Football Comment: Arsenal can exploit United’s ongoing frailties
WHEN Arsenal have fired this season there is no doubt they have been superior to Manchester United, that is without question.
But while the Gunners have been in great form over recent months they remain capable of having a bad day. That was most recently showcased against Monaco in the Champions League last-16 first-leg clash, which was a performance nobody expected or understood.
Arsene Wenger’s side may wear the scars of previous battles against United but that group of players have already returned from Manchester victorious once this season after beating reigning champions Manchester City in January.
Having coped with going to the Etihad Stadium, where they suffered a heavy defeat during the last campaign, they certainly possess the ability to go to Old Trafford tonight and cope with playing a team, which at this moment in time, are not in the same class as their city rivals.
If Arsenal play at their best I can see them winning, although I don’t think they will need to be at their best to claim a draw. If they put on a Monaco-type show, United could win 3-0. It’s one of those games which is difficult to call.
It also provides a good precursor for the second leg with Monaco. Putting in a really good performance against stiff opposition will give Arsenal confidence to go to France and do the same, albeit with the added issue of a 3-1 deficit and away goals to somehow overhaul.
United have only lost twice in 22 matches dating back to their loss in the Manchester derby at the start of November but it still does not look a particularly happy ship at Old Trafford. It just looks and feels a little uneasy. There appears a lot of negatively and manager Louis van Gaal has to keep dousing reports of in-house problems, the latest being an alleged rift with assistant manager Ryan Giggs.
If Arsenal are positive a semi-final place could be there for the taking. The visitors need to play on the uncertainty which clearly exists in those United ranks and exploit chinks in their armour. The team spirit looks slightly fractured and the side looks to be playing without any great identity. Arsenal can prey upon their uncertainly which for the most part stems from not truly knowing or understanding the system.
One of United’s greatest assets, Wayne Rooney, has become a different player. Where he collects the ball on the pitch now is completely at odds to where he has throughout his entire career.
Rooney is a player that Van Gaal should be building the team around but, in my view, where he has been playing for the majority of the season is not the way to go about it.
Turning to the pitch invasions at Villa Park on Saturday, fingers need to be pointed at the Aston Villa fans but the club and police should also take responsibility. English football has been built on handling itself in a secure fashion and in-stadia policing was sorely lacking.
Trevor Steven is a former England international who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. He now works as a media commentator.