The first step to success at Old Trafford will be to play a high pressing game while looking to take full advantage of transitions in play.
It had slowly crept out of Arsenal’s game in recent seasons, possibly because of their youthful exuberance but having watched sides like Barcelona, Liverpool and Bordeaux, Wenger will have noted the importance of pressing, particularly from the front.
His side have looked more determined this season, mixing the Wenger style passing with the George Graham’s tactical discipline. All games this season have displayed a greater improvement in closing down of opponents starting with the front three and continuing to the central midfielders. It is a ploy which has provided the basis for their creative attacking play and has the Gunners setting the pace early on in the season. “I wanted to play high up the pitch and it can change in some games,” said Wenger. “But overall I believe we can play high up and we can bring the threat to the opponents half very early in the game.”
It demands high levels of fitness, discipline and concentration and if the Gunners are to give themselves the best chance of success against Manchester United they must keep at it throughout the whole 95 minutes. That has been the real triumph of the season so far for Arsenal; their players are more hungry, determined and are fully aware of just how key their roles are for the new system to work.
Arsene Wenger has hinted a change to the 4-4-2 although he may just be calling Sir Alex Ferguson’s bluff, nevertheless he’ll still have his charges doing the same thing. Manchester United’s real strength in the past few seasons has been their ability to attack from all angles but after losing the dynamic and highly athletic players of Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, it means they must work much better as a team. If Arsenal press well and put United’s defenders under huge pressure, then they will really go some way of cutting their supply particularly if they deny Micheal Carrick any space.
Nicklas Bendtner has been Wenger’s first choice on the right but after his performance against Celtic on Wednesday night, Emmanuel Eboue may be tactically the better choice. The Ivorian tracked back tirelessly on the right, an area where Celtic had had much joy in the first leg particularly with left back Daniel Fox but he was practically non-existent in the second leg despite having more possession.
The Arsenal 4-3-3, just as Barcelona’s, tends to give some space down the wings and it is an area where United will look to profit from. Park Ji Sung will get up and down the pitch supporting the attack well while Antonia Valencia, if he starts can hug the right touchline. Andrei Arshavin is not expected to get up and down as much as Park therefore the 4-3-3 Wenger deploys seeks to have the left central midfielder cover for the Russian. Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas have been in immense form, reading the game expertly from such attacks and they will have to be at their eagle-eyed best especially with the movement of United’s forward four.
Eboue has his other advantages too as his speed also allows the Gunners to break quickly from counter attacks. This will be all the more important as the huge Cesc Fabregas-shaped hole left by the injured skipper may mean less possession. Advancing beyond Robin van Persie will be a key tactic for Arsenal as the Dutchman is not the strongest playing on the shoulder, but has fantastic link-up play, dragging defenders with him which allows Arsenal’s movement to reek havoc.
No team will want to give the opposition an inch come Saturday and that means Arsenal must pressure effectively to have the best chance of getting a result.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Denilson, Diaby; Arshavin, Eboue, van Persie.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Foster; O’Shea, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Park, Fletcher, Carrick, Nani; Berbatov, Rooney.