Can Arse­nal’s skill over­come the phys­i­cal United plan?

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

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.

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