Sunday afternoon marked a lot of things for Arsenal. It was a fine victory against a local rival following a half-time deficit; it was the continuation of a now 19-match unbeaten streak; and it was also the match where football supporters all over the globe took notice of what had been happening at Arsenal over the past few months.
Arsenal fans will no doubt be aware of the change in atmosphere over the last couple of months – a change in atmosphere that meant that results like Sunday’s feel like a genuine possibility.
To paraphrase Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the Quentin Tarantino-directed “Django Unchained”, if the dismantling of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham was the game that caught people’s curiosity, then Wednesday night’s game against Manchester United in Old Trafford could be the game that grabs their attention.
In contrasting fortunes to Unai Emery’s team on Sunday, Jose Mourinho seen his side fall two goals behind to a lowly Southampton. While they managed to salvage the game with a draw, it was a match that showed the Red Devils to be in a particularly weak vain of form – the Saints sacked their manager Mark Hughes the following day, to add insult to United’s injury.
What this means, is that these are two sides that are entering the game in too vastly different places. United are at a low-ebb, Arsenal are flying high. Old Trafford is never an easy place to go, but surely this is as good of an opportunity as any to travel there and get a result.
The performances of the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – who has, amazingly, scored with his last 10 shots on target - and Lucas Torreira made shockwaves throughout the league at the weekend, and the managerial tact of Emery was praised for his introduction of game changers Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette.
On the other hand, United’s draw seen reports of dressing room conflict emerge – a poor result in this match could potentially mark the end of Mourinho’s time in the dugout at Old Trafford.
After his side drew to Southampton, Mourinho claimed his side needed “mad dogs” who would fight to win the ball, even when it looked like the odds were against them. Arsenal seen that in their Uruguayan midfielder Torreira on Sunday, and supporters will be hoping the young midfielder can build-on his man of the match display against Spurs.
As far as team news goes, United are perhaps the worst off. Mourinho’s side will be defensively-light with Ashley Young out due to suspension, Phil Jones reportedly carrying an injury and Luke Shaw having to leave the field with a knock against the Saints. In addition to this, Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly are also doubts for the encounter.
Up-front, United also seen their leading man leave the field on Saturday afternoon, with Romelu Lukaku being subbed with a knock. Whether he will be fit for the entirety of the Arsenal encounter is unclear.
The Gunners on the other hand will be missing two players, most likely – Mesut Ozil will remain on the side-lines due to the back spasms that have kept him out of the past two matches and Granit Xhaka will not compete as the midfielder has amassed five yellow cards already.
United-Arsenal, to take away current situations a little, is arguably the biggest game in the Premier League, and always marks an occasion. Whether it’s moments of footballing history such as Patrick Viera vs. Roy Keane in the tunnel; the lowest-of-lows back in 2011 when Alex Ferguson’s team won the day 8-2; or one Thierry Henry sending Highbury into ecstasy back in 2000 with an astonishing acrobatic volley, this is a game that rarely disappoints.
Fortunes have changed a little over the last few years for both sides, but there’s no doubt that this game still represents a massive opportunity for both sides to lay down a marker. For Arsenal, it’s a chance to claim a second scalp from the perceived “top 6” in a week; for United, it’s a chance for their manager to stake a claim for holding onto his job going into the second half of the season.
For those keeping score, Manchester United are unbeaten in 11 home league matches against Arsenal since September 2006 (Winning 8, Drawing 3). Historically, they’re perhaps the team that Arsenal have had the most trouble with in the league, especially on-the-road.
What may give Emery some hope despite this poor record is that United have conceded 23 goals in their opening 14 matches – it took them 30 games to reach that point last season. With this being the case, and Arsenal’s attacking players in good-form, there’s a fine opportunity to do some damage and put that unpleasant 12-year record to bed.
To continue with numbers, here’s a very relevant figure – 16. If Emery can claim a win on Wednesday night, he will have equalled his side’s entire last campaign away-point haul of 16 after just 7 games – they’ve already equalled the away win record of 4 from Wenger’s last season.
But, regardless of form, this is Manchester United – a team not to be taken lightly. Rarely has there seemed a time that suits better to play them on home turf, with injury numbers high and spirts low, but they could still surprise and pull out the kind of performance they have been lacking in recent months.
To conclude: the 82 most recent league and cup encounters between these two sides had featured one or both of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger at the helm – this time it’s Mourinho vs. Emery, and both manager’s will be desperate to claim all 3 points.
Arsenal travel to Old Trafford to come-up against Manchester United on Wednesday the 5th of December in the Premier League, with kick-off scheduled for 8PM.