6 factors which will make or break Old Trafford clash

1. What to do about Robin?

 The sort of dilemma facing Arsene Wenger prior to Monday night’s crucial match at Old Trafford belongs to that group often described as a ‘nice headache’. This oxymoron looks to serve the purpose of  highlighting the difficulties that arise from possessing a squad rich in depth and talent, yet the truth of the matter is that no headache is nice. The dilemma now staring unforgivably into the eyes of Wenger is where, how and with whom to play his once prolific striker Robin Van Persie. Injury prone and yet to complete an entire season for Arsenal, Robin is once again available for selection following two lengthy periods of rehabilitation on ankle ligament damage. Such is the magnitude and importance of Monday’ night’s fixture, not to mention the engrained hostility between the two clubs, some may say Wenger would be foolish not to play one of his key players, and in his best position. As we saw from the Dutchman at the beginning of last season, this is undoubtedly as an out and out striker, a berth now filled by the in-form Marouane Chamakh, and to leave out the Moroccan would be to fix something that is far from broke. This leaves Wenger with the option of playing Van Persie behind Chamakh, yet this would mean sacrificing a Central Midfielder, and Robin does not have the required skill set to be a like for like replacement for Cesc Fabregas. If indeed the Spaniard is unfit to start the match, Robin will probably be asked to play in this position, yet this would stifle his clinical finishing, and it is a system that has failed to appease fans nor endear itself fully to Wenger during its trial period against Fulham and Partizan Belgrade. Sacrificing either Van Persie or Chamakh will be a brave decision, yet possibly more successful than pairing them.

2. Alex Song- Will he sit or will he roam now?

 Last season Alex Song completed his journey from zero to hero by filling the holding-midfield void with aplomb throughout the campaign. This year, whilst still possessing all the attributes of a masterful anchorman, Song has far too often felt compelled to gush forwards in search of a goal, assist or indeed any offensive input. Whilst this has resulted in four important goals to date, this tendency has resulted in a great deal more conceded, as more strain is thrust upon an already weak centre of defence. In the continued absence of Thomas Vermaelen, Song needs to learnt to curb his offensive impulses in order to provide the defensive cover that will be a necessity against United.

3. Laurel and Hardy.

Saying that Wenger may not have anticipated such a double act when departing with £13 Million pounds over the summer provides an epic understatement. The partnership of the two francophones, Sebastian Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny, although not planned to be a first-choice one, has been a large blemish to Arsenal’s start to the season. Whilst the duo were bought merely to provide cover for Thomas Vermaelen and arguably Johan Djourou when fully fit, a regular partnership has been forged in which the two new acquisitions have often provided comical gravitas in the most inappropriate of scenarios. Clashing heads, looping balls up into the sky and getting sent off are just a fraction of the pair’s portfolio. Hopefully Wenger will see enough sense in order to start Djourou ahead of one of them on Monday, yet if injury impedes this possibility, a rare mistake-free, and composed 90 minutes against Rooney and Berbatov will go along way to grabbing the 3 points.

4. The Fall and Rise of Lukasz Fabinaski.

Sitting in the cavernous dome of the Estadio do Dragao 9 months ago, the one sentence not accompanying a torrent of angry expletives was a measured: ‘This fool will be our number 1 by Christmas’. Such was the consistency with which Fabianski not only failed to perform, but added to the shortlist for ‘Goalkeeping error of the season’ last year, his admirable rise to prominence this term could have been foreseen by few. Whilst still being shaky on occasion this season, he has often performed exceptionally well, so far as to say he was the key protagonist in vital away wins at City and Wolves. Nevertheless, and without seeming irritatingly glass-half-empty, for most Arsenal fans a cataclysmic mistake has been pencilled in for very, very soon. If Fabianski can again avoid this occurring at Old Trafford, whilst continuing to exhibit an unmistakably natural shot-stopping ability, a vital clean sheet may be attainable.

5. Winging it.


The two, pocket-sized geniuses occupying the wide positions on Monday night may just be the keys to unlocking this title race. One of them, Andrei Arshavin, is the enigma’s enigma. Habitually erratic, the little Russian consistently frustrates fans to the point of devastation. Yet, when on the verge of his talents being consigned to the history books, he sparks into life. Enduring the 99% percent of missed flicks and failed dribbles is the price one has to pay in order to fully gain the benefits from that 1% of pure, unadulterated magic. Never has this been so apparent than at Anfield in that much. As far as is possible, Arshavin was fairly anonymous that night. Characteristically this was marginally overshadowed by scoring 4 goals. Samir Nasri will most likely occupy the right-hand side of the front 3 on Monday, and whilst Arshavin is often a member of Arsenal’s supporting cast, Nasri is the new lead-role. Arguably the in-form player in Europe at the moment, Nasri is finally discovering the potential he so clearly possessed when arriving from Marseilles, and the Frenchman’s poise and balance may even force the Oxford English Dictionary to add the word ‘untackleable’ to their next volume. Old Trafford may just be the setting for Nasri to let the world experience his talent.

6. Chamakh vs Vidic

This battle may be no Van Nistelrooy vs Campbell, Henry vs Blanc or Cole vs Adams, but as far as Centre Forward vs Centre Half encounters go, this looks tasty. Marouane Chamakh has added something to Arsenal this season which has long been missing. A physical threat, a bit of hustle and bustle and most importantly of all, an aerial outlet. Without trying to dress everything up in the St. Georges cross, Chamakh is an old fashioned English Centre Forward. Tireless work ethic, strong, resilient and good in the air, all Chamakh has left to add to his armoury is clinical finishing in order to fit the Alan Shearer mould. If, as is expected, Arsene sticks with the Moroccan on Monday, his will be a night of bumps, bruises and kickings from the fierce Nemanja Vidic. It shall be a magnificently archaic battle, far from the tricks and flicks of Nasri, Nani, Arshavin and Berbatov, yet one which will be pivotal to the outcome of this match.


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