Arsenal are set to face Manchester United at Old Trafford in the next round of the FA Cup.
The news wafted over me – and most of Twitter, by the looks of things – like a fart and went down about a well as one.
However, although we’ve obviously had trouble against the bigger teams over recent years, how does our potential team match up with theirs on paper?
Here are both our teams as they lined up during both our recent FA Cup ties.
Starting from the back, the two likely goalkeepers are going to be Wojciech Szczesny and United’s David De Gea.
The young keepers are both only 24 -years-old and, although De Gea has been reasonably solid over the last season, they’re both prone to making individual errors (see the goal conceded against Preston as an example).
The Spaniard, however, has had more playing time and is also rated slightly higher than his Polish rival, who was initially dropped to the bench after a downright bizarre display in the Premier League against Southampton.
Our back four against Middlesbrough consisted of Calum Chambers, new boy Gabriel Paulista, Laurent Koscielny and Keiran Gibbs while Manchester United’s was Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw.
On paper, their defence in terms of individual ratings is better than ours however, when looking at individual qualities, both defences aren’t too far apart. For example, Koscielny’s interception rate per game is higher than Rojo’s, and he generally gives away less fouls, but Rojo’s makes on average 2.1 more clearances per game than our Frenchman.
In addition, both our young fullbacks are rated higher than their golden boy Shaw, with Chambers in particular standing above the United player in terms of tackles, interceptions, dribbling and blocks, although not in clearances.
Both teams have conceded 11 goals this season and also have other players they could bring in for such a big game. United’s Michael Carrick and Phil Jones are due back from injury by the end of February, while we have the Big … German Per Mertesacker ready to step in.
The middle of the pitch is where we really excel against United and it’s no surprise that almost all our players (bar Mathieu Flamini) are rated a lot higher.
Alexis and Santi Cazorla, in particular, are superior in assists to United’s highest rated midfielder, Wayne Rooney.
Cazorla is also leaps and bounds ahead of Rooney in terms of keys passes, as well as pass accuracy (87.2% to Rooney’s average of 84.4%), and Alexis has scored 17 goals in all competitions as opposed to the Englishman’s nine.
We also have key players like Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain due back before March, not to mention Jack Wilshere and, of course, Mesut Ozil.
This is the area we can and should dominate them in.
Manchester United’s attack is where many predict they could outplay us due to the sheer amount of money spent on ‘borrowing’ of Falcao, who hasn’t exactly lit Manchester on fire this season, never mind the world.
When each player is broken down individually, our forwards are actually rate higher.
Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck have both scored more than Marouane Fellaini and Falcao together and as individuals. Not only this, but our goals tend to come from all over the pitch, many from our midfield; our goal tally for the season currently stands at 28, as opposed to their 20.
In saying this, other attributes like our pass accuracy, especially in Giroud’s case, fall short.
It’s also likely that He Who Shall Not Be Named will have returned from wherever he’s been (apparently an injury but I’m almost positive he was just visiting his home in hell). The likelihood of him scoring against us (again) is horrifically likely, since he seems to like doing that.
Both teams have options from the bench.
Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Francis Coquelin stand out for Arsenal with Rosicky in particular proving to be an excellent impact sub, while Juan Mata and Adnan Januzai are highly rated for United.
Ultimately, we’re more than capable of winning if our stats are anything to go by as long as we keep our composure in midfield and make strong, positive decisions when it comes to getting forward.
However, we all know that results don’t always boil down to our ability on paper.
We could sustain injuries (please footballing Gods, no) or they could get in our heads.
What is certain is that this season we are working together as a team far more efficiently and if we’re going to beat them, what better time and place to do it?