Arsenal host Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday in what could be a season-defining clash for both clubs.
The Gunners have generally been in good form recently but suffered a wobble in midweek as they slumped to a 3-1 defeat to French club Rennes in the Europa League, which followed on from a disappointing 1-1 draw with fierce north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsenal also have a bitter rivalry with this weekend’s opponents, Manchester United, who will be coming into this clash full of confidence.
The Red Devils have been reinvigorated since the appointment of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and secured a magnificent result in midweek by overcoming a two goal first leg deficit to prevail over PSG in the Champions League.
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So, will the Red Devils’ fantastic form continue, or will the home advantage come to Unai Emery’s rescue at the Emirates Stadium?
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the 16:30 kick-off…
Arsenal and Manchester United have a long-standing rivalry. Iconic and long-serving managers Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, who were in charge at the Emirates and Old Trafford, respectively, clashed for years, continually duking it out for the top prizes in English football.
In more recent years, the Manchester outfit have enjoyed the majority of the success in this famous fixture. However, between 1998 and 2005, there was rarely anything to choose between the two sides, who regularly produced spectacular clashes when they met, including 2003’s ‘Battle of Old Trafford’.
Another memorable encounter between these giants of the game would be welcome on Sunday.
Both Arsenal and Manchester United boast one of the most exciting striker partnerships in the Premier League.
For the Gunners, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have been prolific all season. Their off-field friendship has also seen them become favourites with the Emirates Stadium faithful, and has prevented their healthy competition for places from descending into a toxic rivalry.
However, Aubameyang has looked low on confidence since his recent late penalty miss against Spurs, and the 27-year-old Lacazette also squandered some presentable chances in that match, so Emery could be dealing a with confidence crisis amongst his strikeforce on Sunday.
Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku, meanwhile, ought to be on an all-time high following their performance against PSG. Both scored vital goals against the Ligue 1 giants to complete the miraculous turnaround. They may not have had the same levels of end product as the Arsenal partnership over the course of the campaign, but they’re certainly the pair in the ascendancy at this time.
The 21-year-old England man and the 6’3” Belgian will be keen to assert their authority again this weekend, and will believe they have what it takes to do so.
Experienced referee Jonathan Moss will be overseeing this match. He will have to call on all his wisdom and skill to maintain control of this fixture, as meetings between Arsenal and Manchester United have been known to spiral into chaos in the past.
The enmity between the two clubs is such that their matches are often heated, feisty affairs. Moss, though, will know how to deal with that. The stats suggest that the 48-year-old will not shy away from asserting his authority on proceedings.
Moss certainly won’t hesitate to show cards when required. Of the 18 referees to have taken charge of a Premier League match so far this season prior to this weekend, only two have averaged more sending offs per game than him. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him add to his tally of reds on Sunday.
Emery will remain without long-term absentees Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Danny Welbeck, whilst Lucas Torreira is ruled out due to suspension. This leaves the Spanish coach with some defensive riddles to solve, but also essentially ensures that Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi will be paired up in the middle of the park.
As for the backline, despite having given away a penalty against Spurs, 26-year-old Germany international Shkodran Mustafi will likely be called upon to fill in at right-back once again, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan ahead of him offering protection. Meanwhile, the impressive partnership of Sokratis and club-captain Laurent Koscielny will line up in the heart of the rearguard.
After Aubameyang’s toils against Spurs and Rennes, Lacazette will probably get the nod ahead of the 58-cap Gabon international. On top of that, as has so often been the case this season, the Gunners’ 30-year-old playmaker Mesut Ozil will likely be dropped as well – meaning Arsenal’s two highest earners according to Spotrac will, at best, start on the bench.
Solskjaer’s selection will be hugely influenced by the injury woes currently plaguing his squad. Due to this, 22-year-old academy product Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira will retain their starting berths in midfield.
However, there’s a boost for the Red Devils in the shape of Anthony Martial, who is set to make a welcome return. The 23-year-old winger was in scintillating form prior to his injury, and has nine Premier League goals to his name this season. If the 18-cap France international can pick up where he left off then the Gunners will be in trouble.
Overall, that’s two changes from the starting XI Solskjaer fielded in Paris.