Arsenal are on the horizon. Each year when this one comes around I find it difficult not to come over a little misty-eyed, daydreaming about when Keane and Vieira were ready to rip each other’s throat out before the game had even started. The tunnel fight video, for example, never gets old (a favourite moment is Pascal Cygan’s hilarious attempt to stare-out Keane afterwards).
These days the bloodthirsty claustrophobia of Highbury has long gone (Arsene Wenger used to blame the small pitch size for how many cards his team picked up) along with the warriors who used to call it home. Back then of course, Ferguson and Wenger couldn’t stand each other, the entire Arsenal team couldn’t stand van Nistelrooy or Gabby Heinze and we all hated Lauren. Well I did, anyway.
Not quite like that anymore. Both clubs’ seasons have been pretty similar – no real consistency, a lightweight squad and a injury list worse than Bono’s. It’s oddly unsettling knowing that there isn’t a lot on the line, other than tentative sniff of the Champions League spots.
Both teams will care less about the fact that it’s Arsenal vs United and more about just picking up points. I can’t see Wenger at this point giving van Gaal a shove on the touchline like he did Mourinho. Shame really, as I can see van Gaal going for a slightly uncoordinated windmill attack (no Dutch stereotype intended).
Arsenal feather-light midfield has been a thorn in their side for much of the year and it’s a unit we’ll need Fellaini to bully; something he did well against City. His role could increase now considering Handsome Daley looks like he could be out for a while after doing his knee in the international break.
Much like Arsenal earlier on in the season, our injury list is now officially farcical. Yesterday Louis van Gaal gave a particularly van Gaal-esque performance in the press conference, as his charming yet increasingly trying haphazard command of English meant precisely zero journalists left the room really knowing anything about Blind’s status.
Van Gaal’s meandering fjord of an explanation went like this: “He has a brace on his knee. After 10 days’ rest, he’ll have another scan that will say more about the injury. It’s not as bad as the doctors thought after the match. It shall be a long story – but not six months or something.” Right-o. So basically: “It’s bad. Not that bad… but it’s going to bad. But not that bad.”
United themselves couldn’t keep up, the club hastily taking down a tweet saying he was out for six months. Whatever it is, it doesn’t take Dr Richard Steadman to know that in general knees are shit, brittle sandcastles of string. Frankly if the words ‘ligament’ and ‘scan’ are being tossed about, Blind will probably be gone for a good couple of months at an absolute minimum.
That’s a problem, frankly. Blind hasn’t been spectacular so far but being spectacular isn’t his job. He’s brought a degree of serenity into our midfield which was needed and more importantly he’s so dashed handsome that sometimes I don’t know whether I want to kiss him or punch him right in his dreamy cheekbones.
Otherwise, De Gea seems set to start. It will be interesting/nerve-jangling to see how the finger might affect his confidence. Shot stopping is purely instinctive for DDG so you’d hope that wouldn’t be an issue, but getting physical with crosses and diving at players feet might be another story.
Michael Carrick will be in the maybe pile, with van Gaal saying he’d need to check on him tomorrow. Luke Shaw the same. Di Maria is good to go, thank God. Arsenal may well have Olivier Giroud back after he broke his leg in August but if you assume he’ll probably come off the bench, Welbeck is the main threat up front.
Danny’s a classy guy and has kept quiet about the game so far, aided by an Arsenal press officer. Doubtless he’ll bat away a Shreeves-style inevitable “extra significance” question if he catches him before the game, but considering he was told pretty bluntly he wasn’t good enough by van Gaal, you’d forgive him for having a spring in his step.
The thing about Welbeck is that the deal made sense for everyone. He wanted to be the main guy up front, as any player wants to and that was never going to happen behind RVP and Rooney. Arsenal needed him and United didn’t want him, so there’s very little weight to the ‘point to prove’ drama. The meeja and fans love a good narrative, but the fact is that if Welbeck were at United now he’d either be on the bench or out on the left, neither of which he wants. If he scores against United you won’t catch me moaning about how we shouldn’t have let him go.
If it’s stats that get you off, they’re not particularly in our favour. We haven’t won away in seven games, and Arsenal haven’t lost at home in 23. Sanchez is a danger with seven goals in six games and if Fellaini is preferred to Herrera again, his job should be to sit on him, as well as muscle around in front of their centre-halves.
He’s in form, our Marouane, though that’s largely because he’s finally been played in that more advanced, Everton-battering-ram position rather than Daley Blind-ing in defensive midfield, so it remains to be seen how LVG decides to deploy him against Sanchez.
That’s enough for now – tomorrow I’ll aim to touch on Rooney and see if we have a little more clarity on the starting lineups.
Track of the Day: Funeral by Band of Horses, 2006. No omen intended.