Arsenal vs Manchester United
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Referee: Jonathon Moss
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Manchester United travel to London this Sunday after their sensational victory in Paris during the week to face Arsenal in what should be a decisive fixture in the race for the top four this season.
United are currently unbeaten in eight games away from home in the league and they will be looking to extend this record-breaking run this weekend. Currently sitting just one point above Arsenal and two points ahead of Chelsea, who have a game in hand, a win this weekend would put United within touching distance of Spurs in third place.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men put in a valiant performance last week to nab all three points from a resilient Southampton and kept their mid-season turnaround going. Despite a crippling injury crisis, the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Andreas Pereira have been immense for their teams in recent weeks. Lukaku’s form will worry Arsenal as the Belgian striker has hit a purple patch and has now scored four goals in his last two appearances in the league and will be looking to capitalise on a shaky Arsenal defence.
For their part, Arsenal have turned their form around in the last couple of months after some poor performances and results toward the back end of last year. A draw against London rivals Spurs last weekend will not dampen their spirits and the Gunners are now unbeaten in their last four fixtures.
Unai Emery will be hoping that Henrikh Mkhitaryan maintains his good form against his former club on Sunday. The Armenian has been very impressive in recent weeks, showing glimpses of the talent that brought him to Premier League in the first place. Despite their poor performances against Spurs last weekend, Andre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be itching to get on the scoreboard this weekend and emulate their electric performances against Bournemouth recently.
Arsenal will be without midfield terrier Lucas Torreira on Sunday after the red card he received against Spurs was upheld by the FA during the week. Additionally, Danny Welbeck, Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin are all set to miss out with long-term injuries.
Aside from these absences, Emery has a full squad to pick from. The biggest question marks hang over the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Mkhitaryan. Ramsey was crucial for the Gunners last weekend but Emery may look to phase the Welshman out of the squad in these remaining fixtures as his focus starts to drift toward next season when he joins Juventus. Ramsey could fill in for the suspended Torreira in the middle with Granit Xhaka or Emery could opt for the youngster Mattéo Guendouzi.
Mkhitaryan has been in good form as has Ozil since his reintroduction to the squad. However, this means Emery will have to play one of the two, who both excel in central positions, out wide. The perpetual dilemma about whether to start Lacazette or Aubameyang will also have to be faced by Emery this weekend.
United are in the throes of one of their worst injury crises in recent memory. Nine first-team players look set to miss out through injury including Nemanja Matic, Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Marital, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard. Rotational players like Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones and Matteo Darmian are all doubts for this weekend.
The crisis meant that United travelled to Paris midweek with six teenagers and eight academy graduates in the squad to face PSG in the Champions League. Although United’s performances against Liverpool and Southampton were not hampered by the inexperience of their lineup, Solskjaer will be hoping to have the likes of Martial and Herrera back as soon as possible.
United could opt to rely on their academy graduates again this weekend as Pereira and McTominay look set to start alongside Pogba again in the middle. Tahith Chong and Diogo Dalot are two possible replacements for Sanchez on the wing this weekend. Chong has made a couple of cameo appearances in recent weeks and the highly-rated Dutchman could be in line for his first start before the end of the season.
Predicted Starting XIs
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Leno; Mustafi, Sokratis, Koscielny, Kolasinac; Guendouzi, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Iwobi; Lacazette
Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea; Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Pereira, McTominay, Pogba, Dalot; Lukaku, Rashford
Score Prediction: Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2
Arsenal should, by all accounts, be clear winners this weekend with their home advantage and United’s injury crisis. However, one cannot disregard the fight and spirit this United side have shown since Solskjaer took over last December especially when players like Paul Pogba, Lukaku and Marcus Rashford are in incredible form. A season-defining fixture against an old rival away from home should be enough to galvanize a side ravaged by injury and fatigue and we may be in for a very impressive match on Sunday.