Arse­nal v United, a once mar­quee tie that’s lost its gloss

The Star Early Edition - - SOCCER -

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

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