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Arsenal’s top four chances on line against Manchester United

Arsenal against Manchester United has a certain ring to it, and in past years it has been one of the most glamorous and exciting fixtures on the Premier League calendar. However, with the Red Devils winning the last three encounters between the sides, including an 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford at the start of last season, the fixture has lost some of its sheen. When the Gunners host United this Sunday, the home side must buck the trend and get three points to keep their top-four ambitions alive.

Gone are the days of the Roy Keane-Patrick Vieira battles, and United have somewhat forgot their rivalry with Arsenal given that the north London outfit have not been challenging for the title for a number of seasons. Instead of a title challenge, the last number of campaigns have been all about securing Champions League football for Arsene Wenger’s men. The Gunners are an outside, bet here even at home; Arsenal are 3/1 with Ladbrokes to get a much-needed three points.

Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson

United wrapped up the Premier League title on Monday night with an easy 3-0 victory over Aston Villa, but in truth the league has been over as a contest for quite some time. Arsenal will hope that United take their foot off the pedal slightly on Sunday, and Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted that his side may well be shuffled for the fixture.

One interesting sub-plot is Robin van Persie’s return to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since his controversial transfer to United in the summer. Given that this is the first game since United clinched the title, the Gunners are set to give their opponents a guard of honour – which will not go down well with the home faithful.

Regardless of personal vendettas against former players, Arsenal must monitor Van Persie closely, or the Dutch forward could put a considerable dent in his ex-employer’s top-four chances. A hat-trick to round off the title and 24 goals in all this season mean that Van Persie will most likely be awarded the Player of the Year award, and with good reason.

With Chelsea and Tottenham only a point and two points respectively adrift of the Gunners in third, it is plausible that a United victory this weekend could see Arsenal drop to fifth place. Given the tight nature of the race for the top four, it is imperative that Arsenal stand up and be counted against a side that has had the better of them in recent times.

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Tottenham’s Bale, Liverpool’s Suarez and Manchester United’s Van Persie – but where is Swansea’s Michu?

The nominees for the Premier League Player of the Year award have been named, with a notable absence amongst the six candidates. All the discussion about the accolade have rightly focussed on Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie, however the addition of Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Eden Hazard leaves me scratching my head that a certain Spaniard missed out.

I am not saying that Michu of Swansea City should be awarded the Premier League Player of the Year awaed, however the versatile attacker has had a fantastic debut season in England and was certainly great value for a nomination. It will boil down to Bale, Suarez or Van Persie, however Michu’s excellent season should have been acknowledged with a nomination.

Michu

Carrick has long been the unsung worker in the United midfield, and is only now being recognised for the tireless work he puts in and the range of passing he brings to the soon-to-be champions. Juan Mata has grown in stature this season and deserves his place in the six. The ex-Valencia playmaker has been superb throughout the season and will play a key role in Chelsea’s attempts to forge a Premier League title challenge next season. Hazard at times has shown brilliance, especially towards the start of the season, however I feel he has not done enough to warrant a place on the shortlist.

It is unfortunate that bargain £2 million buy Michu is not included. He has netted 21 times in all competitions for Michael Laudrup’s men, 17 in the league, and been a figurehead in the Liberty Stadium side overcoming the often tricky second season to become a well-established Premier League side. He also played his part in the club winning the Capital One Cup, the first major trophy in the Welsh club’s history.

Michu was never going to be the Player of the Year, but a nomination would have been just reward for a cracking debut campaign. The fact that he plays for one of the less glamorous sides in the division has clearly worked against him, the powers that be should have widened their net to include the likes of the Spaniard in their shortlist.

Change of Face, Change of Pace. The shift in Strategy of Manchester United’s attack

Change of face, change of pace; the shift in strategy of Manchester United’s attack

When Manchester United sold Dimitar Berbatov last summer it was no surprise given the arrival of Robin Van Persie and the lack of playing time afforded to the former Spurs man over the previous season. It has become a bit apparent recently though that the move signalled more than just a change in terms of bringing in one gifted front man for another. One of the reasons the Bulgarian cited had been given to him by Sir Alex Ferguson was a shift in the Old Trafford side’s attacking ethos. Berbatov had been told that he did not fit in with a move toward a faster and more direct attacking style.

In the derby on Monday night, United’s new methods were particularly apparent and interestingly a slight weakness in the plan was also on display. Many of the Reds’ wide players in particular regularly seem to overrun the ball when sprinting and on several occasions when the home side were surging at the City backline a heavy touch saw the move break down. Rafael was the main offender on Monday, but an out of sorts Antonio Valencia has been doing this for months. Danny Welbeck displays a good first touch at times but at top speed often resembles a cart horse attempting to dribble a beach ball. Ashley Young is not immune, nor is Nani or reserve left back Alexander Buttner.

Dimitar Berbatov

This may seem harsh given how potent United have looked in attack this season with the addition of Van Persie to an already well-stocked squad of strikers and wingers, but it is something that needs to been fine-tuned before Sir Alex Ferguson’s new design is the finished article. Perhaps Wilfried Zaha’s dribbling ability will improve the situation next term.

United sides of old held an ability to patiently probe for an opening. Slow build-up followed by a devastatingly quick interchange would often see defences unlocked after 30 or more passes had gradually pulled them out of position. Perhaps the demise of Paul Scholes has something to do with the death of this style in Ferguson’s plans. Neither Scholes nor Berbatov would have ever made the local sprint relay team, but their styles complimented an ability to attack while controlling possession for long periods.

The Premier League is faster and quicker than ever and even the top European ties are not the games of chess they were 10 years ago. Intensity, if it isn’t king, was certainly eyeing the throne amid the ferocious pace of Monday’s derby. Ferguson is a master of transition and building new sides, but it would be a shame if his current charges could not revert to a more patient approach if need be. In Michael Carrick they have a player who can take on the Scholes mantle in terms of dictating tempo at least. Wayne Rooney and Van Persie seem currently focused on attempting to spin their man or lay the ball off once before making a run in behind.

Perhaps on Monday this was due to specific instructions from the boss but both front men have the quality to get involved in build-up while waiting for the right time to strike. Regardless of how direct United’s game plan is, expect them to continue to challenge, as their ability to adapt has always been one of their greatest strengths.

Player of the Year: Manchester United’s Van Persie, Tottenham’s Bale or Liverpool’s Suarez?

Conventional wisdom says that the award for Player of the Year in the Premier League will be a three-way duel between the trio of Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and Gareth Bale.

Paul Gorst takes a look at the pros and cons for each, as the season reaches its final quarter.

Robin van Persie: Manchester United

When Manchester United lost the Premier League title on goal difference to their bitter local rivals Manchester City last season, Sir Alex Ferguson simply decided to go and buy the top striker in the league. There was no deep-rooted analytical thinking behind the transfer other than the fact that Robin van Persie guarantees goals. His strikes have gone a long way to virtually ensuring that the title will return to Old Trafford in May.

Robin van Persie

The Dutch striker has helped himself to 19 goals in the Premier League this season and none were more important than his match-winning free-kick against City in the closing stages of the 3-2 win at the Etihad Stadium back in December. The former Arsenal man has 23 goals in all competitions and has usurped Wayne Rooney as the star man at Old Trafford.

It is also easy to forget that this is Van Persie’s first year at United, after making the switch from the Emirates Stadium for around £25m last summer. It feels as though RVP has been playing for the Red Devils for seasons and the way he has adapted to playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world has been seamless.

However, Van Persie has not scored since the win over Everton back on February 10 and has now gone 10 games without a goal. Will those stats count against him when the voting is decided?

Gareth Bale: Tottenham Hotspur

Gareth Bale is undoubtedly the man of the moment in the Premier League. The flying Welshman has helped himself to 10 goals in the last nine games for Tottenham Hotspur and is the side’s leading scorer with 16 goals in the Premier League.

Gareth Bale

The former Southampton man has also lit up the league with some memorable strikes such as his last minute wonder-strike to win the game against West Ham United last month, and his goal against Norwich City, which started with a run from his own half before he stabbed it beyond goalkeeper John Ruddy at the edge of the box, in January.

Bale’s form is such that he is even being compared by some, including team-mate Michael Dawson, to La Liga superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The comparisons to the planet’s two best players are somewhat misguided certainly, but the fact that he is drawing such evaluations is proof at least, of superb form.

The 23-year-old has netted 23 times for Spurs in all competitions this campaign. However, with Bale grabbing 10 in his last nine, that means that he was marooned on a fairly respectable, if not outstanding total of 13 goals before his wonderful effort against the Canaries back on January 30.

With the voting papers being sent out in February, has Bale done enough to convince that he should be awarded the title?

Luis Suarez: Liverpool

Luis Suarez has been the outstanding player for Liverpool this season and currently tops the Premier League scoring charts with 22 goals for the Reds.

Luis Suarez

Suarez was Liverpool’s top scorer last season, but has taken his exploits up a level this term with some breathtaking performances for Brendan Rodgers’ side. Suarez’s feats are all the more impressive when you equate in the fact that he was the Reds’ only recognised striker from September to January, when the club failed to sign a replacement for the loaned-out Andy Carroll and Italian forward Fabio Borini suffered a foot injury whilst on international duty.

The Uruguayan has toiled away admirably this season and is not only a supremely talented footballer; the former Ajax man is one of the hardest working forwards in the Premier League, which is a trait that does not go unnoticed by fans at Anfield.

Suarez has found himself playing slightly out of position since the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in January, but the tactical switch has not dulled his goal threat as the striker has helped himself to 13 goals in his last 13 games for the Reds, and has 29 in all competitions this season.

Unlike Van Persie, Suarez is operating in a team that has struggled this season during Rodgers’ first campaign in the Anfield dugout, yet he has still managed to top the goalscoring charts heading into mid-March, and will probably be the first Premier League player to reach 30 goals this season.

The forward is not as revered around the rest of England as he is in Liverpool however, with admissions of diving leaving a sour taste, and the race-row with Patrice Evra in 2011 still fresh in some minds.

Suarez’s simulation has unfairly been highlighted against Gareth Bale’s, who been booked four times this season for diving compared to Suarez’s one, but will this affect his chances when the votes are cast?

Wayne Rooney’s departure from Manchester United: all media speculation

After Manchester United’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid in midweek, much of the focus for the media in the last 24 hours has been on Wayne Rooney’s exclusion. Despite the England international scoring a sensational fourth in the 4-0 win over Norwich at the weekend, he was not included in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in the most important game of the season, leading to questions over his future.

Danny Welbeck, who on the night was one of United’s top performers, was selected as Robin van Persie’s strike partner, and Ryan Giggs was also picked as a wide midfielder instead of Rooney. The media have been stating that Rooney could well leave Old Trafford in the summer after the selection snub, but this seems unlikely.

Wayne Rooney

Rooney may well have been left out of Ferguson’s starting XI for the game against Madrid, but this is not the first time this season or in the forward’s tenure in Manchester that he has been left on the bench. The Scottish manager had a game-plan on the night to face Madrid and selected the players that he felt were best suited to combat the strengths of the Spanish champions.

Shinji Kagawa scored a hat-trick against Norwich at the weekend and also started in the 1-1 draw against Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, yet he too was also not selected for the home leg. The Japan international put in a combative performance in Spain, keeping the ball well in a positive result for United, however not being selected for the Old Trafford game does not mean he has no future at the club.

Rooney likewise will still be a key part of Ferguson’s plans. On the night the experience of Giggs and the explosive pace of Welbeck was selected, and up until Nani’s red card Ferguson’s tactics were spot on. If United had progressed would the same media frenzy around Rooney’s future still be flooding the press? Probably not.

Questions over Rooney’s future will probably continue over upcoming weeks and months, however don’t be surprised to see the attacker in the red of United come the start of next season.

Real Madrid vs Manchester United: The game where anything can happen

According to Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, this is ‘the match the world is waiting for’.  When you consider the talent on display, the numerous subplots and their history, it is hard to disagree. In short, when Manchester United face Real Madrid, anything can happen.

Just look at the sides’ eight previous meetings in Europe’s premier competition; 31 goals have been scored between them, 11 of which came in the epic quarter-final of 2003. Many are predicting a similar total this time round, but the tie could just as easily be a tense affair where goals are at a premium.

Much depends on how United cope with their former player Cristiano Ronaldo.  If they manage to shackle him, they will nullify Madrid’s most potent threat. But if they don’t, they may be torn apart by the Spanish side’s incisive counter-attack. Sir Alex Ferguson will hope his instructions are carried out to perfection, whilst being blessed with a little luck on the side.

Sir Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho

Phil Jones has found fitness and form at precisely the right time and he, along with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, will bring the regimented energy the Red Devils need to keep the likes of Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Ronaldo at bay.

In defence, Rafael will hope his man-of-the-match performance against Everton can be replicated in a competition where his rashness has proved most costly. While the rarely-spotted partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will have to be at their very best.

At the other end, the likely attacking trio of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa will have chances they must take. It is games like this that Kagawa was bought for, and that van Persie has the ability to win with one movement.

Aside from Ronaldo, Madrid’s strike-force is out of form of late, but both Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema possess such natural ability that they can punish the smallest misjudgement. Meanwhile, even Kaka was hailed by Spanish newspaper Marca as being back to his best after a rare start in Saturday’s 4-1 win against Sevilla.

First legs of knockout competitions are too-often cagey affairs.  And don’t bet against the pressure on Madrid to perform – from a home crowd desperate for success in a season that is fast becoming a write-off – to have a bearing on the game. Already 16 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, and with a fight to stay in the Copa del Rey, the Champions League may be Mourinho’s only chance of a trophy this season; a trophy that would go down in history as the fabled Décima – their tenth European title.

Too often, pre-game hype is unjustified; but not this time. It may be the second leg that ultimately proves to be the one the world is waiting for, because it is then that a winner will be decided.  But this week’s match will be both clubs’ biggest challenge so far this season – for United to raise their game in a year when they have hardly needed to, and for Madrid to prevent theirs from ending three months too soon.

Manchester United will be wary of Everton after last season’s fixture at Old Trafford

With Manchester City slipping up against Southampton yesterday to be beaten 3-1, current Premier League leaders Manchester United have a glorious opportunity to push their lead at the top of the table to a considerable 12 points with a win over Everton. With only 12 games to play after this afternoon’s fixture at Old Trafford, this lead would be almost unassailable, however Sir Alex Ferguson will be wary of the travelling Evertonians.

United found themselves in a similar position last season, with a sizeable points advantage over cross-town rivals City. However poor form towards the end of the campaign ultimately allowed Roberto Mancini’s charges back into the title race, with the blue side of the city celebrating on a nail-biting last day of the season.

One of the fixtures on footballscores.com football results that will stand out in the minds of United fans will be the 4-4 draw against Everton at Old Trafford. The Red Devils relinquished 3-1 and 4-2 leads over David Moyes’ men that day, which ultimately proved costly at the end of the season.

Steven Pienaar scores against Manchester United

United have suffered no such downturn in form this time round, with an excellent record of picking up 35 points from a possible 39 over their last 13 league games. With Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in form, the hosts will be confident of matching the four goals they scored in the fixture in 2011-12.

Everton showed a never-say-die attitude last season in the fixture, and Moyes’ charges have improved again over the last couple of months. The Toffees are eager to contend for a top-four berth and Champions League qualification, however with Tottenham and Arsenal winning on Saturday the Liverpudlians need to pick up points to maintain their ambitions.

Marouane Fellaini’s future has been constantly questioned in the press after impressive performances this term, and the Belgian will be a key man if he shakes off injury to feature. Along with the in-form Steven Pienaar, Nikola Jelavic and Kevin Mirallas, Everton have the potential to make it difficult for a less-than-solid United rearguard. After a 1-0 win over United at Goodison Park on the first day of the season, the hosts would be foolish to underestimate their opponents today.

Both teams want the three points; if Everton manage a shock win it will show the Premier League that they are a real contender for Champions League qualification, whilst if United win the title race could well be over.

Arsenal’s Giroud, Top Gunner?

Can the Frenchman’s new found form propel Arsenal into the top four?

As understatements go, to say that Olivier Giroud had big boots to fill when he arrived at Arsenal in the summer would be something of a ground-breaker.  The departure of club talisman and top goal scorer Robin Van Persie to rivals Manchester United had left a sour taste in the mouth of most fans around the Emirates and the comparatively low key purchases of Giroud and fellow front man Lukas Podolski did little to quell the resentment. There was a feeling that even if the new acquisitions performed to the peak of their powers the sale of RVP would still find the club left wanting in attack.

Giroud, signed from Montpellier not long before his 26th birthday, was seen as a particularly low profile arrival given that he has been something of a late bloomer at the top level. The forward finished Ligue 1 as top scorer with 21 goals last term as Montpellier won their first ever league title. This contribution though, was the first of any note from the Frenchman in a top European league. Arsenal fans thought better than to get too excited about a player who until 2010 had spent most of his career in the lower reaches of French football.

The Grenoble youth academy graduate predictably struggled to adapt to the school of hard knocks that is the Premier League and as Arsene Wenger continued to back his forward in the press, Giroud continued to draw a blank on the pitch. Finally in hisseventh league appearance he found the net against West Ham. Cue prolific scoring streak? Unfortunately not, the striker continued to stutter and his adaptation to the English game has been painfully slow for Arsenal fans. In recent weeks however, the former Montpellier marksman has upped his game and the goals have begun to flow. £12 million (half of the fee received for Van Persie) is now beginning to look like more shrewd business from Wenger and Giroud is beginning to look every inch the Premiership predator.

Three goals in his last two league outings along with strikes in the League Cup and Champions League have seen the forward gather momentum, the difference, that most precious of striking commodities: confidence.  Arsenal’s historic league cup comeback against Reading could be viewed as the catalyst for Giroud who scored that night, a night that the second half performance from the Gunners simply oozed self-belief.

Several other factors have perhaps contributed to the striker’s change in fortune. The likes of Lukas Podolski ,Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla have helped share the goal scoring burden and Podolski in particular, bagged a few goals early on in the season to help fill the gap left by Van Persie. Cazorla too has been a striker’s dream, reveling in the Arsenal ethos of pretty attacking play and forging opportunities for those ahead of him.

Arsenal though, remain far from the finished article, and inconsistency blights their ever watchable style. Wenger continues to work wonders during the summer transfer months to maintain a top four status while regularly being forced to sell his best players.  With Giroud though, there is a sense that there is a lot more to come and that Wenger may have someone who can add bite to Arsenal’s bark. While he may not have the class of Van Persie, Giroud has the look of a clinical fox in the box. The striker’s second against Fulham epitomized the man, having seen his initial effort hit the post he decided not to dwell on what might have been but took up a textbook position to head in Walcott’s cross when the ball came back into the box. The importance of his determination, confidence and form, if it continues, to Arsenal’s hopes of securing a top four finish both this season and in the future cannot be understated.

By Francis Johnston

Manchester United get one over City with Van Persie signing

With the Premier League season back in full swing, the transfer window has ensured that the battle for top spot is set to be as tightly contested as ever. Manchester City are the team to beat after claiming a last-gasp goal difference title in 2011-12, but cross-town rivals Manchester United have put a marker down this summer.

There is no bigger statement of intent than signing Arsenal captain and current PFA Player of the Year Robin van Persie. The Netherlands international has joined the Red Devils for a fee believed to be £24 million, despite interest from City and Juventus.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and the Emirates faithful will not enjoy watching their once-talisman stepping out at Old Trafford this term, and the fact that a deal has been negotiated is a credit to United’s persistence. Sir Alex Ferguson has intervened to ensure that a deal could happen, whilst United have obviously convinced Van Persie that his future lies with them rather than the current Premier League champions.

The solitary signing of Jack Rodwell to date this summer has been something of a surprise given City’s usual exuberance and tendency to spend in the transfer window. Roberto Mancini has become frustrated by the club chiefs having to tighten the purse strings due to the Fifa Fairplay Regulations, and although the Italian has a star-studded squad at his disposal, Van Persie’s addition was certainly on the coach’s wishlist.

United on the other hand have counteracted City’s prudence with bullishness. The capture of Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund will give the Red Devils’ attack energy, dynamism and a different threat, whilst a strike partnership of Van Persie and Wayne Rooney seems too good to be true. The Dutch maestro’s signing will take some of the goalscoring responsibility away from Rooney, who they have over-relied on at times in the recent past.

Although United missed out on Lucas Moura, their attempts to sign the Brazilian and the amount of money they were ready to splurge before Paris Saint-Germain intervened again shows that United are hungry for revenge and to prove they are the number one team in the country once more.

City are used to having their pick of players given the financially assurance of their owners, but United have matched them and more over the last two months. The Red Devils made Van Persie the joint highest earner at the club, refusing to be bullied by the wealth of their cross-town rivals.

United have also beat City to the signing of Chilean teenage sensation Angelo Henriquez, who moves to Old Trafford after passing a medical. It is believed that the Etihad Stadium side tried to intervene in the 11th hour and snatch him away from Ferguson’s grasp, but the player opted for red over blue.

City will be just as good as they were last season, and better, given that they are growing and working together as a squad and their team will be much the same as the one that won the title in 2011-12. However, with Nemanja Vidic fit again and United bolstering their attacking options with Kagawa and Van Persie, the Citizens are set to be pushed all the way if they are to retain their crown.

Published – Soccerlens

Manchester City strike force: What would Van Persie’s arrival mean for Balotelli, Tevez and co?

After securing a last-gasp Premier League title success last season, Manchester City were expected to push on and splurge in the transfer market, as they look to challenge on all fronts next term. However, despite a slow summer to date, Robin van Persie’s admission that he will not extend his current deal at Arsenal has triggered Roberto Mancini’s interest. Although other sides are also circling and Arsene Wenger is by no means guaranteed to sell, what would the Dutchman’s arrival at the Etihad Stadium mean for City’s other strikers?

Sergio Aguero

The diminutive Argentine forward took to the Premier League in his debut season like a duck to water, and scored the division-winning goal in injury time on the last day. Despite reported Real Madrid interest, the South American has pledged to stay with the English champions, and Mancini has no intention of selling him. Van Persie’s most likely strike partner, Aguero is the one attacker at City assured of a place and his future.

Carlos Tevez

Controversial, petulant but brilliant, Carlos Tevez had quite the 2011-12 season. Initial transfer requests, a refusal to come off the bench and a prolonged AWOL period back in Argentina meant that the forward’s time in England looked over. However, after an apology, Mancini reinstated Tevez in his side and the ex-United attacker has stated that he is now happy at the club. Despite this, Van Persie’s arrival would surely restrict Tevez’s opportunities and break-up his partnership with countryman Aguero, which could well lead to more ill-discipline and problems for City.

Edin Dzeko

Despite at times looking lethal in front of goal in 2011-12, the Bosnian has slipped down the Etihad Stadium pecking order and looks certain to be sold. Van Persie’s arrival would mark the end of Dzeko’s City career.

Mario Balotelli

The most interesting scenario of the four, should Van Persie arrive at City real questions over Balotelli’s future will be asked. One only has to look at how the temperamental attacker acted when dropped by Cesare Prandelli at Euro 2012 to see his thoughts on not playing. Balotelli needs attention, to feel loved and to be centre-stage; Van Persie’s arrival would mean a lot of bench time for the Italian, and a pain in the neck for Mancini.

Van Persie would be an asset to any team, and certainly be a signing of intent by City. However, with a number of other big egos and outspoken characters vying for a place in the side’s attack, Mancini’s man-management skills would be stretched to breaking point.

Published – Soccerlens

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