Arsenal v Manchester United, Premier League, January 31, 2010
Arsenal and Manchester United may have had differing fortunes over the last week, but make no mistake about it, this is a massive match which should go a long way to deciding who will win the Premier League title. (Arsenal are 5/1 to win the league, Manchester United are 7/2.)
Both the Gunners and the current champions had played a game more than Chelsea coming into the title and the Blues could be four points clear of second placed Manchester United and five in front of Arsenal if they managed to beat Burnley on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger will be hoping his side can pick themselves up from a chastening week. The 3-1 FA Cup reverse at Stoke and the midweek 0-0 draw at Aston Villa has seen them stall in their pursuit of some silverware. Just a week after the Emirates was bouncing to the tune of â€œwe are top of the leagueâ€ after Bolton had been defeated for the second time in four days.
The draw at Villa, a team who have beaten the other three members of the â€œBig Fourâ€ this season was not the worst result. But, the injury to Thomas Vermaelen, which is expected to keep him out for at least this game is a blow. (Arsenal are 13/5 to keep a clean sheet, 1/3 against.) Throw in the hamstring problem picked up by Eduardo and Arsene Wenger is in a position he will be familiar with this season of counting the cost of injuries.
For much of the January transfer window the Arsenal boss has had to fend off questions of why he hasnâ€™t spent to strengthen the Gunners title challenge. Vermaelenâ€™s injury means Sol Campbell is set to start against Manchester United in what will be a major test for the veteran central defender. Nicklas Bendtner should also be included in the first XI and the Danish striker will be hoping to justify Wengerâ€™s faith in him. (Arsenal are 11/4 to score in both halves, 1/5 against.)
The duel between Sol Campbell and Wayne Rooney is likely to be the one that focuses minds ahead of this encounter. Rooney is in excellent form and is now the runaway leader to finish as top goal scorer in the Premier League this season. Four goals against Hull last week were followed with the dramatic late winner against Manchester City on Wednesday and the whole of England is praying Rooney will take this form into the World Cup in the summer.
Since their shock FA Cup defeat to Leeds, United have returned to familiar ways with some impressive form at the start of the second half of the season. Edwin van der Sar’s return to the first team, means United are a lot more secure at the back whilst Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher were hugely impressive against City in the second leg. (Manchester United are 14/5 to keep a clean sheet, 30/100 against.)
The victory over City was Unitedâ€™s best performance of the season but how much has the two legged tie taken out of Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s side?
Despite the results achieved by both sides over the past week, Arsenal should be confident that they can secure a big result at home. The Gunners were hugely unfortunate to lose 2-1 at Old Trafford earlier this season and even United could struggle against their slick passing and teamwork at the Emirates. (Arsenal are 17/2 to win both halves.)
During the short history of the Premier League, this is the key fixture of the season and whilst Chelsea may be favourites to win the title, a victory for either side in this match could lift belief to new levels. With Arsenal facing Chelsea next Sunday, the next few weeks could decide the destination of the title and it is up to Arsene Wengerâ€™s young guns to prove they are ready to step up.
101gg predicts: Arsenal 2 â€“ Manchester United 1 (10/1)
Full match odds here.