This weekend came the return of the FA cup, the highs the lows of a knock out competition and the final of this weekend’s fixtures comes Manchester United vs. Arsenal. This fixture brings back the immortal memories of the FA cup replay in 1999. However, unlike the beginning of the glory years for Arsene Wenger and the dawn of a treble winning side featuring the Class of ’92, this is a story of two teams vying for what for both of them will be the only trophy they can realistically win this season. Arsenal step into this tie current holders of the FA cup and third in the premier league, whilst United come to the fold playing ‘mediocre’ football.
As it is being played at old Trafford this would seemingly give united the advantage, however Manchester United have been an enigma all season. Many people forget that in the last season under Ferguson they were being accused of exactly the same thing they are now, winning games without playing particularly well. A season before Robin Van Persie helped united to their 20th league title they were written off as a spent force, a team who cannot compete with the money being spent by Chelsea and Man City. What’s the difference between now and then? two years? Two things; a lack of Alex Ferguson and £150 million spent on a wealth of talent.
Meanwhile, let us step back to the Arsenal team of 5 years ago, again a force that was out of sorts, a team which could not, or would not spend money on players until their stadium was paid off but crucially still competing for a champions league spot every year. A feat which they have managed for the last 16 years. Arsenal have paid off their stadium and have begun to spend again, however for many Arsenal fans there appears to be a lack of focus in the transfer windows; a focus on Arsene Wenger type players instead of players who can complete a team in the Premier League.
Although these two teams have to compete in the Premier League and are doing so with fervour to get the much coveted champions league spot, tonight’s game should give us a game which both teams want to win, more importantly it should be a game which both of their managers need to win. As I have said before, this appears to be the only viable trophy for both teams, and managers. For Arsene Wenger a chance to prove last season was not a one off, for LVG (Louis van Gaal) a chance to prove he has a direction.
LVG tactics have been analysed to death in the last number of weeks and we could analyse them for weeks to come if he keeps baffling us with multiple changes in formation and personel, so let’s continue…
For weeks Herrera hasn’t been played. A player who offers a threat going forward and a passing ability upfront. Rooney has taken to his old role of striker very well, however the Di Maria factor has played a part in United’s unattractive football of late. The inclusion of Fellaini as a striker is something which baffles myself and may others. The reason for me is simple, Flacao doesn’t score goals, fair enough, but when Falcao is on there seems to be a prodding, slow moving game behind him. It is not until Fellaini is brought on as a replacement for Falcao that United begin to play ‘hoof-ball,’. Why not try this tactic when he is on the pitch?
Against Newcastle there were some glimmers and moments of a United team which moved forward with pace, however leaving Rooney up top on his own can isolate him and surely a player of Falcao’s quality allows him to show his finishing credentials?
The final united enigma is the exclusion of Juan Mata. If indeed Rooney is to play further forward on the pitch then it does open up the number 10 position to be filled perfectly by Juan Mata, a player who can operate there and pull the strings of the united forward line, which again, with the inclusion of Ashley young, has found its width again. Ironically, BBC One’s Match of the Day commentators have mentioned there is a lack of speed upfront. James Wilson is underused there and there seems to be two forgotten united players who would perfectly fit the ‘player who runs in behind’ or the ‘speedy poacher’ role. One being Javier Hernandez, who is currently on loan at Real Madrid, and the other is a player who was sold to Arsenal 9 months ago, Danny Wellbeck.
Arsenal’s problems are more easily identified, especially when talking to their own fans. Its difficult for someone outside of the Arsenal fan base to understand the want to get rid of Arsene Wenger, a man who has maintained a top 4, Champions League competing team with balancing the books, a new stadium and a low(ish) wage structure. The stagnation in the Arsenal team, the lack of a trophy (bar last season’s FA cup win) and Wenger’s inability to bring a team together which matches his teams of the past all cause problems for the fan base. I would only say that what they have is not as good as they want, and Arsenal fans should only look to their opponents on Monday to see what happens with a change after a long term manager and although no United fan wanted Sir Alex Ferguson out, or very few, there are still similarities.
These two teams are similar in so many ways. Both teams are suffering from their own past success. Arsenal still are shaded by the looming shadow of The Invincibles and Manchester United of the Ferguson years. Let’s not forget that both teams are spending money again, united heavily but Arsenal have also stepped up their spending in the last two seasons, with the purchase of Mezhit Ozil and then Alexis Sanchez. Both of these players are outstanding, especially Sanchez, who has taken to the Premier League very quickly. It seems to me that there will be a comparison between not only the two managers and the two teams but between their definitive summer purchases. Sanchez from Barcelona for £35 million and Angel Di Maria for £60 million from Real Madrid, one succeeded on waning.
Ten years ago this would have been a game which would have captured the countries headlines, 15 years ago it would have had people clamouring to see it. However, now it is a game which could pass you by, in a competition which is not as highly regarded as it once was by Premier League teams and two teams which are no longer as highly regarded in the Premier League. This will either be one of the most exciting games of the season or, more likely, a game which plods along with some sideways passing and some goalkeeping excellence and will most likely be decided by a forced error in either defense. I will watch the game to determine where each team is heading and it will be an interesting game, however it may not be a pretty one.