Manchester United’s blockbuster summer signing Robin van Persie takes centre stage on Saturday as the former Arsenal skipper comes up against his old employers for the first time in an United shirt.
The Dutch international, who scored 132 times during his seven years with the Gunners before departing in a £24million deal this summer, has already made an impact at Old Trafford. Van Persie already has seven goals to his name from just seven Premier League starts to show why Sir Alex Ferguson was so happy to land his signature despite competition from Manchester City and Juventus. The striker’s priceless ability to win games on his own will be sorely missed by the fans who once idolised him, and even though Arsene Wenger has called for respect from the travelling fans, the hostility is likely to come out from the away section.
Arsenal also need to banish the memories of last season’s Premier League visit to Old Trafford in August, when they suffered an 8-2 humiliation in what ranks as one of Wenger’s darkest days in his otherwise successful career.
The London club are six points behind United and while it will be to immature to write them off their title ambitions in November, a nine-point gap would be a significant deficit to bridge. On the other hand, victory for Ferguson’s men would take them at the top of the table for the first time this season as Chelsea are not in action until later in day when they travel to Swansea.
The Red Devils have no fresh injury issues following their two dramatic matches against Chelsea over the past week. Defender Chris Smalling continues to make good progress in training, but the game at Old Trafford will come too soon. Fellow centre-back Phil Jones (knee) is also not ready, while Nemanja Vidic and midfielder Shinji Kagawa (both knee) remain sidelined. Sir Alex Ferguson made a host of changes for the Capital One Cup clash and will bring back his big players for the big Premier League encounter.
The Gunners will go back to a more recognized team after changing their entire starting XI for the surprising Capitol One Cup success at Reading. Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna are in contention, but Theo Walcott may be back on the bench after playing whole 120 minutes at the Madjeski. Midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (hip) faces a fitness test, but winger Gervinho (ankle) will be out for around three weeks, while defender Kieran Gibbs (thigh), first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (ankle), midfielder Abou Diaby (thigh) and Czech winger Tomas Rosicky (hamstring) all continue their rehab.
HEAD TO HEAD
Played – 193
Manchester United Wins – 84
Draw – 42
Arsenal Wins – 67
HEAD TO HEAD FIXTURES (LAST FIVE)
22-Jan-12 – Premier League – Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United
28-Aug-11 – Premier League – Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal
01-May-11 – Premier League – Arsenal 1-0 Manchester United
12-Mar-11 – FA Cup – Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal
13-Apr-10 – Premier League – Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal
Manchester United – LWWWW
United come into this match on the back of a very important win at Stamford Bridge in the league and are currently just one point behind leaders Chelsea in second place.
31-Oct-12 – Captial One Cup – Chelsea 5-4 Manchester United
28-Oct-12 – Premier League – Chelsea 2-3 Manchester United
23-Oct-12 – Champions League – Manchester United 3-2 Braga
20-Oct-12 – Premier League – Manchester United 4-2 Stoke City
06-Oct-12 – Premier League – Newcastle United 0-3 Manchester United
Arsenal – WWLLW
The Gunners lie in sixth place in the Premier League, six points behind their opponents having won four, drawn three and lost two of their nine games.
30-Oct-12 – Capital One Cup – Reading 5-7 Arsenal
27-Oct-12 – Premier League – Arsenal 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
24-Oct-12 – Champions League – Arsenal 0-2 Schalke 04
20-Oct-12 – Premier League – Norwich City 1-0 Arsenal
06-Oct-12 – Premier League – West Ham United 1-3 Arsenal
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
All eyes will be on the former Arsenal man on Saturday. The 29-year-old has added an extra dimension to United’s attack this season, and is the club’s top goal scorer with nine goals in all competitions. The Netherlands international will be keen to show his former club what they lost. However, he will show some respect to the club he represented for seven years but most Arsenal fans won’t feel the same.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
The 23-year-old has been in headlines this week, for reasons on and off the pitch. Contract talks are stalling because the England international isn’t happy with his lack of playing time, but after scoring a hat-trick against Reading in midweek he is making it very hard for Arsene Wenger to leave him out. Walcott on song is a great attacking player and added to the likes Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Jack Wilshere, they could easily stun the Red Devils.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David De Gea; Rafael, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra (C); Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley; Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young; Robin van Persie.
De Gea is most likely to take back his place in between the sticks from Anders Lindegaard after the Danish international let in five goals against Chelsea in the mid-week. Ferdinand and Evans will return to central defence after the youngsters – Scott Wootton and Michael Keane – failed to stand up to the challenge at Stamford Bridge. Alexander Buttner, who was substituted at half time, will also make way for Evra. Carrick and Cleverley are expected to return in the midfield along with Valencia and Young on the wings. Rooney and Van Persie were rested for midweek clash and the star strike duo will take field against an under-performing Arsenal defence.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Vito Mannone; Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen (C), Andre Santos; Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta; Theo Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski; Olivier Giroud.
First choice keeper Wojciech Szcesny is close to recovery but the Pole is not fit to make a start against the Red Devils, leaving Mannone as the only option for Wenger. Kieran Gibbs is also out with injury, giving Brazilian full-back Andre Santos more first team action this season. After his hat-trick in the mid-week against Reading, Theo Walcott may get the nod on the right wing in place of Aaron Ramsey, while both Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh are expected to be back on the bench after their impressive performances in the Capital One Cup. Giroud did score against Reading but his league record has been very poor but Wenger will most likely rely on the Frenchman yet again.
- 1 – Wayne Rooney scored his first Premier League goal, his first in the Premier League for Manchester United and his 100th Premier League goal against Arsenal.
- 1 – Only one of Arsenal’s 14 league goals this season have come before the half-hour mark.
- 5 – Manchester United have scored and conceded at least two goals in the same Premier League game five times this season.
- 7 – Manchester United have won seven and lost none of their last eight against Arsenal at Old Trafford in all competitions.
- 9 – Manchester United have won nine of their last 10 meetings with the Gunners in all competitions.
- 10 – Arsenal have scored just 10 goals in 20 Premier League visits to Old Trafford, with last season (8-2 defeat) being the only time they have netted two in one game.
- 21 – Robin van Persie has hit the woodwork 21 times since August 2009, nine more times than any other Premier League player in the same period.
Name – Mike Dean
Based – Wirral
Age – 44
Games – 6
Yellow Cards – 15
Red Cards – 0
Manchester United 8/11, Draw 13/5, Arsenal 4/1
It’s been an incredibly entertaining goal-filled week in which both sides conceded five goals in the Capital One Cup. This fixture last season delivered an equally ridiculous scoreline when Manchester United ran out 8-2 winners. Arsenal’s failure to score in league games this season and having to see Robin van Persie play against them will surely make matters worse for the North London side. The game is expected to be another entertaining one for the neutrals, but Sir Alex’s side should have too much for the Gunners in this one.
Predicted Score: Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal