Man United v Arsenal – The title race decider?

Even with the season only a couple of months old, and only seven games into the new Premier League season, one gets the feeling that this Sundays game at the Emirates between Manchester United and Arsenal is a hugely significant match that could potentially have a big impact on the rest of the campaign – for both sides.

While there will of course still be plenty of time and games with which to rectify mistakes made and points dropped in these early fixtures, the psychological effect of dropping points to big rivals this early in the year could prove a big hurdle to overcome.

Both sides have started brightly in patches but have also looked unconvincing at times. Arsenal have produced, as usual, some exquisite football in some matches but have looked hugely suspect defensively in others. Gabriel and Mertesacker, with Koscielny touch and go for the game after Arsene Wenger said the Frenchman had suffered a hamstring injury, will have to produce a commanding performance to steady any nerves about the defending that the Gunners faithful might have.

This defensive solidity will not be made any easier to achieve by the fact that all three of the clubs holding midfielders currently have niggles, with all three missing the game in midweek. If Wenger has deliberately held them back in order to be ready for the clash at the Emirates, then they will have a lot of faith to repay.

United have concerns of their own of course, none more so than the continuing Wayne Rooney conundrum. Looking off-the-pace against Wolfsburg, the recording-breaking English striker has looked anonymous in a few games so far. However, it has been well-documented that Arsenal are his favourite opponents, and a goal against them could easily get his confidence flowing and his season up and running with a bang. At least Van Gaal can now call on Phil Jones and Michael Carrick, with the latters availability surely a massive boost for the Dutchman.

The match up between Carrick and whichever midfield enforcer Wenger decides to play will be a fascinating one, as whoever dominates the middle of the park will be able to get at the opposition back four relatively easily – and since neither defence has looked overly convincing so far, that could lead to goals.

One of the main reasons this contest could well be so important is that the two sides look extremely similar in terms of their squads and the expectations their fans have for them this season. United are in pole position in the league after slip-ups from their neighbours in blue, while the Gunners are again occupying a familiar position for them – 4th.

Despite steady Premier League results so far, the matches that stick in the mind when it comes to Arsenal do tend to be the ones they lose; basically, the big ones. Both Champions League matches, and the game against Chelsea show that Wenger still seems to find it difficult organising his troops before key tactical battles.

Van Gaal on the other hand seems to relish the chance to get involved in that kind of contest, where formation and off the ball strategy can be as important as attacking prowess.

One also gets the feeling that confidence is such a vital ingredient with both sides that one particularly good or bad result could make or break the next few months for them. The clubs paths have been following relatively similar trajectories so far this year; one gets the feeling that whatever happens here could see them break off and start to head in quite different directions.

These two sides have enjoyed some epic tussles over the years, involving some fabulous players. This latest instalment of the running battle could help decide if either club ends up with silverware at the end of the year.

 


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