Arsenal and Manchester United have significant heritage in the Barclays Premier League, so it is no surprise that their 2011/12 clash at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is another eagerly anticipated fixture, which is due to take place on Sunday 22 January 2012, at 16:00 GMT.
The backdrop to this match couldn’t be more interesting. Arsenal were embarrassed in this fixture at Old Trafford early in the season, when United were rampant to defeat them 8-2, but, since then, both sides have had something of a topsy-turvy season.
United have regularly been sublime, but have also put in an occasional shocking performance, as most recently when falling to a defeat at the hands of then bottom of the league Blackburn. Arsenal, too, have followed up good performances with the opposite, but have been lifted, of late, by the remarkable return of Thierry Henry from New York, on a 6 week loan deal.
United, too, have seen Paul Scholes emerge from retirement to add some forward thinking impetus to their attacking options from midfield.
Much of the talk in the lead up to this Arsenal v Man Utd fixture, therefore, has been about the renewal of old rivalries. United and Arsenal have long been battling at the top of the Premier League; Sir Alex Ferguson versus arch enemy Arsene Wenger; Henry v Scholes; it’s all there.
Except it might not be – quite. Thierry Henry is struggling to shake a calf injury which may well prevent the Arsenal superstar from starting; and this match is set to take a very different tone from that which has taken place in recent seasons. Arsenal, whose defence is already looking like one of their weakest for some years, will likely be without Thomas Vermaelen. Manchester United, who have been giving away many more chances than in recent seasons, will see Chris Smalling and Phil Jones return to their starting lineup, though both of those players have made important defensive errors of late.
Essentially, this match looks, on paper, to be very different from the Arsenal v Manchester United’s we remember from the past decade or two – in that defending may come second-best to attack. While 8-2 may not be on the cards this afternoon, it looks just as unlikely that it will finish 0-0.
Which, for fans, can mean only one thing: entertainment.
But the context of the league situation is important. If United, who are, after all, the holding Champs, wish to maintain their push for retaining their title, they really must get at least a point from this match to stay in touch with City, who start today three points ahead of them in the table. A win for Man Utd could feasibly see them draw level with their rivals from across town, providing Tottenham can do them a favour in the Etihad earlier in the day.
Let us not forget, though, that Arsenal are playing for more than just bragging rights: they enter this match in 5th place, pushing for a UEFA Champions League place which has money – and kudos – attached to it. Chelsea, in failing to win away at Norwich yesterday, have left an opportunity for the Gunners to close the gap between them from five points, and come within one victory of getting into those lucrative top four places.
One thing that has not changed in 2011/12, therefore, is the importance of a win to both sides in this fixture. The question may well come down to who makes the most of what will likely be a double-handful of opportunities on the day.
This looks like being a fantastic match.
Arsenal v Manchester United kicks off at 16:00 GMT on the afternoon of Sunday 22nd January 2012, at the Emirates Stadium, London.
Who do you think will emerge victorious from this match, and why? Leave your comment below.