Arsenal vs Manchester United preview - No place for Vermaelen

I have a say

Posted Sunday, May 01, 2011 by PA

Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen has returned to action from a long-term Achilles injury with the reserves, but will not be rushed back into the first-team squad for Sunday's Barclays Premier League clash against leaders Manchester United at Emirates Stadium.

The Belgian centre-half has not featured since the end of August, but played the whole of Thursday night's goalless second XI game against United at Old Trafford.

Midfielder Abou Diaby (calf) misses out again, but Czech winger Tomas Rosicky could be available after illness.

Johan Djourou has called for Arsenal to put the record straight and show the character of champions by beating United.

The Gunners have seen their own title hopes suffer a fatal blow following a run of only one win from the last seven league games.

Arsenal - now facing a battle to secure third place and automatic Champions League qualification ahead of FA Cup finalists Manchester City - have not won in front of their own fans since beating Stoke 1-0 on February 23.

Swiss defender Djourou, however, believes there is no better time to get back to winning ways than by halting United's drive towards the title.

"We know our record at home has not been that great lately, because we drew too many games, but we want to put things in order at home," Djourou told Arsenal TV Online.

"When Arsenal play our game, no-one can stop us so we have to keep going and fight for each other, to give everything, that is where the difference is.

"We have done well against the big teams at home, and United are a great team - but we just have to show everyone we are better than them."

Dimitar Berbatov returns to the United squad.

Berbatov has missed three games with a minor groin strain but is expected to be handed a starting spot as United look to end Arsenal's lingering title challenge.

Paul Scholes serves the final game of a three-match ban, whilst Darren Fletcher (virus) is expected to be available for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final decider with Schalke.

Michael Owen will be making no apologies for collecting a Premier League title medal with pride should United complete their record 19th championship triumph.

United head to Arsenal knowing victory will nudge them to the very brink of an historic achievement as Liverpool are finally "knocked off their perch", as Sir Alex Ferguson promised when he arrived at Old Trafford in 1986.

For Owen, it would represent the first league medal of his illustrious career, and leave him with only the Champions League to complete an entire set.

As he still requires one more appearance to qualify automatically, and only one of his nine contributions came from a place in the starting line-up, the 31-year-old accepts there are others far more deserving of the honour.

However, he also knows there were times earlier in his career when he made more significant contributions to silverware successes, which is why there will be such a spring in his step if he gets the chance to collect the Premier League trophy.

"There are players who would be 10 times more deserving of a Premier League medal in this team than me, so it is not as though I will be flashing it around," he said.

"But there is no point being embarrassed about accepting something you have been part of.

"I didn't get two medals for scoring two goals in the FA Cup final in 2001.

"I have won plenty in my career but I have not won the two big ones. That would complete the set.

"There is still quite a way to go, so let's hope there is something to pick up at the end of the season."

Owen's future beyond the end of the season is open to debate as it appears highly unlikely he will be offered a contract extension at United following the emergence of Javier Hernandez.

However, he still has a contribution to make given the history of United is littered with examples of substitutes scoring late goals, the most obvious being Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who came off the bench to win the Champions League in 1999.

Owen's own last-gasp strike against Manchester City last season is another, whilst even the former England man's solitary Premier League goal this season - at Bolton in October - helped salvage a valuable point when the Red Devils seemed destined to lose.

"Even if it is just one goal or one good performance, everyone is going to play their part," said Owen.



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