsenal v Manchester United was one of the marquee matches in the Premier League season, a fixture that went a long way towards deciding which team won the title.
Now, it pits two sides struggling to even get in the top four.
Arsenal are sixth and 20-time English champions United are seventh heading into tomorrow’s game at Emirates Stadium, with both clubs having had a tough start to the season mainly due to injury problems and suspect defending.
They have already been cut adrift by Chelsea, who are the unbeaten leaders after 11 games.
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal is counting the cost of the recent batch of international games, with goalkeeper David de Gea (dislocated finger), defender Luke Shaw (unspecified) and midfielders Angel di Maria (ankle), Daley Blind (knee) and Michael Carrick (groin) joining an alreadylengthy injury list at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal has been unfortunate with injuries since taking over in the off-season, with his defence regularly short of its best players and Colombia striker Radamel Falcao starting just three times following his expensive loan move from Monaco.
Van Gaal’s side hasn’t won any of their five away matches in the Premier League this season.
Danny Welbeck will look to show United were wrong to sell him on transfer deadline day this summer when he lines up for Arsenal against his old club for the first time. The England striker has scored five goals in 12 games for Arsenal since leaving his boyhood team, where he rarely got a start or was played out of position on the left wing.
“Personally, I have been surprised by his technical capacity, the way he understands the game, his work rate,” Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta said. “I rate him more now than I used to and this is a good sign because, normally, the opposite is true when you watch a player on a daily basis.”
While Welbeck and fellow summer signing Alexis Sanchez, who has scored six goals in his last four league starts, have been the positives for Arsenal this season, the defence remains a worry for manager Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal have thrown away a lead in their last two matches, drawing 3-3 against Anderlecht in the Champions League after being 3-0 ahead and conceding two late goals to lose 2-1 at Swansea.
Chelsea are turning the title race into a procession, with only surprise package Southampton in touching distance of the leaders ahead of their home match against West Brom tomorrow.
Chelsea hold a four-point lead and have played arguably their four toughest matches – away games at Everton, Liverpool, and the two Manchester clubs – without losing. Their biggest title rivals, defending champion Manchester City, are eight points behind in third.
“We don’t have the title in the bag,” goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said. “We are trying to win with every game that is possible but there will be still a long way to win the title.”
Top scorer Diego Costa should be refreshed after being rested by Spain over the international break.
Liverpool’s strikeforce were the main reason the team finished second in the Premier League last season. This time round, it’s proving Liverpool’s biggest issue.
In the absence of the injured Daniel Sturridge since early September, Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini have not scored a goal between them in the league.
Like Arsenal and United, Liverpool’s objective is simply finishing in the top four to secure a place in the Champions League, but they are currently in 11th place. – Sapa-AP