Well, it seemed like it took an eternity to arrive, but here we are, close to kick-off with nerves-a-jangling.
Or are they?
It has been a long time since I last saw so many Gooners so confident before a match at Old Trafford. Sure there is the odd person panicking, fearing a defensive collapse, something we all know is a very real possibility, but for the main part, Arsenal fans are right up for this one.
The last time we were like this, for me anyway, was when Man United came to the Emirates in the Champions League and Gibbs slipped. Prior to kick off the place was rocking and I’ve never seen the Emirates like that before or since.
The capitulation after Gibbs fell will live with me alongside the Champions League final and the match in which Man United assaulted us to end our unbeaten run.
Those matches will live longer in my memory than recent defeats to WBA and Newcastle, even the throwing away of a 2-0 lead at home to the Spuds will fade long before those other matches.
But we don’t have any fears today, well, mostly. We are heading there with the best away record in the league and a travelling support that will drive the players on rather than hold them back as they can do at The Emirates.
We have scored less away than we have at home (8 v 10) and they’ve only conceded six at Old Trafford all season, but still we are buoyant. They are unbeaten at home, but still we believe that we can win this.
More than the three points which are up for grabs, this match is about Arsenal and if we can compete with the big boys. The belief amongst the players and fans that we can will be tested tonight, a test we have failed more often than not.
With the Sun reporting that Fabianski is injured, we will see Chesney start in goal (something he is reported as having confirmed in Polish http://ht.ly/1aqGu5) and I have no fears about that. Had we seen Almunia return to goal then things would be slightly different, but the Spaniard seems to have shot himself in the foot. Playing the ‘I’m too injured to be on the bench’ card he is now reportedly angry at not being picked to play ahead of the injured Pole.
Fabianski is reported to be fit for the bench and that strikes me as a sensible option, after all, how often do you need to replace a keeper, and who would you rather have on the bench? An injured Fabianski (leg), and injured Almunia (elbow and pride) or the untested and unready James Shea?
Chesney will do us proud, and while the only concern I would have would be that he would try too hard to prove himself, I believe he is not that kind of player. He will do his job, and he will do it very well.
At the back we will see Clichy and Sagna taking the fullback roles, and no doubt Clichy will have the busier night with Nani targeting that flank and little cover from Arshavin if he plays in front of him. In the middle most are expecting Kos to partner Squillaci but I think we will see Djourou. Both have their own strengths, Kos with his tackling ability and Djourou with his height and power. Either or, if we don’t protect them it won’t make a bit of difference.
In midfield I think we are going to see Cesc return and have a feeling Song will be instructed to sit this time. Too often we have been hit on the break by Man United and we simply must have learnt that lesson. Jack will add that extra bit of bite in the middle, and with Man U being the cnuts we know they are expect them to try and goad the youngster in to doing something rash.
Up front I have a feeling we will see Van Persie start with Nasri right and Arshavin left. I have no evidence to back up Chamakh starting on the bench other than he’s knackered and Van Persie is fresh. Should Cesc not play expect that we will see both of them. I don’t need to talk about Nasri and Evra, we know what one can do and what the other has said. What they both produce tonight is what matters.
If that isn’t enough to take all the points then I don’t know. There are some doubts over whether Scholes will play, having been injured for most of the week. We know what he can with his passing range and shooting, and it is just our luck that we are facing United just as Rooney is returning to form. Even if he can’t find his feet, expect him to know where the turf is when he gets in the box.
But no matter how good they play, if Nani and Berbatov turn up or not, this will be a hostile match in which we will get to see just how much our team has strengthened. We should have more talent, ability, pace and creativity, but if we fail to match their commitment and determination we will be leaving Old Trafford with nothing other than another lesson to learn.
These days matches can be hyped to ridiculous levels, but this is a massive match, for Arsenal if not for Man United. It is bigger for us because of our recent record against them. It is more important because we are the team with the fragile confidence of young players who have yet to truly make their mark.
But what should not get lost in among all that is the most important thing:
We are The Arsenal!
RT @Orbinho: The last Arsenal ‘keeper to make his league debut v. Man Utd was Stuart Taylor 25 Nov 2001 in 3-1 win @ Highbury, not a good day for Barthez------------
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