Manchester United vs Arsenal
Venue: Old Trafford
TV: Sky Sports Premier League
Referee: Kevin Friend
Arsenal visit Old Trafford for the last time with Arsene Wenger in charge, and previous visits to the stadium have often reflected Wenger’s status at the time.
Wenger’s first title win was propelled by a victory in March 1998 against an injury ravaged United, with Marc Overmar’s scorching away to steal a one nil win as Arsenal overturned a twelve point deficit to win the league. His second title was sealed at Old Trafford, as Sylvain Wiltord completed another one nil win and an unbeaten away season on the way to the double in 2002.Embed from Getty Images
However, apart from those two wins that helped contribute directly to title wins, Wenger only won one further league game at Old Trafford and two cup ties, one game that saw Ryan Giggs miss an open goal and David Beckham have a boot kicked at him by Alex Ferguson. And a game in 2015 where Danny Welbeck returned to knock out his former club – both victories ended with Arsenal winning the FA Cup.
Increasingly Old Trafford became a chore for Arsenal as United resorted to more and more primitive, pragmatic tactics that saw players such as Phil Neville, Darren Fletcher and Park Ji Sung become key players as Arsenal became softer and softer by the year.
The Invincibles run was helped at the start by a Van Nistelrooy missed penalty in injury time amid disgraceful scenes that showed the nasty side of early Wenger teams, before ending at 49 games unbeaten amid Rooney dives, Neville brothers tackles and flying pizza.
An 8-2 defeat in 2011 was an obvious nadir, there was an even better United performance in 2001 as Dwight Yorke scored a first half hat trick in a 6-1 win, Marcus Rashford scored two on his league debut as a severely understrength United beat Arsenal 3-2 that showed Arsenal at their Souness baiting softest.Embed from Getty Images
In typical Wenger fashion there was also a moment of pure comedy in 2009 as Wenger was sent off for kicking a water bottle and ended up stood on a platform above the benches in the middle of an Old Trafford crowd, arms aloft in a moment of high farce.
There was also a forgotten classic in 1999 as the epic rivalry between the two produced a thunderous tie in the rain and it is his contribution to this rivalry that Wenger should be remembered for.
It is safe to say this weekend’s final chapter of Wenger at Old Trafford will struggle to live up to earlier parts, like comparing Led Zeppelin’s “Coda” to “Led Zeppelin 1-4”.
Arsenal come into the game off the back of a disappointing home draw in the first leg of the Europa League semi final. Wenger’s propensity to give players too many chances reared its head again as Koscielny made a huge error to give ten man Atletico Madrid a late away goal which leaves all of Arsenal’s thoughts on a daunting away trip to Madrid. Manchester United seem to have second place nearly sown up, but have hardly thrilled getting there. They have however beaten every other top six rival in recent months including Arsenal in the reverse fixture, mainly due to a record saves tally by de Gea who stopped a shellacking pre Christmas.
United have no major injury worries as both Valencia and Lingard should shake off knocks whilst back up keeper Romero remains out. Arsenal lost Elneny last week and whilst the Egyptian will make the World Cup, he will miss Sunday, Mkhitaryan will also probably miss out on a return to his old club as will Santi Cazorla, who was heartwarmingly seen training with the ball on the Emirates pitch this week.
Arsenal will again welcome back the cup tied Aubameyang to their league team as the bid to end a terrible away run which has seen them lose all five away matches since the turn of the year.Embed from Getty Images
It can only be hoped a venue that has brought Wenger both so much pleasure and a lot of pain doesn’t provide Wenger with a last humiliating defeat, but the suspicion remains that Mourinho will grind out another win against his rival and leave Wenger for the last time stressed out, bewildered and unhappy at Old Trafford. But Wenger will always have Wiltord, and the vitriol against him will disappear soon, however the banner in the Emirates of “Old Trafford 2002” will be there for many years to come.
Predicted Starting XI’s
Manchester United 4-3-3
De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Young; Herrera, Matic, Pogba; Mata, Martial, Lukaku
Cech; Chambers, Holding, Mustafi, Kolasinac; Maitland Niles, Xhaka, Iwobi, Nketiah, Aubameyang; Lacazette
Prediction: Manchester United 2 Arsenal 0
Written by Gary Robinson.
32 from Manchester. Working in the business banking sector, lover of the game and all its weird narratives. Writer for 90MAAT. @ismyCAPplaying