Manchester United – Arsenal (Premier League)
The Gunners go into Old Trafford with a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League table, eight over their host Manchester United. In 17 years as Arsenal’s Manager is the first time Wenger travels to the Theatre of Dreams without having Alex Ferguson on the home bench. A new era is starting there and so far is not brilliant. The perfect opportunity for Arsenal to sneak an away victory.
Don’t let Manchester United‘s sluggish start under David Moyes fool you. United is always a force to reckon with. Sure, 8th place is not their usual. Five wins, two draws and three losses is a record for a mid-table squad, something the Red Devils are not. But gradually they have been falling into place and they are on a eight-game unbeaten run. Last week Moyes men had it easy at Craven Cottage. Valencia, van Persie and Rooney sealed the deal in the first half and were not for the injuries of Cleverly and Rafael United would have won for more. In the Champions League game Real Sociedad hold them back (0-0). Defensively they had a solid performance, clearly United are at their best when Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic pair up. They provide the solid foundation at the back that allows the rest of the team to go forward with absolute confidence. Rooney is in top-form and together with van Persie count 11 hits in the League. Both of them are complete players, they can score and assist just as easily. Tom Cleverly came off at half-time against Fulham with double vision but is expected to return. So are Micael Carrick and Rafael. Welbeck will be out due to knee injury.
Probable lineup: De Gea – Rafael da Silva, Vidic, Ferdinand, Patrice Evra – Carrick, Cleverly – Januzaj, Rooney, Kagawa – Robbie van Persie.
The dreadful November fixtures started and so far the results for Arsenal went beyond their dreams. They played host to Liverpool and what was foreseen as a tight clash turned out to be a clear victory for the home team, Arsenal dominated throughout both the midfield and the match. And off to Dortmund they went to face last season Champions League runners-up. Once again the Gunners stood their ground and Aaron Ramsey delivered the well-deserved winner. The last time an English team won at Borrusia Dortmund was almost fifty years ago. Arsenal are playing good football, that is not exactly new. They now are also collected, calm, disciplined, assertive, mature. Those were not their strongest features in the past and it may just be what was lacking them to go to the next level. In 18 games this season, in all competitions, they have 13 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses and only once have they failed to score. Their single, and last, defeat in the Premier League dates back to August the 24th. And they did all that with a long injury report. Against Liverpool and Dortmund Ozil, Cazorla and Ramsey proved they can overrun any opposition’s midfield, and United’s is hardly a dynamic one. Arsenal have been stating their credentials steadily step by step. The problem is the Gunners have a reputation for raising high hopes and then fail on the final stretch. And that is why week in and week out the question remains “should we take them seriously now?” as tittle contenders. Per Mertsacker and Laurent Koscielny had their best performance as a duo. Just as the team was finally getting over Mathieu Falmini’s absence he is ready to return to the pitch and it’s a probable selection for this Sunday’s game. Wishere’s knee and Flamini’s fitness will give Arsène Wenger some pause. Diaby, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolsky and Theo Walcott are still injured.
Probable lineup: Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Mertsacker, Gibbs – Flamini, Arteta – Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla – Giroud.
Arsenal never won on their nine last visits to Manchester United (8 losses and 1 draw). The Londoners last win at Old Trafford was in 2006 and last season only took van Persie 3 minutes to initiate United’s 2-1 win. The previous year they suffered a humiliating 8-2 defeat there. For the Gunners going head-to-head with the defending Champions is the ultimate psychological test. If they overcome the challenge they could silence the most cynic of critics. If they don’t the blow can burst all the milestones they’ve conquered so far.