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  • 13 December 2010
  • • 20:00
  • • Old Trafford, Manchester
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Manchester United - Arsenal Preview: Ferdinand, Evra & Scholes expected to be fit but Fabregas unlikely to start

Manchester United - Arsenal Preview: Ferdinand, Evra & Scholes expected to be fit but Fabregas unlikely to start

By Graham Lister

TEAM NEWS

Manchester United


Sir Alex Ferguson is confident that centre-back Rio Ferdinand, left-back Patrice Evra and midfield pass-master Paul Scholes will all be fit to face Arsenal in one of the season's most keenly anticipated clashes.

Darren Fletcher could return to the starting XI, having proved himself a useful midfield warrior in recent meetings with the Gunners.

Adding defensive cover, probably from the bench, both Wes Brown and Jonny Evans are expected to have shrugged off the effects of 'flu to return to the squad.

However, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen are both ruled out with hamstring injuries, while Antonio Valencia continiues his recovery from damaged ligaments in his fractured and dislocated ankle.

Possible starting XI: Van der Sar; Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Anderson, Scholes, Fletcher, Nani; Berbatov, Rooney.

 
Arsenal

Arsene Wenger will give captain Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) and fellow midfielder Abou Diaby (ankle) as long as possible to prove their fitness before he finalises his team, but the Gunners boss concedes that both have only a "small chance" of playing.

Kieran Gibbs is out again, having twisted an ankle against Partizan Belgrade in midweek, but Johan Djourou could be back after a thigh strain.

Manuel Almunia (elbow), Emmanuel Frimpong (knee) and Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles) remain sidelined.

Wenger may start with midweek goalscorers Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott on the bench, with a view to introducing them during the course of the match.

Possible starting XI: Fabianski; Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy; Song, Wilshere, Denilson, Nasri, Arshavin; Chamakh.

Something has to give

Manchester United - third in the table before the weekend's matches and with a game in hand - boast the Premier League's best home record (22 points from 24) and are top of the 'first-half' table. Joint-leaders Arsenal, who sit level with Manchester City, have the strongest away record (17 points out of 24) and top the 'second half' table. So something will have to give at Old Trafford on Monday night unless these two perennial adversaries are forced to settle for an honourable draw.

The looming showdown is evocative of previous titanic clashes between the pair who virtually monopolised the Premier League title for some eight seasons around the turn of the Millennium, when their ferocious rivalry was a piquant ingredient in the domestic mix.

But Monday's game is not a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, for although United remain unbeaten, they have been only intermittently impressive this season; and uncharacteristically careless away from home. Meanwhile Arsenal's habitual creativity has been repeatedly undone by the liability of a vulnerable defence, reflected in nine dropped points at the Emirates.

Such shortcomings would have seen both sides well off the pace had Chelsea maintained their imperious start and not tumbled into a post-Wilkins slump. As it is, Arsenal and United find themselves somewhat surprised to be setting the pace in this season of unpredictability - and each can strike a significant blow against the other in this 183rd league meeting between them.

United have 74 wins so far to Arsenal's 66; while in terms of the two managers, this will be their 43rd head-to-head clash in all competitions, with Ferguson ahead by three wins (17 v 14, with 11 draws). However, the tide has recently been running strongly in United's favour: the Red Devils are unbeaten in their last five matches against Arsenal in all competitions, winning four, and the Gunners have lost seven of their last nine trips to Old Trafford in league and cup. They are also without a win in their last 10 matches against United or Chelsea - and of course, haven't lifted a major trophy since beating United on penalties in the FA Cup final of 2005.  

Crises, training centres, babies - and respect

It is statistics such as these which prompted United full-back Patrice Evra to describe Arsenal in the build-up as nothing more than a "training centre", and their trophy drought as "ridiculous" and a "crisis". Evra has previously derided the Gunners, saying after United's victory over them in the 2009 Champions League semi-finals that it had been "11 men against 11 babies".

Wenger diplomatically declined to rise to the taunt, contenting himself with the wry observation that big players always respect their opponents.

He might have pointed out that his club's trophy drought had coincided with a period in which they built a brand new stadium while maintaining financial stability, not splashing out imprudently on a lot of big name players but developing home-grown talent, remaining in the top four and qualifying for the knock-out stages of the Champions League in every season. Not as exciting or immediately gratifying as lifting silverware, perhaps; but an admirable level of consistency and responsibility nonetheless.

Samir Nasri's response to compatriot Evra's jibes was to insist that Arsenal are capable and confident of securing a good result at Old Trafford this time. They have the added incentive of trying to ensure that United do not emulate their feat of going through an entire league campaign undefeated. We'll see on Monday, when the talking stops and the teams must deliver.

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Last Five Matches
Odds
Team News
Available Squads
1Edwin van der Sar Goalkeeper
21Rafael SilvaMidfielder
5Rio FerdinandDefender
15Nemanja VidicDefender
3Patrice EvraDefender
17NaniMidfielder
24Darren FletcherMidfielder
8AndersonMidfielder
16Michael CarrickMidfielder
13Ji-Sung ParkMidfielder
10Wayne RooneyStriker
29Tomasz KuszczakGoalkeeper
5Wes BrownDefender
12Chris SmallingDefender
11Ryan GiggsManager/Coach
25Gabriel ObertanStriker
14Javier HernándezStriker
9Dimitar BerbatovStriker
1Wojciech SzczesnyGoalkeeper
3Bacary SagnaDefender
6Laurent KoscielnyDefender
18Sébastien SquillaciDefender
22Gael ClichyDefender
8Samir NasriMidfielder
17Alexandre SongMidfielder
7Tomas RosickyMidfielder
10Jack WilshereMidfielder
10Andrey ArshavinMidfielder
29Marouane ChamakhStriker
21Lukasz FabianskiGoalkeeper
5Johan DjourouDefender
15DenilsonMidfielder
4Cesc FàbregasMidfielder
20Robin van PersieStriker
17Nicklas BendtnerStriker
14Theo WalcottStriker
Players to Watch
Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney
Position: Striker
Squad Number: 10
Games Goals YC RC
4 2 0 0
The recently troubled England striker is looking close to his best again after a forgettable six months he wouldn't want to re-live.

From the moment he announced his arrival on the big stage with a stunning goal for Everton against David Seaman, Rooney has made Arsenal suffer. He boasts an excellent goalscoring record against the north Londoners and, as he continues to regain his fitness, form and confidence, will relish the opportunity to inflict more misery on these opponents.

The Gunners' suspect central defenders - and goalkeeper - will need to raise their game to contain Rooney and his strike partner Dimitar Berbatov.
Samir Nasri
Samir Nasri
Position: Midfielder
Squad Number: 8
Games Goals YC RC
4 0 0 0
The France international has blossomed this season, in tandem with or without Cesc Fabregas, assuming much of the creative responsibility while leading the way in the scoring stakes with 12 goals to his name already - as many as he'd scored in total in his first two seasons at the Emirates.

His sharp footballing brain, nimble feet and close control, allied to an impressive turn of speed, have elevated Nasri to the top echelon of Premier League performers, and with four goals in his last three starts, he is in the form and mood to make a difference for his team against opponents who, he claims, have lost their once imposing aura.
Prediction
Manchester United won their last Premier League home game 7-1, against Blackburn Rovers; Arsenal's last away game brought them a 4-2 victory at Aston Villa. A win for either side on Monday will put (or keep) them top of the table, and while home advantage and recent head-to-head results undoubtedly favour United, the Gunners will be motivated by their desire to break a hoodoo against their main title rivals, and buoyed by a strong away record.

United will probably allow Arsenal to come onto them, then try to hit them on fast, incisive breaks: a tactic that has worked well for them in recent meetings. Arsenal will look to tighten up defensively and exploit their abundant possession by giving clinical execution priority over excessive elaboration.

With much at stake, and weaknesses as well as strengths apparent in both teams, a scoring draw seems a distinctly possible outcome.
Editor's Prediction

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