Arsenal v United preview: first goal as crucial as they come

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wenger-united-4343I don’t need to tell you that it’s Manchester United at home tonight and there’s a Champions League final spot up for grabs. You already know that. I don’t need to tell you that we’re 1-0 down and need to replicate the score or net 3 times if United happen to grab a goal. You already know that too.

But what I will tell you is that that it’s going to take our best performance of the season, perhaps the best performance of the last three seasons, to beat United and make it to the final tonight. Anything less than that and we will fail – it’s as simple as that. 

Thankfully we have the team available to get the result we need to win this tie. Robin van Persie has been passed fit and will certain to join Emmanuel Adebayor up front to spearhead an attacking 4-4-2 formation. My feeling is that Cesc Fabregas will drop back to partner Alex Song in the middle of the park, with Abou Diaby making way for Samir Nasri on the left and Theo Walcott completing the front six on the right.

At the back the only contentious issue is whether it is Mikael Silvestre or Johan Djourou who partners Kolo Toure at the back, with Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna set to take up the fullback positions. Personally I would be selecting the taller and pacier Djourou, who played against Portsmouth on the weekend. Manuel Almunia, our hero from the first leg, will of course start in goals.

Going into this game I think it’s fair to say that the tie is balanced at around 65-35 in United’s favour. We have to score and they don’t and that means they definitely have an advantage.

I’m certain that United’s philosophy going into this game will be to focus on defence but look to hit us with the pace of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in order to find the away goal. They won’t care when they get it and I just can’t see them coming out with the same intensity that they did at Old Trafford. Our formation won’t allow it and to be perfectly honest, it would play into our hands.

In my opinion the best way to trouble United at the back is to play a high-intensity pressing game and target their fullbacks. John O’Shea may have scored the winner in the first-leg but he’s far from a brilliant defender and Patrice Evra is not in the best form at the moment. Pressuring the full-backs will force the United wingers back and that means they become less of a threat on the break. Walcott needs to be going at Evra from the first minute and Nasri, although likely to play slightly more defensively to balance Walcott’s attacking role, needs to work to ensure O’Shea stays pegged back.

The key to getting through this tie is to score the first goal. While United will come out with the intention of getting an away goal at any point in the game, leveling the tie will fire up the crowd and massively change the complexion of the game. United will know that any time they push forward they could concede at the back and bagging the first goal might just give us the momentum to go on and win it normal time.

Arsene Wenger has alluded to the notion that it will take a complete team performance to get the job done, but in a game as big as this you have to look to the experienced big guns to put in big performances. That means Adebayor and van Persie up front, Fabregas and Walcott in the middle and Toure and Almunia at the back. It’s important that Walcott plays with real energy and directness to trouble United while the other four need to ensure they lead by example and work hard and stay focused for the entire match. Anything less and we will fall.

It really doesn’t get much bigger than Manchester United in your own backyard for a place in the Champions League final. It’s a huge opportunity for this group of players to show the world what they can do and with nothing else to play for this season, anything less than 100% effort from every member of the team would be unacceptable. At the end of the day that’s all we can ask for as supporters, we just have to hope that it’s enough to get us through what should be an epic contest.

Wherever you are in the world tonight, enjoy the game. I sincerely hope we get the happy ending we’re hoping for.


Have your say on Arsenal’s huge game against Manchester United by leaving a comment.


52 thoughts on “Arsenal v United preview: first goal as crucial as they come

  1. Good analysis of the game–more than anything we need a clean sheet. But I agree that if we can get a score without conceding the crowd may see us through to another goal or at least through extra time. But we’ll have to be patient about getting that goal without exposing ourselves at the back with our shaky line. I expect the first half to be nervy with MU sitting back waiting for the counter. But with a bit of composure and determination we might just make it. Come on Arsenal!!

  2. Big, big game tonight. By far the biggest game in the Emirates’ short history. Im pretty confident about this one, i reckon we will win tonight. 2-0 to the Arsenal!

  3. Great analysis SF
    I am very nervous about tonight, so nervous I’m unable to concentrate at work. But I’m still overly confident that we will make it past Man U. 4-4-2 it is tonight, as mentioned. Does AW play Fab-denilson, Fab-Song,Fab-Diaby tonight? I wonder, coz that combination is key to us reaching Rome. Definitely Nasri and Theo on the wings.

  4. I think spot on comment about the ManYoo full backs and the pressure on Evra is even greater as he is one booking away from missing the final. I would like to see – at some point – Eboue working the right with Theo.

  5. Beautifully put SF. Nothing to add there. We’ll know after 5 mins whether Arsenal are really going to have a go and as they have no option, I really would love to see the team do to Man U what they did to us last week. Nervous as hell!

  6. @SF
    Bang on with your assessment of the game. It is crucial that we score first and early. That will open manure up as they push forward to get an away goal. If this was a utopian society, we will go 2-0 up, manure will score to make it 2-1 then in the dying sceonds we net our third to take us through to the final. I don’t think my heart could take that so lets get 3 to finish them off. Looking forward to the game, only 9 3/4 hours to go. At least you guys down under can have a sllep first, if you can that is.

  7. SF, great analysis as usual. I hope Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t read your blog, or we’re fucked! 🙂

    C’mon Arsenal.

  8. Morning SF & fellow Gooners,

    Here are my thoughts on tonight’s game:

    – Wenger has to stop experimenting. He played key players in the wrong areas in the 1st leg against Man United and it backfired, BIG TIME! Tonight, he must pick the best team available, but most importantly, play his players in their best positions.

    – I need to see the Adebayor of old in appearance tonight. The player, who constantly harasses opposition defenders when we haven’t got the ball and provides an aerial battle with the opposition defence.

    Any chances that come his way, he must put them away. Personally I feel he still needs to improve on his goal conversion rate. He is not clinical enough for my liking.

    – The team must attack together, but when they are without the ball, they must press the opposition at all times. A lot of energy could be lost by doing this, but this is the semi-finals of the Champions League. We may not reach this round again for a while, so 100% commitment must be in play this evening.

    – Fabregas has to start in central midfield. As far as I’m concerned, Fabregas and Arshavin are the only world class players we have in our squad. Fabregas is the heartbeat of our beloved team. Every single move is normally started by this fantastic talent. We need to bring the best out of him tonight and central midfield is where he makes us tick.

    – Walcott needs to provide the team with pace, penetration and a goal threat tonight. In many of the games he has appeared for us, he tends to hog the touchline too much when he is on the ball. He needs to vary his play and come inside a bit more. Also if he is not in the game, he must go and search for the ball, instead of staying out wide.

    We need a BIG performance from him tonight.

    Can we pull it off tonight? I certainly think we can, however I think we may need to score three goals tonight in order to progress. I just can’t see Man United not scoring.


  9. It really does have to be a huge performance. A mediocre one, even against a below-par United, will see us fail.

    We really have to go for it and if we manage to go 1-0 up, we mustn’t relax as a goal from them will kill us.

    We can do it. I’d personally be happy with pens as I believe we would win easy. But I’d much prefer a 2-0 win in the ninety mins!!

  10. I think every fan has that belief in the team but also every fan is shitting themselves, because if United do get that goal, then tie could be over like that. Our boys have to show United we mean business and not be scared of them. ‘We can do what you can do but better kind of thing’ Im just hoping for the right result. I will be watching the game with butterflies in mt stomach until we equalise on aggregate. Even at 2-1 to us, we still have a chance.

  11. Important game for us and an early goal will be crucial because this will certainly put pressure on there defence. But we need to be cautious bcz this can happen vice verse against us well.Ade has an big role to play

  12. Come on Arsenal .This is the day we all have been waiting for.Prove all your critics wrong today.Great work SF.Give us a spectacular write up for arsenal win tommorrow.

  13. Wenger is surely searching for rare individuals.

    The key word here is rare. There are many who parrot the strong central defender/defensive mid-fielder line who have no interest in seeing Wenger actually find one of these players, especially one who can fit with the rest of the squad. The fact that they are very difficult to find at the higher levels is oh-so-convenient for these critics.

    On paper and end-of-season form, next year’s Arsenal will have an attack difficult to live with on a good surface, especially in Europe where the less cultured defenses of lower table clubs won’t be an issue. Still, it remains to be seen if:

    a) this is enough, without the called-for hard men, especially domestically,

    b) that such a side can function at the right level when more than one of the core group are out injured, and

    c) if the entire premise is fatally flawed – Arsenal will never have enough of the core fully fit to reach their maximum potential, and/or the hard players bring the attack back to merely good from great.

    There seem to be two out of three chances it won’t work out, but on their day the next Arsenal will make good teams look very plain.

    With the missing players, especially in the back, I don’t think Tuesday will be one of those days.

  14. Excellent summing up as usual SF. I don’t necessarily think that scoring early would be good for us. Utd will start cautiously, as they don’t have to score to win the game. If score early it’ll open the game right up and they are more than capable of putting one past us. I’d like to see a goalless first half, with us keeping hold of the ball. We need to score midway through the second half. They’ll then have to come out and hopefully leave gaps at the back for us to nick a second. We absolutely cannot afford to lose a goal or I think we’ve had it. Apparently Rio ferdinand is due to play so ade needs to be smashing into his dodgy ribs right from the start. They’ve also got Rooney, Tevez and Evra on yellow cards, so they’ll miss the final if they pick up another. We need to needling all 3 as much as possible, especially Rooney, as the ugly pikie’s got a short temper. At the back, concentration is the key. We cannot afford a repeat of the schoolboy defensive error that led to their goal last week. I’d prefer to see Djourou rather than Silvestre, who’s just too slow now for a game like this. I think we would all agree that we’ve got further in this competition than we realistically thought we would. Let’s hope we get a performance tonight good enough to see us take another step

  15. Today is judgement day for our club. We were so lucky that we didn’t get a pasting from United and that it was only 1-0 in the end. We really have to be on top of our game in all departments. Almunia, who has had his critics, was in inspirational form at Old Trafford. When the opposition applaud your keeper, then you know he’s done something right. And he had to be inspirational as our defence was anything but water-tight.

    It may sound odd but, with the players we have, playing defensively really doesn’t suit us. In the old days, you could bring on Vivas for Overmars or Edu for Pires or push Lauren upfield. I can’t see how you can do something like that with this team. Now that Gilberto and Flamini have moved on, most of the midfielders are attack-minded. Diaby is great going forward but needs to up his game defensively; Denilson is too inconsistent as is Alex Song, although in our last few games he’s improved – but for how long? We’ve got plenty of creativity in Cesc, Nasri and Arshavin, who is unlucky to be cup-tied as I think he would have made an impact against United.

    The Pompey game gave us the opportunity to give the likes of Vela, Ramsey and Djourou a run out and rest the likes of Cesc, Silvestre, Ade, Toure and Nasri. United are chasing the title and didn’t have that luxury as the Scousers are hot on their heels. We looked a bit jaded physically on Wednesday night and our players have had just under a week’s rest to re-charge their batteries.

    United’s record in London this season is not particularly great. Defeats to us and Fulham, drawing at Chavski and the Spuds and a narrow win at Upton Park speak for themselves. Rio Ferdinand won’t be 100% and we know Van der Sar can be a bit vulnerable. These are some of the things we must exploit from the word go.

    United don’t like it when we come at them with our intricate passing and bursts of pace down the flanks. We also need an early goal – ideally in the first fifteen minutes – so they will have no choice but to come at Arsenal, leaving gaps for us to take advantage of. Also, we fans must make the Emirates a real cauldron of noise. It’s a Champions League SEMI FINAL and God knows if we will ever get to another one after this. We must treat this game as if it’s our last, scream until your lungs get sore and give the lads some extra encouragement. From what I’ve heard, our fans out-sang the ‘Cockney Reds’ that are United fans for long periods at Old Trafford, so more of the same will be needed. We must not give away cheap set pieces near our penalty area and we must frustrate them in all areas of the pitch, as we did back in November, but without conceding the goal. Even if we do go out, at least go out fighting.

    I’ve been reading utter rubbish in the papers that Cesc has secretly told friends that he will leave if we don’t win the Champions League this season, and finish empty-handed yet again. What he must remember is that we win as a team and we lose as a team and if we do go out, the whole team must look back and say, ‘What could I have done better?’ This team, with the exception of a few departures, has been together for three years now. Next season, I feel, will be THE season where we MUST deliver silverware.

    First of all, Wenger has to take an audit of the squad and move people on but only if we sign adequate replacements first. I think the club should cut their losses on Rosicky if he doesn’t make it through pre-season. We can’t afford to be in a position to wait for him any longer. He’s a great player but if your body tells you ‘no more’, then you have to respect that. We must be productive in the transfer window and have a good pre-season, getting everyone fit and ready and integrating any new players at the earliest opportunity.


  16. Let oldman Wenger best form the best team for the best result toning with 100% fitness in every player.
    Thank God that Van Persie is back, Adebayor will best perform to the fulliest.
    Gunners, I am watching you toning with my eyes open but blind until victory

  17. Couldn’t sleep last night so tonight is going to be a struggle but I did do a 13 hr shift today and a couple of beers and dominoes should do the trick. Tommorow I have to work with a manure supporter who also goes for villareal and I gave him so much shit that day so hopefully it’s deja vu and with nasri scoring 2 would be deja ve again and they are feelings I want to repeat not the 1st leg so hopefully arsne goes for 4 4 2 and it’s not mind games trying to fool ol red nose. I’m shitting myself and hopefully I’ll get some sleep and win or everyone (especially kerien) will get it in the morning when I rock up to work.

  18. Well it really is this simple,i’ve said it again and i’ll say it now…Adebayor is not what he is made to be,i mean he is a good footballer but cerainly not a centre forward!As such i might just as well have Bendtner starting.That aside, we have to make sure,very sure that we don’t concede a goal,if we do our goose we’ll have been cooked…i just don’t see us puting 3 past united!But i have this feeling that the gods want to smile on us…we’ll see. 9:45 pm Kenyan time(East Africa time)

  19. Call the shot gunners, we will be rooting from our hearts and souls. GO FOR IT O2 go!

  20. tish, u believe we can do it. am wary of giving so positive comments. lets just hope things work out well and we are able to score. without a doubt coz MAN U is coming there to score, i hate to say it, but it is a reality to face. u know what our problem has always been. al;ot of ball possesion even when we are in the 18m range where we acn shoot.
    God forbid that tonite we get fried in our own backyard.









  22. As always, SF, good good stuff on the preview.

    It’s an odd thing. I was nervous going into the first leg. RVP was out, our team were a bit put out physically with still trying to secure 4th in the Premiership and playing FA Cup. I just had a feeling that the first leg was going to be a tough go.

    But this time I’m much more positive. The regulars, for the most part, are all a weeks rested. RVP is back. We know (at least I think we know) that AW will go with our best attacking formation of 4-4-2. The team seem really to have come together on putting in the right performance to go through and doing it for the fans and for Wenger.

    In reading all the articles on blogs and in the rags, the mindset from Wenger on down is spot on. We CAN win this match. We DO have the players, talent, spirit to do it.

    The first leg, despite a 1-0 loss, appears not to have put the lads on the back foot but rather just the opposite. We took the best United had to offer, on their pitch, and the best they could do was a 1-0 score. Playing at The Emirates, in front of our fans, and with the team as close to fully fit and rested as possible…this is where the lightning strikes for us. This is where we plant the flag and say THIS IS OUR HOUSE AND THIS IS OUR TIME!!

  23. Pretty tense now, not that I haven’t been tense all week, going to watch the game with Turkish commentry, all they seem to say is the platers name, corner, offside, goal etc so no different there then. Please let us win.
    Come on you Gunners.

  24. Whoah… can’t wait for us to put 1 over Man U. I’m pretty confident that not only will we qualify for the Cl final, but we’ll do so convincingly. The wait is getting unbearable though. My lineup for today:
    sagna toure djouro gibbs
    nasri fab diaby/song walcott
    ——-VP Ade

  25. I AM NERVOUS AS FOOK DUDES AND LADIES. cant wait for the start of the match, i think we will scrape it in injury time 2-0 to the arse COME ON YA BASTARDS!!!!

    i’ll try and post during the match.

  26. Well this is it, the time for all the talking to stop because tonite will prove if wenger,s philosophy and team are as good as we think. the true test against the cl holders and our biggest game at the emirates ever,are arsenal good enough to progress or at the end of the night will we be left with an empty trophy cabinet again???..over to you boys…COME ON ARSENAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. TEAMS Arsenal v Man Utd
    Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Fabregas, Toure, Nasri, Van Persie, Walcott, Song, Djourou, Adebayor, Gibbs. Subs to follow.
    Man Utd: Van der Sar, Evra, Ferdinand, Ronaldo, Anderson, Rooney, Park, Vidic, Carrick, O’Shea, Fletcher. Subs to follow.

  28. Are you aussies up yet? Got to go and get the first beer, so wont be able to write anything. I expect there will be a lot of comments on tomorrows blog whatever the result. Lets hope they are happy comments.

  29. WTF!! It is just not our day. Gibbs slips and fucking park scores then Ronaldo somehow scores a free kick. Fucking Man Utd. Ref is clearly a united fan, and he doesnt like walcott either. We have no chance. We are out. Come on Barcelona!!!

  30. Btw – Im not blamin gibbs, can happen to anyone just unfortunate it came in this game at that time and it supplied certain consequences. He will get stick!

  31. 3 hrs sleep for what!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Gibbs is so unlucky really hope he doesn’t get any stick for this as the lad has been awesome and poor buger didn’t even come out for the 2nd half. Why couldn’t thatcher have broken ronaldos leg haha. Hope he f’cks off to real and I relly hope henry scores a hat trick in the final as I can’t bear a repeat of last years dull affair.
    Lets get 3rd and to top it off I have to work with a manure supporter today so if I get sacked for kciking his smart head in I would of won something today.
    Also we now have to deal with all the plastic fans calling themselves fans calling for arsnes head but wtf was flamster doing at the ground judas.

  32. I am totally frustrated,disappointed .Can’t control myself.Please arsene don’t qualify for next year champions league.First teach this team to win FA cup and Carling cup then go for champions league.It is semifinal today and no one in the pitch is ready to provide the spark that gives us the momentum.I am sorry they are young but if you want to win as young you have to be passionate. I can’t see anyone there showing it.They are playing against the defending champions.The score is already 0-3 and even if we scored two away goals we are finished by now.It’s 1:45 am in chennai ,india now and i am totally disappointed disappointed disappointed.I want a fight back from the team even if they lose.I want them to fight before they give up.Teach them to fight arsene then teach passing football.

  33. What a gutless performance, as a 60’s Leeds supporter I hoped you would put a fight and win, where are your frank Mclintocks etc who can mix it it with the best of hard teams such as Scum united,What a bunch of girls maybe as your girls who won the their FA cup may be a better prospect,. GET STUCK IN this is the premier league. You will win nothing playing this way,sad day for Arsenal FC

  34. We came out strong and it looked to be a great game. The first goal shook us. It was going to take us a couple of minutes to regroup and try for 3. But the second came so soon it just ended it. Players knew this…

    I cant even describe how I feel right now. It like my heart has been pulled from my chest and wrung like a sponge. I really hope Barca can win it for all us football purists…

  35. our coach “Arsene” really has to consider making the squad bigger by adding more stronger + experienced players, and should lose any of the current players.
    pulling lads out of the reserves for huge games is totaly ridiculous and he should consider taking the fans thoughts in consideration, thus we also knw that we can be classed with any other team tht has won the champions league.

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