It’s Manchester United’s turn to be tested at the Emirates and it’s absolutely the right chance for sparks to fly sky-high for either side on Saturday, with the need to maintain Arsenal’s best ever run of league wins at the Emirates Stadium threatened by a José Mourinho-led title-chasing army also gunning for a win. Classic!
Hence, the Red Devils will believe a third consecutive loss on Arsenal’s turf is completely out of the question, knowing fully well that they cannot afford to go into the Manchester Derby, a staggering eleven points behind Pep Guardiola’s flying league leaders.
Judging from the piece of history in this continuous rhetoric of unrivalled matchups between both clubs and managers respectively, Saturday’s late kickoff encounter offers yet another chance for either side to also claim much-needed bragging rights, heading into the familiar, unfriendly month of December.
An assessment of this nature brings along with it, a couple of twists, and those which hold high significance. Such which could see Arsenal move within a single point of United, who meanwhile could also open up a seven (7) point gap over their hosts and leave the Gunners chasing two substantial leads at the top of the “Elite six” table.
José Mourinho’s side likewise, would be eagerly anticipating a kind of performance that would yield the right response to gaining just one point from the meetings against both teams, the latter, a resounding 2-0 defeat to the gunners at the Emirates Stadium in May, 2017.
However, an ambiguous context still in play here is the kind of approach Jose executes in his 4th test against a top six this season. Such dilemma stems from the fact that United’s last two heavyweight encounters away from home have yielded mixed results. A much-criticized goalless stalemate at Anfield was followed up with a slightly more expansive style, albeit leading to a narrow 1-0 defeat against Chelsea at the bridge, and that is where the dilemma originates from.
Assuming this was any other previous second season, without an already established eight-point cushion by a Guardiola-led team, it’s fair to say that just the one point from United’s two massive games on the road (Liverpool & Chelsea), while heading into another away top six encounter would certainly have tilted towards a more conservative approach at the Emirates, from United.
However, with the Manchester deficit and Derby on the horizon, playing for a draw might be deemed more jeopardizing than favourable, considering that eight-point blue moon lead over the red side of Manchester. More so even honours from such deadlock will create a 10-point gap by a team going guns blazing ahead if the Manchester showpiece next weekend, and that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth for all concerned.
Hence, it leaves a more elating prospect of positive football, all things considered. Josés ambition is certainly going to be under scrutiny, facing an Arsenal team who have ended November – usually a difficult month, on a high and looking a more deadlier team than that which the Portuguese has come against in the past.
In the last meeting between these two sides in May, 2017, the Gunners had just began to build the home winning streak they’re currently enjoying. The satisfactory 2-0 result and performance displayed on the day was epitomized by none other than Aaron Ramsey, who for the first time since 2013, has successfully raised the previous season’s form to the next level. The Welshman is ticking in both boxes with some exceptional play – more in creative terms, and his assist for Alexandre Lacazette on Wednesday sums up the genius moments he tries to generate in every single game.
Meanwhile, the eventual finisher of that slick opening move – Lacazette, has developed the worst thing that can happen to a top player enjoying a brilliant start to a new adventure: an injury layoff. The Frenchman’s groin worry is a massive blow to the chances of maintaining the arsenal of firepower needed to overcome this current Manchester United side at the Emirates.
Notwithstanding, as is often the case at Arsenal, the unavailability of one player perfectly coincides with the return of another, and in this case, Lacazette’s absence could pave the way for Danny Welbeck to make another strong impression against his former employers.
The England striker’s impressive start to the season was cut short by injury and the timing of his return to face his childhood club couldn’t be more perfect. The fact that he has also made it a habit of biting the fingers that fed him, should spur him on to register a 4th goal against United in as many appearances, since his switch to North London.
Starting the striker against the big boys when available, has always been Arsene’s inclination. Match fitness might persuade the Frenchman to resist the temptation this time, but deploying Welbeck at centre-forward means the team wouldn’t lose the edge Lacazette gives when making intelligent runs and stretching the team, as this also represents Danny’s forte. Hence, the athleticism remains and should give him the edge of a CF starting berth over Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud.
Whoever gets the nod on Saturday will be licking his lips playing in front a playmaker at the very top of his game. Once under the wings of Mourinho at Real Madrid, Mesut Ozil is laying credence to the claims of Jose that the German is arguably the best no. 10 in world football. While likely to make a move for him in the coming months of next year’s winter and summer, Jose will almost certainly assign a man marker for the 29-year old and it will be interesting to witness such action. Or lack of.
Like Ozil, another Germany International raking in the praise of many is Shkodran Mustafi. The 25-year old’s return from injury has also coincided with the added security Arsenal seem to be currently enjoying in defence. Alongside Peter Cech, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal, the German will certainly look to cut out the service aimed at Romelu Lukaku, while also organizing the shape his teammates create on either side of the defensive third.
The stakes hardly get much higher. Unlike the win secured over Tottenham a fortnight ago, Arsenal go into this game with less pressure but still maintain an intact desire to secure a 3rd successive home victory over a fierce rival. Manchester United will believe they have the superior ambition to prove that the four points Arsenal gained over them in both fixtures last season was only a rare lucky break. With expectations high at the Emirates, any result that manifests will be seen as the precise curtain raiser to December’s window of clustered opportunities.
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