This weekend, Arsenal travel to Old Trafford to battle Manchester United. This fixture used to conjure up an incredible amount of hype and anticipation for both fan bases, but that “it” factor just isn’t there this time around. While Arsenal find themselves right in the title hunt, United sit on the fringes of the top four and have lacked the form that once defined the famous red shirt. A victory for the Gunners has the potential to launch Arsene Wenger’s side to the top of the table. Three points for the Red Devils, on the other hand, still wouldn’t be enough to push them into the top four. Can the title-contenders silence United at the Theater of Dreams?
Domestically, the Gunners are coming off of one of their biggest wins of the season. On Valentine’s Day, Arsenal hosted league-leading Leicester City and managed to overcome a one-goal deficit to win 2-1. The hero that day was former Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck who scored in the final minute of stoppage time to win the match. The Leicester match was the first time that Welbeck had suited up for the Gunners all season, and has since featured in cup matches against Hull City and Barcelona. Last season, the 25-year-old striker knocked his former employers out of the FA Cup and he may be able to silence Old Trafford one more time on Sunday.
Despite Welbeck’s return to the lineup, Arsenal has been struggling for goals as of late. In three of their last five matches, the Gunners have been kept off the score sheet. Even second-tier side Hull was able to keep a clean sheet against Wenger’s side in the FA Cup. With the likes of Welbeck, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez on the pitch, it’s not a lack of attacking options that’s hindering the Gunners’ attack. One thing that is working in Arsenal’s favor is the fact they’re going up against an injury plagued United defense. Pending a miraculous performance from the Red Devil’s backline, I think the Gunner’s recent scoring problems will be forgotten at Old Trafford.
Moving on to United, the main story going into the match has to be the injury bug that has devastated Louis Van Gaal’s squad. Thursday’s lineup against Midtjylland featured three U21 players in the starting lineup, Michael Carrick as a center back, and only one senior player on the bench. The newest addition to the injury list is star striker Anthony Martial. The Frenchman pulled out of the squad with a possible pulled hamstring during warmups, but luckily his replacement, Marcus Rashford, shined in his absence. Rashford bagged a brace on his debut, but the step up to Premier League competition could prove to big to handle right now. Martial’s injury paired with Rooney’s limits United’s attacking options so look for either Rashford or Memphis Depay to start upfront.
Speaking of Memphis, maybe it’s just the joy of winning 5-1 today, but he looks like the man to watch for United. Against the Danish opposition, Memphis showed the flash, flair and power that convinced United to splash the cash for him over the summer. Midtjylland just didn’t look like they knew how to handle the Dutchman on the wing, and moments like this (https://streamable.com/hd5o) were commonplace on the day. A long-range strike in the final minutes of the match capped off one of Memphis’ best days as a member of the Red Devils. Can he carry this European confidence onto the pitch against Arsenal?
As much as I want to call a United victory, the injury issue seems like it’s just too big to overcome. Keep in mind, Old Trafford has a knack for hosting some thrillers, but I’m not sure if Sunday will be one for the memory bank. Final score: United 1-3 Arsenal.