Date: 27th August 2009 at 9:12am
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Arsenal take on champions Manchester United this weekend in what has been billed as the biggest match of the season yet. The Gunners travel to Old Trafford in good form and with a perfect record, having won all of their opening matches of the season.

United however, have a question mark over the ability to cope without winger Cristiano Ronaldo, but it’s that uncertainty that make the champions all the more dangerous. There have been moments of complacency in Arsenal’s games this season, allowing their opponents a sniff of hope of getting back into matches and it’s something that manager Arsène Wenger will be hoping to resolve sooner rather than later.

Arsenal Mania caught up with Manchester United fansite ManUtdTalk, and posed questions to no less than FIVE members of staff there – zuco, Jazz16, RedForceRising, redmaster and SolskjaertheLegend. May we say that it was a thoroughly engaging process and kudos to ManUtdTalk for collating the answers.

The general consensus amongst United fans seem to be that they aren’t sure whether they will win a fourth straight Premiership title, and that Arsenal do not have the ability and strength in-depth to challenge either. The player whom most of them want in the team is Francesc Fabregas, and they view Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin as the two main threats in the Arsenal side.

Coincidentally, both Arshavin and van Persie were rested against Celtic, whilst there is still a doubt over Fabregas’ fitness. A reciprocal interview with writers Asa Joséph and Asser Ghozlan is viewable here.

Onto the questions:

Who do you think will be Arsenal’s biggest threat in the match?

zuco: It has to be Arshavin. He was a class act from signing in January until the end of the season and in my opinion was key to you overhauling Aston Villa to claim 4th spot. He’s one of those players that can create something from nothing so we’ll have to be tight at the back to stop him.

Jazz16: I would have said Fabregas though I hear he could be out with a hamstring injury, which is good news for United. I’m going to go with Robin van Persie who is a fantastic player on his day. Moody but brilliant yet criminally under rated. He could do some damage with his left peg if he gets any space in and around the box. The baby faced arse shaving Russian is also a worry. I can see him getting Arsenal’s player of the season. He is some player alright.

redmaster: van Persie, he has a knack of scoring against us.

Who do we have to look out for from your team?

zuco: One name stands out. Wayne Rooney. He’s taken on a more central role this season and is thriving in it. He also seems to love scoring against Arsenal so I’m expecting a big performance from him on Sunday.

Jazz16: I’m going to go for Berbatov. I’m a big fan of his and think he will have an amazing season. He is pure genius and his technique is up there with the very best in the entire league. Against yourselves I can see him dropping short for the ball, holding it up, laying balls off, popping a few little flicks and generally being a thorn in your defence. Watch him go.

RedForceRising: Rooney and Berbatov. I think this combo might get the better of Gallas and Vermaelen.

Looking at the head-to-head, you have quite a good record over us. But in recent years, Wenger v Ferguson matches have been close. Do you think this trend will continue?

zuco: Matches against the big four have always been tight affairs, usually won by an odd goal, but I think United v Arsenal matches tend to be a little more open because we both play attacking football. That has perhaps worked more in our favour in recent seasons because your defence isn’t what it once was and us having Ronaldo in the team who usually takes up two markers and leaves space for others. You seem to be getting everyone back from injuries now and with us losing Ronaldo, I think the teams are more evenly matched.

Jazz16: The rivalry isn’t as intense as it used to be. A lot of that is due to the fact that Arsenal haven’t been in contention for the title for a few years now. As for recent games, it’s been tit for tat with some great games between the two sides. It’s hard to tell if the trend will continue but the game next weekend will be very close. A goal in it at most.

RedForceRising: The United players don’t get free pizza anymore, but this match is never easy. The fact is that both of these teams like to play attacking football and that will always produce chances. The scorelinesdon’t always reflect this, but the games between the Gunners and united are always tight. A lot will depend on the confidence the Gunners have. A few years ago, with Píres, Henry and Vieira, Arsenal played with a lot of swagger. It didn’t matter how big the opposition was, Arsenal’s self-confidence always seemed to give you a head start in any game. I don’t see the same confidence in Arsenal yet and that will be a deciding factor in some of the big games. If Arsène can restore that confidence this season, we’re all in big trouble (if your key players remain injury free).

redmaster: I predict a tight game, Arsenal have started the season very well and will be high on confidence, perhaps Arsenal having a midweek match will mean we are a little fresher.

SolskjaertheLegend: Yeah definitely, I’d be very surprised if one of us win by 2 or more goals. It’ll be a close affair.

How will you play against us?

zuco: Hard to say. Over the last few years we’ve adopted a 4-3-3 formation, or more accurately 4-2-3-1. It was a situation that best suited Ronaldo, but with him gone we seem to have reverted back to a more traditional 4-4-2. It might take some getting used to after not playing that way for a few years, but once the players get into the rhythm of it we’ll be back to our free flowing best. I hope we play mostly the same team that beat Wigan on Sunday. The one change I’d make is to swap Paul Scholes for Michael Carrick. Scholes is still a class act when given time on the ball, but against the better teams that close down quickly in midfield he doesn’t seem to be able to cope anymore.

RedForceRising: 4-4-2: Rooney, Berbatov, Nani, Fletcher, Scholes, Valencia, Evra, Vidic, O’Shea, Brown, Foster. Although Nani and Valencia are a big threat on the wings, Arsenal’s fullbacks are good and so it will be important to get the ball to Berbatov and Rooney as often as possible.

redmaster: I predict we will pack the midfield with energy, players like Fletcher and even perhaps Anderson, players who will hurry and hassle your midfield and try to break up your passing game.

How has pre-season treated you, any signings that would make a big impact on your season? More importantly, how will you cope without Ronaldo?

zuco: We did very well in pre-season. We scored plenty of goals and were unbeaten over 90 minutes (we lost on penalties though). The quality of opposition was hardly high though. Our pre seasons tend to be more like marketing exercises than actually preparing for the season. Some of the younger lads got some game time though and did well, so that’s one positive. Valencia should do well for us. He won’t be a prolific goalscorer and he’s not a Ronaldo replacement by any means, but he’ll create goals for the forwards by playing as a traditional winger; getting to the byline and putting quality balls into the box. Michael Owen could play a big part too. After a slow start in the first two games, he showed what he’s still capable of with a vintage goal against Wigan. Rooney has to stand up and be counted this season and prove that he can move out of Ronaldo’s shadow and be the focal point of our attack, which I’m sure he will.

Jazz16: Pre-season was a huge success. We won pretty much all our games with most of the squad getting a taste of the action. Macheda, Berbatov, Owen and Rooney all impressed which was crucial. The rest got some minutes on the clock in warm temperatures. Overall the trip was a success. Losing Ronaldo was a big blow and I’m not sure if we will recover quickly from it. Even when we played badly over the last 3 years you could nearly always guarantee Ronaldo would come up with a goal. His departure will have some benefits though. Nani is finally out of his shadow and Rooney can step up as the driving force of the team playing from a strikers position. No more accommodating to Ronaldo’s needs. It will be a tough season though and I predict we will finish second behind Chelsea.

RedForceRising: Pre-season was a success and Valencia will probably have the most immediate impact of our signings. Owen will chip in with a few goals, but I’m really looking forward to Gabriel Obertan, who I think can become a top player.

SolskjaertheLegend: I don’t think any one of our signings will make a ‘big’ impact, but I do think that Valencia AND Owen together can go along way in helping to get over the loss of Ronaldo. I’ve heard Overtan is a class act, but I haven’t seen enough of him to judge yet.

Which Arsenal player would you like in your squad?

zuco: Cesc Fabregas. He’s everything that we’re missing at the moment. We’ve got a lot of good midfielders, but no great ones. We lack a creative spark through the middle and Cesc would be ideal for filling that gap. How about a swap deal for O’Shea?

Jazz16: Has to be Fabregas. He would add so much to our midfield. He is a world class player and still very young. I don’t believe we have any current ‘world class’ midfielders at United. With Fabregas in United’s midfield we would own the Premiership.

RedForceRising: Cesc Fabregas without a shadow of a doubt. If United needed a certain type of player it would be him.

redmaster: Cesc Fabregas, midfield in probably our weakest area and he would walk into ours no problem.

Where do you expect to finish this season? Where do you think Arsenal will finish this season?

zuco: I’d be happy with 2nd or 3rd to be completely honest. After 3 league titles in a row we have to realise that we can’t win it every year. A change in formation and some new players to bed in means I’m expecting this to be a bit of a transitional season for us. I still think we’ll be there or thereabouts at the end of the season though. Arsenal have a good chance to win the league if they can keep everybody fit. Every team suffers with injuries to key players, but I think you have been hit hardest in the last couple of years. Any team missing Eduardo, van Persie, Rosicky, etc., would suffer and I think that’s why you’ve become consistent 4th place finishers. With a bit of luck on the injury front and obviously the addition of Arshavin, there’s no reason why you can’t win the league.

RedForceRising: United, top 2. Arsenal, 3rd place. You’ll probably do really well for most of the season, but a few injuries to key players, might expose what I perceive to be a slight lack of depth in the squad.

SolskjaertheLegend: I think we should finish top two. Chelsea look very strong and will push us all the way. I’m really not sure about Arsenal, If all their main players stay fit I think we’ll see a battle for third with Liverpool, but if not they’ll be 4th / 5th.

Who are the main contenders for the Premiership and Champions League?

zuco: The usual suspects will challenge for the Premier League. Chelsea are looking very strong under Ancelotti and would be my favourites to win it. Liverpool could suffer without Alonso as he was their link player in midfield. Without him, Gerrard has to keep dropping back into midfield and break his brilliant partnership with Torres. They’ll be up there at the end of the season though, probably in 3rd. City won’t get near the top spot this season. They’ve got too many big ego’s in the squad and they’ll need time to gel. Chelsea will be very strong in the Champions League. They’ve come very close in the last two season and with Ancelotti at the helm they could go all the way this year. Barca also have a chance to defend their crown and I think they’ll do well too. There would be outrage in Madrid if Barca won it though, as the final is being held in the Bernebeu. That’s the main reason in my opinion for Madrid’s heavy spending this Summer. Letting Barca win it on their own turf would be the ultimate slap in the face, so they’ve bought up some of the best players in the world to make a massive effort to win it themselves. If I was a betting man I’d put my money on Barca, Chelsea or Real Madrid.

Jazz16: Chelsea will win the league I think. With Ancelloti in charge and very few injuries as well as a new lease of life for players like Deco, Carvalho, Sheva and especially Drogba (it’s a f*cking disgrace) I’d say they are a good bet for the title. Players like Lampard, Ballack, Essien and Anelka will step up again. They have a really impressive, strong squad of players. As for the Champions League, it’s much more difficult to predict. You can’t look much further than the 4 English clubs as usual and now the two Spanish giants who will surely start as favourites. The CL is a coin flick, who knows who will win?

What’s your opinion on the recent billionaire culture in the Premier League?

zuco: Simply put, it’s ruining the game as we know it. I believe a club should only be able to spend what it brings in in revenue. We’ve always been able to spend big because we’ve been excellently run off the pitch and that has brought in money through merchandising all over the world. Chelsea were the first to ‘buy’ success with Abramovich and now City are taking it to the extreme. They’re affecting the market all over Europe, so they’re effecting hundreds of teams who will have to play inflated prices to get the players they want. Real Madrid have played a big part in this too, so it’s not entirely the fault of Premier League clubs, but England does seem to be the country the billionaires are all interested in, probably due to the popularity of the Premier League around the world.

Jazz16: In a way it’s ruining football even if it’s enriching the league as a whole. Football is all about money and greed these days but I try and not let these things bother me. It’s the beautiful game and I’ll watch it regardless of what happens off the pitch. I’m actually heading over to Old Trafford for the game with my brother. It’s my first United vs Arsenal game and I cannot wait. The atmosphere should be electric and it’s two teams going at it that are full of confidence and goals. Let’s hope it’s a classic, pizza, tunnels and all.

RedForceRising: Double-edged sword. Top players but the increases for tickets prices have resulted in a new crowd at stadiums who rather sit and not sing. Anybody who has attended a football match in Germany, will know that it is very important for the core of the fans to be the traditional working-class fans. It’s also important not to out-price the kids and teenagers attending the matches.

redmaster: Pros are it makes for a more competitive league with more quality teams other then the big four, against is the over inflated transfer market.

Once again, thanks to ManUtdTalk for their time and effort. They also conducted a reciprocal interview with Arsenal Mania, viewable here.


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