Friday, 2 November 2012

Who to start at Old Trafford - Walcott of Ramsey

As the all important fixture at Old Trafford edges ever closer, we turn our mind to the possible starting eleven that will chosen by Wenger in just  24 hours time.

The Carling Cup thriller at Reading saw 11 changes to the Arsenal side that faced QPR last weekend, and we could see a similar amount of changes tomorrow, as Wenger reverts back to his preferred starting eleven for this key fixture.

We start the game 7 points adrift of the leaders Chelsea, in 6th place, and probably can't afford to suffer defeat if we have any aims in winning the title. In fact, every time we have won the title under Wenger, we have come away with either a draw or victory from this fixture. Yet, despite Tottenham doing is earlier this season, winning in Manchester, or even getting a draw, is not an easy challenge and is still the hardest game for any team in the season. We are all too aware of this after last season's result, and Wenger needs to make a considered choice about the eleven players he puts his faith in tomorrow.

Arsenal have shown that they are capable of mixing it with the best teams in the country this season after a deserved point against Manchester City, and an impressive, dominating performance at Anfield. Yet the slip ups against Norwich and Schalke, and the dreadful first half display against Reading - possibly one of the worst ever by an Arsenal team under Wenger - this week has shown that there are still problems with this Arsenal squad.

With Szczesny, Gibbs and Diaby still out injured, there are likely to be few changes from last Saturday's victory against QPR, and the only question marks around the squad are over the left-back, striker and right win positions. Whilst there are still slight question marks as to whether Wilshere is ready for a game of this intensity.

The candidates for the right wing role are between Walcott, Ramsey and Chamberlain - who faces a late fitness test and is unlikely to start, but might be ready to take a place on the bench.

The main candidate to start out wide is Walcott. Theo has had somewhat of a stop-start season so far, as the question marks over his contract have restricted his game time, especially in the league. But when he has played, Walcott has been very impressive.

Walcott has struggled with consistency throughout his career at Arsenal, and it is truly frustrating that his form can be so bi-polar that he dominates teams with ease on some days, then looks like he should be in League Two on other occasions. Yet, as he developed a partnership with Van Persie over the last 18 months, at least he was consistent in his goals and assists, even if his performances were still highly inconsistent. Last year saw Walcott start 39 games for the club, and he ended the campaign with 9 goals and 9 assists, whilst the year before he scored 13 goals and set up 11. For a 23 year old these stats are impressive.

Despite on managing 3 starts this campaign, Walcott is currently Arsenal's top scorer with 7 goals and has 4 assists too. His performance at Reading this week saw him be almost unplayable, as he sparked the Arsenal comeback with a excellent finish just before half time.  Every time he received the ball he brought it forward and retained possession, and he also showed his predatory instinct in front of goal with his two more well-struck finishes, earning him a hattrick - despite Jenkinson's attempts to take one of the goal's off him. Walcott was a threat all night, and may well have played himself into the starting eleven for Saturday's  lunchtime clash.

Theo is experienced in these big games, and is somewhat of a big games player, with memorable performances against Chelsea and Barcelona on numerous occasions. With Evra struggling for form recently, Walcott will be able to keep him pegged back and terrorise him with his pace as he has done to many defenders over his career. It is important to note that Ferdinand and Evans have also struggled against pace this season.

Walcott provides the threat of a genuine wide man, which Ramsey does not and when played there this season the Welshman has occasionally tended to drift inside. With his connection with Sagna developed over the last few years, it would probably help defensively against United's tricky wingers too.

But the main reason to start Theo is due to his eye for goal. In these tight clashes, finishing your chances is the most important things to do, and Theo is genuinely one of the best finishers at the club. For me, despite playing 120 minutes aginst Reading on Tuesday, Theo must start.

In competition with Walcott, is Aaron Ramsey. Despite not being a classic wide player, Ramsey has been successfully deployed out on the right by Wenger this season. The Welshman offers himself as another midfield body and can help up dominate the centre of the park, which has always been so vital in Arsenal and United games, dating back to the enticing battles between Vieira and Keane.

Against Manchester City at the Etihad, in probably Arsenal's best performance of the season, Ramsey start on the right and helped weaken the threat of City's midfield, which usually brushed others sides away with the talent and power of Yaya Toure and co. Ramsey is helpful in retaining possession and is more technically gifted than Walcott. But, as his stats over the last few years show, he lacks the eye for goal that Walcott has.

Last season Aaron scored 3 and set up 5 in his 33 starts, and his form completely eluded him in the latter part of the season. Yet Ramsey has started this season well. His passing has suited the free-flowing football played by this Arsenal side, especially mastered by Arteta and Cazorla.

Arsene has chosen to start Ramsey out wide in the rest of the key games this season, against Chelsea and Man City, and leaving him out against Reading may be a hint that the 21 year old is in line to start this weekend too. Yet the form of Walcott, and the recent unimpressive display by Ramsey against Schalke, where he was non-existent as a threat down the right, may cause Wenger to change his mind.

Arsenal have a had a rotten record against United recently, with only one win at Old Trafford since 2003, and only 4 wins at Old Trafford in Wenger's time here. We need to put things right with a proper performance tomorrow, and leave Manchester with something. Come on Arsenal.

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