Sunday, January 31, 2010

UNITED PREVIEW

The Big One

And winning it would make chelsea away, next weekend, an Even Bigger One.

Regardless of league position, these matches always matter a great deal- remember Keane and Vieira's tunnel row in 04/05, with both teams simply eating chelsea's dust in a one horse title race- but this one has a significance beyond itself, as the league table testifies. chelsea are beginning to pull away again but a win for either side today gives them something serious to think about.

Last season, United were never as good as the 'Quintuple' talk suggested; this time around, they're not as bad as the panic-merchants would have you believe.
It's been far from a vintage season for Ferguson, but most of United's problems are a matter for the future. Right now they have an unspectacular but still efficient team, low on flair but still capable of swamping teams. Eamon Dunphy described their midfield earlier this season as impoverished, but while they do lack real creativity in that area, no Arsenal fan will be pleased at the sight of Darren Fletcher today. They may not have a midfield that will always dominate, but United's hallmark has always been a directness, not in the long ball sense but in the sense that they move the ball forward sharply at their best, in something of a contrast to Arsenal's possession-oriented game. They don't need to have all of the ball to be dangerous.

I question Arsenal's character at times. What I would like to see, first and foremost, is no stupid mistakes. Our big-match record is less than impressive in recent years, and these contests hinge on very small matters. For the last two years we have seen individuals spark a collective implosion in some of the most significant games.
People always talk about Eduardo's leg-break in 07/08 as the pivotal moment- I always think about clichy falling asleep later in the same game. Or Kolo giving away a penalty straight after we'd equalised against Liverpool at Anfield weeks later.
How about those semi-finals last season? We saw Fabianski rush out to usher Drogba towards an empty net in the FA cup. Then when we needed to bring our best at the Emirates against United, mistakes by Gibbs and Almunia finished the job for them before they'd had to break sweat.
This season we've already seen own-goals by Diaby and Vermaelen against those same two teams. If there's a mental block there, it's something that Arsenal simply have to overcome to stand even a remote chance of winning something this or next season.

But in what's bound to be a close-fought game, not giving cheap goals away would be a start.

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