By John Ryan
- This used to be a game between the top two teams
- Manchester United come into this game 5th and Arsenal are 6th
There was a time when Arsenal versus Manchester United was the standout fixture of the Premier League. Both clubs dominated the division until the arrival of Jose Mourinho to English football in the Summer of 2004.
Since then Arsenal have not won the title but Manchester United have landed it five times, seeing and raising Chelsea’s hand.
Mourinho took over at Old Trafford last summer and this week Arsene Wenger spoke of there being no respect between the two Managers while Mourinho has threatened to play an under 23 side in this and remaining Premier League games.
Given the criticism Wenger has received from his own fans this season it is all a far cry from the duels both teams fought out five years either side of the turn of the century.
This fixture has served up some classics over the years. Of course the last game the Busby Babes played on English soil was at Highbury in a 5-4 defeat of Arsenal.
In February 1997 United travelled to Highbury and won with Wenger in his post-match interview bemoaning the fact that Cantona was injured. His assessment that United were far more menacing with Solskjaer & Cole up front was perceptive given Cantona’s retirement from the game three months later.
One Frenchman could see that another’s influence was waning.
Arsenal have handed United a few three goal hammerings in this game under Wenger however United probably took the biggest meeting of all in the 2009 Champions League semi-final second leg when Rooney and Ronaldo ran riot.
United also won a huge game in February 2005 when John O’Shea’s chip sealed a wonderful performance but last season Alexis Sanchez inspired Arsenal to an easy win. This game can go either way.
Wenger Big Influence On English Football
Wenger changed a lot in English football with his players being among the first Premier League stars to have stricter diets and be sent for dental work to improve their fitness.
Regardless of any club loyalties, his achievements are remarkable. Three Premier League titles with two of them unbeaten away from home all season and one without a loss all through the thirty eight games.
He led Arsenal to the Champions League final in 2006 but of late Arsenal have found it impossible to get past the second round.
The manner in which he is discussed on Arsenal Fan Tv is uncomfortable viewing given all he has done for the club. Now he faces someone he clearly does not like in the opposition dugout with fourth place looking a hope more than an expectation for both sides.
Both Teams Have Had Difficult Seasons
Arsenal’s second half of this season has been a slump. In contrast United have won the League Cup and are ninety minutes from the Europa League final.
Mourinho has declared that tournament his priority but United’s long unbeaten run is not something he will want to give up easily.
United have been playing in classic Mourinho fashion of late with the win over Celta Vigo in Spain being trademark of this manager.
United are creating a lot of chances but are not putting them away.
Mourinho no doubt has plans to rectify that in the Summer but for now he needs Marcus Rashford to add to his goal tally. Wenger must be wondering if he has a job beyond the summer at Arsenal. The longer the club goes without making a decision it is hurting the club.
Both Teams Missing Players
As many as thirteen players from the combined squads could miss this game through injury or suspension.
Arsenal will no doubt try to take this game to United but the expectation is that with fatigue and the upcoming second leg against Celta, United will soak up what Arsenal throw at them and hit them on the break.
With Marouane Fellaini suspended Manchester United will have a more dynamic midfield available. If the manager risks Pogba and Rashford then expect both to link up at will in this game.
Arsenal in recent games have looked like a side not used to playing together yet they still beat Manchester City in the FA Cup.
The days of Vieira and Keane clattering each has been replaced by the likes of Rashford diving to win a penalty and Sanchez hitting the deck after a ball was thrown at him but still nobody wants to lose this game.
Neither side dominates the Premier League any more but with Mourinho looking like he is building something and Wenger nearing the exit door, United should come out on top in another Jose Mourinho tactical battle.
Verdict: Arsenal 0-1 Manchester United