This fixture inevitably brings up comparisons of yesteryear, when Wenger was in his peak, and Sir Alex Ferguson was in his pomp.
This was arguably the greatest title rivalry in Premier League history – bigger than United/Blackburn, United/Newcastle, or United/Chelsea, or United/City. Both us and United have similar values, attitudes, and history of success (albeit they’ve won far more than us and trophies we’ve never won). And both Wenger and Sir Alex held similar footballing philosophies, with Arsene being the “upstart from Japan who should keep his mouth shut”.
Both clubs have declined somewhat from that late 1990s/early 2000s highpoint. Though both in recent years have won trophies, and possess world class players. Nobody disputes the qualities of Pogba, de Gea, and Rashford. Aubameyang, Lacazette, and Ozil, are all of the proven quality too.
But it could be argued that bar Tottenham, the United home game is the next biggest, if anything due to this historical backdrop.
Both sides have had contrasting results this week.
They beat world record signing Neymar, wonderkid Mbappe, and the money-laden PSG on aggregate.
We lost to Rennes, also in France of course, though the second leg could see a turnaround.
And with our good friends Tottenham losing, both teams need a positive result, since the Lillywhites are slowly but surely being dragged into the top four battle.
Will we see a French down, and then an Emirates up? Will United face the opposite?:
Despite the fallacies of Sokratis being “slow” and “not up to it”, he’s proven the doubters wrong on both cases. And in many ways, he’s been our best defender this season, and has been Keown or Bould-esque in his defensive style. He not only has pace, but a physicality and brawn to manage attackers.
However, this brawn cost him, and despite his good form, has made some telling errors in the Rennes game.
I’d argue that his sending off was a key factor in our losing in the week – but now is the time for redemption. Lukaku, Rashford, and Martial are all top quality forwards, but Sokratis must get Rennes out of his system, and not allow that to undermine his game. We need him.
I’m firmly Emery In, and in my view, #emeryout is inane and foolish.
But then his display in the second half was poor, and in an area that has been a strength for him.
He needs a strong tactical plan – and it’s imperative that we control the midfield. Pogba has recovered his quality and even less lauded players like Herrera and Perreira are stepping up.
United will look to exploit gaps, and move into our weak defensive areas. And our defending must be on point, and we cannot have any real mistakes, since they will punish us.
However, Torreira’s suspension may make us having less bite in the midfield, though playing a midfield three could counter this.
There is an old saying – if life gives one lemons, make lemonade. Emery instead turned the lemons into an non-potable beverage.
It’s clear that “el jefe” needs to be on his game here.
Laca isn’t suspended in the Premier League – though a goal and strong performance by Auba would be pretty much redemption for his Spurs pen miss.
Do we play both? It can be said that we look better with just one up top, though playing both means a different midfield configuration. Auba could be deployed, as he has been, as a wide forward, but he looks lost there. Either way, I feel Emery may just play one, and possibly just put Auba on the bench, or even Laca. Laca is more match-fresh since he didn’t play in France. But with the midfield important, we may just stick with one.
I don’t see why a back-three cannot work here. I don’t see this as an inherently defensive formation. It just allows less emphasis on the defence, and if anything more attacking impetus. It also allows more space in the midfield, and to re-iterate I believe this would be critical in this game.
Maitland-Niles has not been playing lately, though I feel he would be good in the midfield in this game. Kolasinac is adept as a wing-back, and arguably one of the best in the league in this position.
The right-wing back could be either Lichtsteiner or Jenkinson. Granted, neither has impressed much, but they both have the pace and defensive awareness to perform this role.
Will our German maestro start? Maybe. Though I feel Emery will want a hard worker, despite Ozil’s inherent capacity to create.
I would play him in this game, though depending on how the game goes, he may be brought in or taken off accordingly if the circumstances require.
Arsenal 2-1 Manchester United
United are favourites for this game. Their unlikely win in Paris, our defeat in Rennes, and their league form, all point towards this.
However, Emery is a tactical manager, who despite getting it wrong sometimes, has got it right more often than not. Moreover, both sides have players who can make a point when needed.
Though our old boy, Alexis, won’t be part of it. So no repeat of his goal in the FA Cup.
Even still, we can still win this. But it must be without any defensive lapses and general mishaps.