By Rob Stewart
Former Arsenal manager Don Howe believes Gunners skipper Robin van Persie will have a crucial role for the Gunners against Manchester United on Sunday – as the first line of defence.
Howe is convinced that the only hope Arsenal have of beating the champions at the Emirates and gaining revenge for the 8-2 hammering at Old Trafford earlier this season rests on the whole of the team “pressing” their visitors, with Van Persie playing a key role in attack and defence.
“Both teams have been incredibly erratic but if you need a strategy then I think Arsenal need to press, press, press all over the pitch but Robin van Persie must take the lead,” Howe told Goal.com.
“I know he’s the captain and that he’s paid mainly to score goals and he is very good at that but he will have crucial defensive duties as well because it’s up to him to stop people like Rio Ferdinand playing out of defence.
“He needs to set the tone by running his socks off to close down the Man U defence and deny them the time and space they would like to play their stuff. He needs to knock them out of their stride by shutting them down and making them rush. It’s not pretty but it could be very effective.”
Arsenal will be attempting to bounce back from a surprise 3-2 defeat at Swansea City last weekend and Howe believes Arsene Wenger should take a leaf out of the Welsh side’s book to overcome United.
“Swansea can play really lovely football but it was also noticeable that when they were not in possession that they were in Arsenal’s faces and it worked a treat for them,” added the former England coach.
“In the games I have looked at, Arsenal have not worked hard enough defensively at closing the ball down early enough, particularly up front and it must be put right and they have got to put pressure on the United midfield.
“They have let teams play against them, especially against Swansea who kept the ball better than Arsenal did for large periods of the game and deserved the result they got.”
Howe, who coached the Gunners' 1971 Double winners and managed Arsenal from 1983 to 1986, added: “This is a really difficult match to predict and you really don’t know what you’re going to get with these teams.
“Manchester United seem to be thinking ‘you score two and we’ll score three’ which isn’t how titles are won.
“Arsenal fans used to be able to chant ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ whenever they got ahead pretty much safe in the knowledge that it was game-over. That is a thing of the past but it would be great if the fans were singing that again on Sunday at 6pm.
“But it will require a monumental effort because United will always be dangerous with people like Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes around. It’s good to see him back from a neutral point of view but I also hope Thierry Henry plays. He might only be ready for a cameo but his experience could be vital.”
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