It’s difficult to deny that this fixture doesn’t have the same edge that it did perhaps a decade ago. However, it remains one of the bluechip games in the Premier League and it’s likely that the match will have a discernible effect on the Premier League table- even if it won’t be for the lofty reasons it once was.
Both Arsenal and United have rather top heavy squads with an array of attacking talent but neither squad looks nearly as well stocked in defence, which might say something about the premium of quality defenders available in the market at the moment. (United did, after all, bid for Thomas Vermaelen this summer).
Neither is particularly approaching the fixture with a spring in their step and both will look towards big money South American acquisitions to inspire them to victory.
United are only one point behind Arsenal coming into the match, which emphasises its importance in terms of league placing and especially Champions League qualification. The storyline is given a little more punch (a gloved punch perhaps), by the identity of the men leading the line for both teams.
Both Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck will do battle against their old clubs, both will have something to prove. Welbeck will want to show van Gaal and United that they made a mistake in not giving him a run in his favoured position.
Meanwhile, van Persie has struggled to hit the heights of his first season at United and whispers of ‘decline’ are being heard on Fleet Street. van Persie will again expect a hostile reception from the home crowd. Both men will be rehearsing placing a celebratory finger to their lips in their mirrors this evening. (Or else maybe they’ll practice the schooled, apologetic, ‘look I’m not celebrating’ posture instead?)
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger spoke about playing time being key to Danny Welbeck’s move from Manchester United to Arsenal, ‘I always respected him and he has a great future. But he’s gained more respect over the last few months.
‘Louis van Gaal didn’t have him under his command for very long so it’s difficult to judge players.
‘In front of him, he had 2 great goalscorers in Rooney and Robin van Persie. What he needed was a chance.
”Welbeck is still a young player. I can understand Van Gaal completely.
What’s important is that he gets an opportunity.’
Meanwhile, United manager Louis van Gaal has no regrets about letting Manchester born Welbeck leave, ‘I think that a player who is playing mostly fixed in the team, he develops and always will,” said Van Gaal.
‘He takes all the benefit from playing every week. That was a question mark with Manchester United. It’s good to see he’s doing what I thought.
‘He could have also played for Manchester United. But we have decided that he could go and he has taken the benefit of it.
‘He does very good at Arsenal. I cannot judge him so good. Now I shall see him and I shall judge him.
‘But I don’t think it is so important how I judge him because he is now playing for Arsenal.
‘He’s not a Manchester United player anymore so now we have to beat him also. He’s not alone, we have to beat Arsenal.”
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal welcome back Olivier Giroud from an ankle injury, but will give a fitness test to Danny Welbeck, whose hamstring tightened in England’s friendly against Scotland.
Theo Walcott is unlikely to make the bench due to a tight groin. Mathieu Debuchy (ankle), Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Mesut Ozil (knee) and David Ospina (thigh) are all out. Mikel Arteta returns from a hamstring strain.
Arsenal (from); Szczesny, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Rosicky, Arteta (c), Podolski, Wilshere, Giroud, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Alexis, Monreal, S.Cazorla, Flamini, Chambers, Sanogo, Welbeck, Martinez, Campbell, Bellerin.
Player to watch: Danny Welbeck
For fans of #narrative, there is of course the prospect of Welbeck playing against his boyhood club for the first time. But the game represents something else for Welbeck.
With Giroud available again, Welbeck is no longer the sole pick of central strikers for Arsene Wenger. Against Swansea, Welbeck actually swapped with Alexis quite often in the second half. Partially this is because the flatter structure of 5 in midfield aids Arsenal’s combination play.
But there is also the fact that Welbeck has only one goal in his last seven appearances. Giroud’s last contribution in an Arsenal shirt was to arrive from the bench at Goodison Park and offer a serviceable Plan B in a match threatening to slip away from the Gunners.
That he did so so effectively, scoring a stoppage time equaliser, probably wasn’t a fantastic career move for Giroud personally. Supersub is not a role he will want in the long term.
Similarly, Welbeck’s last notable contribution was to race down the wing in Swansea to tee up Alexis Sanchez for a tap in. Welbeck will probably wish it had been Alexis showing a full back a clean pair of heels to set him up for a tap in.
With Walcott coming back too, this may be Welbeck’s last chance to show that he should be the undisputed central striker before Wenger has many other options to tinker with.
Manchester United Team News:
United have lost Daley Blind to a knee injury picked up on international duty. However, David de Gea (finger) and Angel di Maria (foot) have shaken off knocks picked up for their countries. Luke Shaw (groin) undergoes a late test.
Chris Smalling returns from suspension and Michael Carrick, Rafael, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans are all expected to return. Radamel Falcao (calf) and Marcos Rojo (shoulder) are unavailable, as are Ander Herreira and Ashley Young.
Manchester United (from); de Gea, Rafael, Shaw, Jones, di Maria, Mata, Rooney, Januzaj, Smalling, Lindegaard, Carrick, van Persie, Flecther, Valencia, Fellaini, McNair, Blackett.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie
You know why.
Match Facts & Stats
Arsenal have won only one of their last fourteen encounters with Manchester United in all competitions.
Arsenal have conceded 6 headed goals this season. Only Burnley (8) have conceded more.
Danny Welbeck scored in United colours in his last 2 outings in this fixture. van Persie, meanwhile, has scored 5 goals in his last 6 outings in this fixture, twice as an Arsenal player and three times in United red.
The clubs have met 219 times in all competitions. Manchester United lead by 92 wins to Arsenal’s 79 and there have been 48 draws.
Arsenal have dropped 9 points from winning positions this season. More than any other team.
Alexis Sanchez has scored 12 goals in his last 14 matches for Arsenal in all competitions, including six goals in his last four Premier League appearances and two in his last two appearances for Chile.
United have yet to win an away game in the Premier League this season (D3, L2). Arsenal haven’t lost at home in 25 games in the Premier League.
The referee will be Mike Dean.
I fancy Arsenal to win. 2-1 with goals from Alexis and Chamberlain. van Persie to score for United.
Arsenal play at home to Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night at 7.45pm. Manchester United are at home to Hull City next Saturday.