RVP HAUNTS ARSENAL
Arsenal face a difficult 90 minutes against their former striker, Robin van Persie, who is now a hero at Manchester United as both clubs meet today's English Premier League game. OLUFEMI ATOYEBI reports
All eyes will be on Manchester United's Robin van Persie when Arsenal visit his new club at the Old Trafford on Saturday (today) in the English Premier League
Arsene Wenger put forward one of his features on Tuesday when he dared Premier League side Reading in the Capital One Cup, naming a weak side against them.
It was a decision that almost backfired as his side went 4-0 down within 38 minutes. But they bounced back to win 7-5 in a dramatic encounter that Reading players will like to quickly forget.
For Arsenal, the result goes beyond qualifying them for the last eight of the League Cup as it could be the motivation that the club need to cross the huge cliff ahead of them at Old Trafford.
There is no doubt that Wenger was lucky to take maximum advantage of the Reading match because apart from achieving victory with the weaker side, he was able to rest more than 80 per cent of the team that will feature today.
Wenger was not the only clever manager midweek. United's Sir Alex Ferguson did the same by fielding a second string side against Chelsea at Stanford Bridge on Wednesday. But he was not as lucky as Wenger because his side threw away the lead thrice to lose 5-4 and got knocked out of the cup. It was a sweet revenge for Chelsea who only last Sunday lost 3-2 to United in controversial circumstances.
But after resting Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and a few regular players, Ferguson will look forward to clinching victory over Arsenal whom they beat twice last season in the league.
With the gap between the two clubs widening because of Arsenal's not-so-fantastic start to the season, United are clear favourites in this game and their plum position is helped by the presence of van Persie, a lethal striker they bought for £24m from Arsenal just before the current season began.
The Dutch striker has repaid the trust that Ferguson has in him, firing nine goals and quickly taking up the responsibility of ensuring that United grab maximum points, even in difficult games. He is the major worry that Arsenal will face today as they negotiate another dangerous bend in a season that they are desperate to finish highly.
After the controversial 3-2 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, United rose to 21 points but remain second to Chelsea (22 points) in the table. Aware of the credential of the leaders this season, United will ensure that they do not lose further ground and they must beat Arsenal to keep the hopes of overtaking their title rivals.
Arsenal have found it hard to score goals in the last few matches. Against QPR last Saturday, it took the club more than 80 minutes to score their lone goal through Mikel Arteta, which secured the maximum points; it came after QPR were down to 10 men.
The visitors must stop their former striker and talisman, but they also have more worry in regaining scoring confidence. Lukas Poldoski is a fox in the box, but playing from the left side of the attacking area shuts him off the dangerous area and with Olivier Giroud gradually proving unworthy of the glee and rating he enjoyed before switching from Ligue 1 side Montpellier to Arsenal, United may have a light defensive work to do.
But sixth placed Arsenal can also rest their hopes on the even distribution of striking duties with Santi Cazorla, Podolski, Theo Walcott, Gervinho and lately Arteta taking up the responsibility. Among them, they have registered 10 goals. But while Gervinho is out injured for three weeks, Walcott can fill in at his preferred central striking position after scoring a hat trick in the 7-5 win over Reading on Wednesday. Kieran Gibbs, Wojciech Szczesny and Abou Diaby are other players with little chance of facing United due to injuries.
A win for the hosts puts them in first position in the table, pending the outcome of the Chelsea match against Swansea later in the afternoon. For Arsenal, a shock victory over United will earn them a temporary fourth position, with their prayer being a disastrous outing for Tottenham and Everton, who occupy the fourth and fifth positions.
Everton travel to Fulham in another Premier League game, while Tottenham will be desperate to erase the memory of their 2-1 League Cup loss to Norwich City as they host Wigan.