Can Arsenal’s skill overcome the physical United plan?
IT’S STILL August, the sun is still shining and training grounds remain pristine, with their lush green turf carefully nurtured through the off-season.
But if ever a single match was likely to define a club’s entire season stretching over the next eight-and-a-half months in English soccer, it is Arsenal’s visit to Manchester United today.
A flurry of early season goals, 15, in their first four matches in the League and qualifying round for the Champions League, bear enduring testimony to Arsenal’s creative intent. None can doubt that, while the innovative Frenchman Arsene Wenger retains control at the North London club, it will ever be different.
By the players he acquires, the values he inculcates, Wenger preaches an attacking creed based on high skill levels. It has long been thus.
But it has also become a staple sight of the season that when they encounter many of the big beasts, the likes of Chelsea and especially Manchester United, Arsenal’s touch looks suddenly less certain. United’s tactic to overwhelm the brilliant but sometimes brittle attacking geniuses of the Arsenal side has been to blast through them like some marauding parachute regiment on manoeuvres.
As in last season’s Champions League semi-final, Arsenal found themselves swept away by a level of physicality they were unable to handle. The 3-1 demolition job United did on the Londoners at The Emirates was instructive.
Nor was that the first time we had witnessed such a scenario…
It seems to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s belief that Arsenal can be muscled off their silky, sure touch by some simple, old fashioned English football physicality. He has proved the point in the past and will be anxious to make it again today.
Have Arsenal recruited to cover this apparent weakness? Not really. Although Thomas Ver maelen appears to have brought slightly more solidity at the back, André Arshavin is as much a touch player as Cesc Fabregas, who possesses as light a touch as Thomas Rosicky and Eduardo.
Not only have Arsenal seemed a little fragile, they haven’t been as big in a physical sense as United’s players.
The defining question of Arsenal’s season is this: can they handle better a side intent on physicality than they have done in the past? Can they compete, put the foot in and mean it when contesting the ball and keep it with a guard dog mentality that many United players have demonstrated down the years?
If they can, then their football will certainly be good enough to take them close to just about all the major titles. But if they are exposed again this season, as they clearly have been in recent seasons, then another disappointing campaign may be their fate.
Early in the season though it may be, today at Old Trafford will surely tell us so much about both sides’ prospects.