Arsene Wenger has refused to be distracted this season by the constant buzzing of media and disenchanted fans alike and now his team must put their disappointing league form behind them and concentrate on the upcoming game against United. Arsenal have managed only six wins from their previous sixteen games in all competitions, two of those victories coming against non-league opposition in the FA Cup, a competition which now holds the key to Wenger’s only hope. While this same period has seen them concede almost two goals per game on average, talk of major changes being required are quickly brushed away by the Gunners camp, but talk is cheap at this stage of the season and Arsenal players go into this game with a lot to prove.
With summer fast creeping up on the world, a dog wandered through the countryside with a stolen bone as it’s prized possession. The dog was happy and without a care in the world for what others around thought or did, safe in the knowledge that it was carrying a piece of luxury which would provide enough sustenance for it to lead a merry dance through the coming year. With a growing thirst, the dog stopped at a nearby river only to notice that another dog stood before him with an even greater treasure prized between it’s jaws. At once, the dog pounced into the river gnashing wildly but in doing so, lost all that he was carrying. After struggling to the shore, he stood alone, dejected, wet and with no bone to call his own. Mourinho will approach this match hoping that Aesop didn’t hit the nail quite as cleanly on the head as many believe.
LAST TIME OUT
Tottenham 2 – 0 ARSENAL
Arsenal fell to defeat against the arch-rivals with a second half performance that was lacking in both finesse and fight. The game started with both teams applying energy and determination to limit the other of any attacking dominance although Spurs showed more flickering moments of quality as Arsenal looked laboured going forwards, Alexis Sanchez being kept in check by Eric Dier who stuck to the Chilean striker like a shadow. Tottenham began to turn the screw on Arsenal in the second half though and finally broke the Gunners defence in the 56th minute when they failed to close down Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen as the duo combined and Alli reacted the quickest to fire a loose ball into the net.
Spurs again broke forward two minutes later and Harry Kane went down in the box under a clumsy challenge from Gabriel Paulista before dusting himself off and calmly knocking the resulting penalty past a static Petr Cech. With Arsenal heads dropping at the two quick goals, Spurs sensed blood and the Gunners ended the day thankful to Cech for an imperious display which prevented the morning papers bearing even worse news for the Arsenal fans.
Celta Vigo 0 – 1 MANCHESTER UNITED
United successfully completed the first part of their remaining quest to reach the Europa League final in Stockholm but with only a single goal to show for their dominance. Marcus Rashford looked full of running in the lone role up front for United during the early stages but it was Daniel Wass who wasted the game’s first opportunity as he sent a header over the bar for the hosts in the 12th minute. Rashford had a stinging shot saved in the 20th minute though as United began to create chances despite Celta looking keen to impress themselves on the game.
With United wasting more opportunities on both sides of the break, Celta had a glorious chance on the hour mark through Pione Sisto, only for Sergio Romero to deny him with a fine flying save. A driving run by Rashford in the 67th minute won United a free-kick which Daley Blind appeared to be lining up only for Rashford to send the set-piece curling into the corner of the goal and give United a lead their play had merited. With United continuing to look the brighter during the remainder of the game in Spain, Celta Vigo will have to comfort themselves with the crumb that they go into the second leg with a chance of turning the tie around.
Santi Cazorla (ankle) and Granit Xhaka (knock) will not feature for Arsene Wenger with Lucas Perez (thigh) and Shkodran Mustafi (thigh) both dubious to start for the Gunners.
Manchester United Lineup
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Phil Jones (toe), Marcus Rojo (knee), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (shoulder), Luke Shaw (foot) and Ashley Young (hamstring) are all ruled out of contention this weekend with Marouane Fellaini also missing out due to his three game suspension. Jose Mourinho has suggested, too, that he’ll field a weaker team with one eye on Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg.
A questionable system
Wenger yet again began their recent match against Tottenham with a back three before reverting to a defensive four midway through the second half which begs the question whether he has any real belief in the new system he’s been keen to employ. While it could be a planned tactic to push an extra player forward in the latter stages of the game, it looks from the outside that Arsenal are not overly convincing with their new style and so a change is required for them to reassert themselves upon the game. With the much heralded back three beginning to look increasingly like the emperor’s new clothes of modern football, Wenger is in danger of falling for the hype as he aims to plug holes in a sinking ship.
Ramsey vs Mata
Aaron Ramsey has almost become the forgotten man at Arsenal this season as injury has again blighted his chances of having a big impact on the Premier League, starting only his eighth game of the season last weekend at Spurs. With the European tournament last summer highlighting just how his creative talents can help a team overcome the odds, Wenger will be hoping he can inspire the Gunners this weekend in a game they need to win. A creative force for United will also be looking to put recent injury behind him as Juan Mata could make an unexpectedly quick return from a groin strain to bolster United’s depleted options and add to the ten goals he’s already scored for the Red Devils this season.
Smoke and mirrors
With nine players having clocked up over 500 minutes of football during April for United, it’s little wonder that Mourinho has been complaining about levels of fatigue within his squad. His recent claims of fielding himself and the youth team have hinted at a sense of mischief from United’s protagonist and although there could well be many changes to his lineup against Arsenal, he will still no doubt be sending out a team he feels is more than capable of beating Wenger’s selection. It is these games at the end of the season that the players wish to play in and with the beach beckoning in only a few short weeks, United’s players will be happy to give their all for the cause, especially if it means they heap more misery on a main rival of recent years.
PREDICTION: Arsenal 1 – 3 Manchester United
As a game which has provided much drama and entertainment over recent years, these two fallen giants will this time attract an audience of voyeurs keen to witness a further fall from grace for one side of the other as they joust to avoid the indignity of a humiliating defeat at the hands of a… well, a fallen giant. Arsenal have the greatest amount of ground to make up in this race and it is hard to see them having enough belief to play well enough for a full 90 minutes to claim victory over United, while the Reds will are a team who have proved difficult to beat over the course of the last half year. As such I’m going to again avoid the fence and plump for a convincing away win with Rooney to score the decisive second goal.