Last season’s final home match was arguably one of the strangest encounters I’ve ever come across. The promising endeavors of youngsters like James Wilson and Tom Lawrence stimulated an impulsive buzz across Old Trafford, with murmurs of a better future to come after a long nine months of ponderous, stagnant football.
Yet at the same time there was a tangible feeling of restlessness and despondency; Ryan Giggs’ substitute appearance to mark his game for Manchester United, Hull’s lackadaisical nature (they had one eye on an upcoming FA Cup final, and thus played a half strength team), the patches of empty seats, all contributed to a palpably strange, slightly alienating evening.
This time around, things are different. Man United are back amongst Europe’s elite, and can play their final home match against Arsenal with a monkey-off-the-back kind of grandeur.
Despite the fact that celebrating a top four finish is inherently un-Man United, reaching the Champions League with two games to spare after last season’s cataclysm is something United fans can tilt their hats to.
So what can we expect against Arsenal? After last Saturday’s understandably neurotic encounter with Crystal Palace, where the absence of any in-form striker and the calming presence of Michael Carrick was more visible than ever, one might expect more of the same.
However, now that Man United’s pre-season goal has been achieved, Sunday should see a more expansive, free-flowing spectacle take place. With Arsenal also being able to relax after picking up their annual ‘top four trophy’, Old Trafford might see audacity replace anxiety against a side that will invariably have one eye on their upcoming FA Cup final.
Arsenal’s Premier League exploits at Old Trafford have been woeful of recent times; not since 2006 have they managed to take three points off Manchester United away from home. November’s 1-2 home defeat to Louis van Gaal’s men, which was arguably one of the most hilariously bonkers things I’ve ever witnessed, will still be prevalent in Arsene Wenger’s mind as well.
Regardless, this weekend’s visitors have a right to be confident having broken that mental barrier with the FA Cup win back in March as well as only suffering three league defeats in 2015.
The Gunners will be without Danny Welbeck on Sunday, who proved to be the match winner back in March. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey are expected to return.
Louis van Gaal will be without Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw, who both suffered knocks in the win at Selhurst Park. Michael Carrick is out for the rest of the season whilst Jonny Evans is a doubt. Angel Di Maria, Robin Van Persie and Marcos Rojo are all available.
Old Trafford will be awash with buoyancy this Sunday. But it shouldn’t be treated as an Arsenal-esque ‘top four party’. Instead, it should be based on the excitement that next year will bring under Louis van Gaal; with new players destined to be arriving at Old Trafford in the near future, and a much missed Champions League adventure to look forward to, this game, in an ideal world, should act as a precursor to a full throttle title assault in the 2015/16 season.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal