The Premier League returns this weekend with one of the division’s biggest fixtures as Arsenal travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. This season it carries an extra edge due to the rivalry between Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho. Both managers will be even more determined to secure the three points and that could lead to a fierce atmosphere on Saturday. Throughout the years, this fixture has often provided a lot of entertainment, with goals and red cards common. The pressure will be on the home side as United have already lost ground on the leading pack and a loss to a rival could spell the end of their title challenge at this early stage.
Manchester United are already six points behind Arsenal and the pressure will be on them to close that gap on Saturday. They are currently in 6th position and that isn’t good enough considering the significant investment over the summer. A victory against Swansea before the international break put an end to four matches without a win and they need to take the positive momentum forward into the match against Arsenal this weekend. They have a squad full of stars and it is now up to them to prove that they can dominate in big matches, something that they have yet to do in a United shirt.
The visitors are well placed in fourth position, just two points off the top of the table. Arsene Wenger was initially criticised after taking only one point from their opening two fixtures, but they are now unbeaten since the opening day. There is once again talk of Arsenal challenging for the title and in truth, they should be competing to win the league. They have an incredible squad featuring some of the best players in the league, namely Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. The signing of Shkodran Mustafi was a smart one and has provided the Gunners with a solid base, as seen by their improved defensive record this season.
This fixture has been well contested in recent seasons, with each side winning two of their last six meetings, with the other two ending in draws. In this fixture last season, Manchester United won by a 3-2 scoreline, with a Marcus Rashford brace taking the headlines. Ander Herrera scored the third for the home side, while Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil netted for the visitors. Meanwhile in the reverse fixture, Arsenal took the three points thanks to goals from Alexis Sanchez (2) and Ozil.
There have only been eight red cards in matches between Arsenal and Manchester United, 23 other fixtures have seen more in Premier League history, which is somewhat surprising.
No Premier League defender has provided more assists than Hector Bellerin since the beginning of last season, with the Spaniard contributing six. He will be a big miss this weekend.
The Manchester United youngster could have a key role to play on Saturday as Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended and Wayne Rooney is unlikely to start after his off the field antics during the week. The teenager scored two goals in this fixture last season and will be full of confidence if he is given the nod to lead the line. Although this season has been less impressive for him individually, he has been asked to play out of position and that has limited the threat that he is able to pose. In eight Premier League games, he has managed to score three times, including a crucial winner to secure the points for his team against Hull City. He has mainly been utlised as a winger and he has looked good there, despite having only a small amount of previous experience in the role. The best part to the striker’s game is his directness, as he is always willing to run at defenders, using his pace and quick feet to his advantage. On Saturday, the Arsenal defence won’t enjoy playing against Rashford and it is crucial that United get the 19-year-old in the game as much as possible.
The German has yet to achieve the level of performance that he showed last season, especially in terms of creativity. However, he is one of the few players in the Arsenal squad that possess genuine world class ability and he will need to step up before the new year. Alexis Sanchez has played a major part in the Gunners’ early season form, but he is now facing fitness issues and the opportunity is there for Ozil to step up. Manchester United have hardly been formidable at the back this season and there will be spaces left between the lines, which plays to Ozil’s strengths. Although Mourinho will want his side to keep things tight, the players haven’t shown that they are able to do that. I’d expect Ozil to get on the ball a lot in dangerous areas and if he is in good form, Arsenal should win this match.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended after picking up five yellow cards in domestic competition. Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney are all doubts. Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling won’t be available to start.
Hector Bellerin is going to be missing for a number of weeks after contracting an ankle injury during the international break, meaning Carl Jenkinson is likely to start. Alexis Sanchez is a doubt for this weekend, while Lucas Perez, Per Mertesacker, Chuba Akpom, Danny Welbeck and Santi Cazorla will all miss out.
I am expecting a tight match between the two, with plenty of talking points, but Arsenal have to be considered the favourites considering the recent form of the two teams. Manchester United are missing two first team centre backs and there are doubts about whether they can do well in their absence. A lot depends on the fitness of Alexis Sanchez. If the Chilean pulls through and starts on Saturday, Arsenal should win the match, dealing a major blow to one of their rivals.
Prediction: Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal