However, the reality is that if City and Arsenal win then Spurs and United could find it very difficult to wrestle back any advantage in the title race. I think that the form the top teams have shown in the past few years, losing not many more than four or so games, highlights how important it is to keep in touch, even at the end of January.
Arsenal are off the back of a humbling defeat at Swansea where they were ‘out-Arsenaled’ by their opponents and, whilst this could create an air of confidence amongst United players and fans they must step onto the Emirates turf wary of a wounded Arsenal. Arsenal will not just be looking to bounce back from their South Wales defeat they’ll also be looking to avenge their 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford earlier in the year. Remember United’s most humiliating defeat? What was the response at the Etihad? Vengence!
Arsenal’s hopes look to have been dented by a likely to be sidelined Thierry Henry (one of two potential returning heroes who could give this game a real old school, turn of the century, feel to it). Also out for Arsenal is Fabregas’ replacement, Arteta, Tomas Vermaelen, Chamakh, Gervinho, Coquelin, Gibbs, Sagna, Jenkinson, Sandros, Diaby and Wilshere. With an injury list to rival anything at the Old Trafford treatment room it wouldn’t be that big a shock to see Adams, Dixon, Keown and Winterburn line up at the back with Viera sat just in front!
United, on the other hand have been boosted by the return of injury victims Smalling and Jones – a timely boost given specualtion about Ferdinand’s fitness for the trip. However, considering only a few weeks ago United were playing Carrick and Evra at centre back and Valencia at right back, to see Evans, Smalling, Jones, Evra and Rafael back in the squad is a huge relief.
As for team selection, Ferguson seems to be reverting back to his favourite 4-4-2 formation of late and, with Arsenal’s problems at the back, I can’t see why he’d change that for Sunday. ‘tween the sticks we’ll probably see Lindegaard retain the jersey as he’s slowly edging himself into position of first choice ‘keeper. What this says for De Gea’s future is unsure but, for now, it appears the Scandanavian is in pole position.
The defence could feature any of the aforementioned but I’d like to see Rafael in the right back spot as his bite and tenacity could bring something extra to this game. Evans appears to be playing his way back to top form and looks likely to play but will he be partnered by Ferdinand, Smalling or Jones? Personally, I’m still not sure I see Jones as a defender. The long term future of United, for me, is Evans and Smalling playing behind Cleverley and Jones. At left back, Evra is the obvious choice.
Valencia just has to start at right wing as he’s been, quite simply, in astonishing form. Rooney has been singing the praises of his right winger recently stating “it is great for us forwards because he’s great at delivering the ball into the box quickly. On the left flank you’d have to expect Nani to start although Ferguson does have a habit of playing Park in games of this magnatitude against quality opposition. In fairness to the Korean, very rarely does he let his manager down.
The middle of midfield is an interesting one. On paper United should be worried as they’ll be up against a classy Aaron Ramsey without Fletcher, Anderson and Cleverley. However, Michael Carrick is in the form of his life and must be astounded to not see his name in the recent England squad (especially when you notice that a certain G.Barry made it). Couple his Rolls Royce performances with the return of Scholes or the reliability of Wales’ answer to Peter Pan, Ryan Giggs and the midfield is looking reasonably healthy all things considered.
Up front will likely see Rooney partner Welbeck who it seems has has nudged himself ahead of Hernandez in the pecking order. To have the impact of a Hernandez on the bench highlights just how improved the injury problem at United has become.