Man United in 2015

There used to be a lot more animosity and fire when Manchester United and Arsenal would play each other. Back in the days of Roy Keane and Patrick Viera, some could argue that this rivalry was one of the biggest in Europe. Nowadays, however, there seems to be something missing from this derby’s atmosphere. The relationship between the clubs could be described as tame, and the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea have taken over as the clubs’ most hated rivals. This Sunday will see the latest installment of the once great rivalry as United travel to the Emirates, but will we see the passion and excitement that was once a staple of the match?

Manchester United are in the midst of something that seems to have been absent since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson: a winning streak. In their last four games, the Red Devils have walked away with four victories. Comeback victories against Southampton and most recently Wolfsburg in the Champions League are reminiscent of the old “never say die” Manchester United. This form has sparked optimism amongst the fans and has also pole-vaulted United to the top of the table, a feat that has not been accomplished since the Ferguson era. A victory over Arsenal would send a message to the rest of the league that Manchester United is back, but three points at the Emirates is easier said than done.

Behind United’s great run has been their Spanish midfield magician Juan Mata. The 27-year-old has been stationed on the right side of midfield in Van Gaal’s 4-2-3-1 formation, away from his traditional central position, but the move hasn’t hindered Mata’s creativity. During the match against Wolfsburg, Mata was the main spark in United’s attack as he pushed the pace of possession, and even found the back of the net from the penalty spot to draw United level. The highlight of the match had to be the midfielder’s magnificent flick to Chris Smalling for the match-winner. The Arsenal midfield should provide a tougher defensive opposition for Mata, but right now it doesn’t look like anything can stop him from making plays.

Arsenal’s Champions League campaign hasn’t exactly gone to plan. After the group draw, the Gunners were viewed as favorites alongside Bayern Munich to advance from Group F, but consecutive defeats to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos may have ended their title dreams before they even really began. The 3-2 loss to Olympiakos midweek sparked major criticism of the club and particularly Arsene Wenger’s lineup choices. In league play, on the other hand, the Gunners are coming off of two straight wins including a massive 2-0 victory over Tottenham in the North London Derby. Even with this impressive league form, there seems to be a lack of confidence in the Arsenal squad, but three points on Sunday would help restore some faith to Wenger’s side.

A troubling quote that came out of Arsenal’s midweek loss in Greece came from Alfred Finnbogason. The Olympiakos’ midfielder told reporters, “…you know you’re going to have spaces because they [Arsenal] don’t want to defend.” In their last five games, the Gunners have allowed 10 goals against, and they’ve also failed to keep a single clean sheet in that span, as well. This statistic shows a drastic change from the club’s form at the beginning of the season as they kept three clean sheets out of the opening five matches against the likes of Liverpool, Newcastle United and Stoke City. The introduction of Petr Cech into the starting 11 was seen as possibly the final piece for Arsenal to challenge for the title, but some growing pains have slightly delayed this quest for silverware. With the poor performance of David Ospina in net against Olympiakos, there may be more pressure on Cech to perform in-between the pipes, but if there’s one keeper in the league that can handle pressure, it’s him.

I doubt that any of you reading this will be surprised when I predict a Manchester United victory. Whether it be their drastically better form going into the match, or my slight fan-bias, I just think the Red Devils are going to be too tough to stop on their current run. Final score: Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United with an Anthony Martial goal to win it.


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